Penumbra Theatre has always had one distinct goal: to create a forum for African American voices in the Twin Cities’ theater community. For the past 36 years, the theatre has done just that—and more. It launched the career of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Two Trains Running). It employs more actors, choreographers, dancers, directors, and administrators of color than all other theatres in Minnesota combined. And it constantly looks for new ways to educate and relate to its community. One example: Penumbra’s brand-new “Let’s Talk Theatre” series.
Let’s Talk had its soft-launch this past winter and, after lots of input, tweaks, and thought, is ready for its grand debut tonight. In a nutshell, Let’s Talk events are happy hours at the theatre. The extended version reads more like this: The events are a chance for guests and artists to mingle, enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres, and discuss a select topic of the evening. I went to the last one in February, and loved being able to see and talk with talent I’ve become familiar with over the years (Penumbra artistic director Lou Bellamy, actor Dennis Spears). If you’re a theater buff, it’s kind of like spotting stars in Hollywood. If you aren’t, come: This inviting, richly talented community will make you one in no time.
Not only was I impressed by the all-star turnout of the last event, but also how much I learned. That night, the spotlight was on Lou Bellamy, artistic director and founder of Penumbra. Tonight’s topic is classic American writer James Baldwin, author of such influential and powerful works as Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), about what it was like to grow up as an African American man in Harlem; Notes of a Native Son (1955), about interracial relationships; and Giovanni’s Room (1956), about homosexuality. Penumbra Theatre’s associate artistic director Dominic Taylor is a scholar of Baldwin, and, like so many other African American artists and authors, has been greatly influenced by it. Along with his insights, the night will include readings of Baldwin’s work by some of the Twin Cities’ best actors, including Greta Oglesby.
A play is never just a play, especially when it comes to the works performed at Penumbra Theatre. Let’s Talk Theatre is a chance for us as audience members to go behind the scenes and get to know the actors, directors, and talent behind the shows we’ve come to know and love. Come for the wine, stay to learn something new. It’s theatre, unbound.
Let’s Talk Theatre: Remembering James Baldwin
Monday, April 2:30-7 p.m.
Penumbra Theatre Company, ”¨270 N. Kent St., ”¨St. Paul, 651-224-31805