Cleveland Black Theater History Is Explored at Maltz Museum

Scene from Karamu’s production of “Simply Simone”

Wed 2/19 @ 7PM

The history of African-American theater is a rich one, as Clevelanders well know, with the illustrious Karamu House, the oldest black theater in the U.S., right in our backyard. From Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity to Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun to August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle to work by contemporary playwrights such as Suzan-Lori Parks and Lynn Nottage, black theater has a deep catalog. It also includes works like Porgy and Bess and Dreamgirls, which, while not written by black playwrights, offered a springboard for black performers and a complex view of black life.

What people may not know is that legendary conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein broke ground in offering opportunities to African-Americans, hiring black actors and conductors for his 1944 musical On the Town, during the Jim Crow era.

In connection with its current special exhibit Leonard Music: The Power of Music, (which you’d better rush to see; it only runs through March 1), the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage is hosting a panel discussion about black theater, with a focus on the history of African-American theater in Northeast Ohio. Panelists include Karamu’s president/CEO Tony F. Sias and chair of the Oberlin College theater department Caroline Jackson Smith. Journalist/author/educator/musician Afi Scruggs moderates.

Tickets are $10; $5 for Maltz members.

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