My directing professor at VCU gave us a definition of theater at the beginning of our first class. He called it an “imitation of life”. He impressed upon us that as artists, as directors, actors and designers, we were creating a world. A world that started with the words from the playwright and ended with a performance. He wanted us to understand that everything we created had to be nuanced and intricate. It had to be relatable. Not necessarily real, but believable. For this to be achieved it has to be recognizable to us in some way. It has to look like us, or to talk about us, and it absolutely has to be rooted in the human condition so people who aren’t like us can suspend their disbelief for a period of time and empathize with us.
Charlottesville Players Guild (CPG) is on a mission to give Black artists a place to learn, grow and create. Beyond that we have created a space where the people of Charlottesville can do the same. The stories we are telling are rooted in our history as a community, our Black history within this community, and the struggle and triumph inherent to being Black in America.
American Western theatre is, by definition, devoid of African and African American influences. It does not tell our stories, from our perspective.
Theatre, as most theatre goers consume it, assumes the audience is as well versed in theater and artistic endeavors as the people making it. It demands a prerequisite of playing down to your audience. You give them what they want so they buy tickets or donate. When do you challenge them? When do you ask them to think? When do you tell them the story they may never hear? When do you show them a life they will never live, and ask them not only to accept it, but empathize with it? That is what art is supposed to do, in small and grand ways it is supposed to move you. It is supposed to induce a visceral reaction as complicated and beautiful as our everyday lives. That can’t be achieved without allowing all members of the community to speak their truth, tell their stories, and create something completely indigenous to them for consumption by, and comprehension of, the entire community.
Black theater. Theater written and performed from the Black perspective was missing from the artistic community in Charlottesville. Alice Walker said, “If art doesn’t make us better, then what is it for.” The same things missing from the artistic landscape are missing from other landscapes as well. This community has suffered for it, without any realization of the suffering itself. The assumption that there is no audience for Black theater in Charlottesville has been disproved by the success CPG. The landscape is changing.
Black theater has arrived in Charlottesville. It is here to stay.
Leslie M. Scott-Jones
Artistic Director, CPG
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