Austin certainly doesn't lack for African-American theatre artists. African-American theatre companies, though? That's another story. Over the past 40 years, the city's seen only a few groups dedicated to producing dramatic work drawn from the African-American experience, and more often than not, they've struggled to maintain an institutional foothold in the cultural scene. Now, a handful of those talented artists referenced above are working to change that. Jacqui Cross, Billy Harden, Carla Nickerson, and Janis Stinson – all familiar from their work with Zach Theatre, State Theatre Company, Austin Playhouse, and ProArts Collective – have founded Spectrum Theatre Company, which aims to provide Austin with "high quality theatre from the African American perspective." With each of these seasoned stage pros taking on a top administrative role, and Reginald Brown, seen recently in Austin Shakespeare's As You Like It, as artistic director (a role he filled previously at the similar Ensemble Theatre Company in Newark, N.J.), Spectrum plans to debut in September with Once on This Island, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the musical team behind Ragtime and Seussical. Following that will be Joseph A. Walker's 1974 Tony Award-winner The River Niger next summer.
Mounting those shows requires cash, of course, and Spectrum is hard at work raising some. Their hard work, however, translates into pleasure for you with the Illumination Celebration this weekend at Austin Playhouse. Eugene Lee (The Gospel at Colonus) emcees an evening that includes performances from jazz chanteuse Pamela Hart, the Tim Curry Trio, Spectrum company artists, and Texas State Rep. Dawnna Dukes(!); and a live auction conducted by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. Tickets are $40 for individuals, $65 for couples.
Spectrum Theatre's Illumination Celebration takes place Sunday, June 29, 6pm, at Austin Playhouse in Highland Mall, 6001 Airport. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/spectrumatx.
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