- December 7, 2016
West Coast Black Theatre Troupe will present a staged reading of George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum” on June 20 — along with more than 40 African-American theater organizations across the country. Project1VOICE is the catalyst for these simultaneous readings and performances.
Every year since its 2011 founding, the project chooses a play from the canon of African-American literature. Black theater companies and acting conservatories then perform that play at the same day and time.
Nate Jacobs, WBTT’s founder and director, thinks it’s the perfect endeavor for WBTT, and he especially likes this year’s selection.
“George C. Wolfe is a treasure of contemporary American theater,” he says. “This particular work explores the facets of the African-American experience that WBTT deals with throughout the year. Knowing our reading will be part of a shared national experience just takes it to another level.”
Actor Ariel Blue agrees. “This is exciting for me because I’ve never had the chance to do this piece,” she says. “I’ve read it two times, and I think it’s a dope piece of literature. It has something for everyone, and the comedic pieces particularly resonate with me. Plus, I get to work with amazing artists who bring a unique flair to the colorful characters they bring to life.”
Participating actors include Blue, Arnette German, Cindy De La Cruz, Joey James and Travis Ray. Harry Bryce, the veteran director behind “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” and other WBTT hits, will lead the production.
“Every single one of us is excited to be doing this work,” says Bryce. “The electricity is in the air.”
Wolfe is a two-time Tony Award-winning playwright and director. The upcoming Project1VOICE productions will mark the 30th anniversary of “The Colored Museum.” If sparks are in the air, it’s thanks to the playwright and his high-voltage 1986 play.
“The Colored Museum” is a black comedy that’s occasionally black comedy. It unfolds in a series of 11 “exhibits” about the African-American experience. A chirpy flight attendant welcomes African passengers destined for slavery. (Not to worry, she says. Their descendents might become rich playing basketball.) An African-American businessman fills a garbage can with his teenage artifacts — including vintage Sly and the Family Stone records. A straight-haired wig and an afro wig get into an argument over what it means to be black and beautiful. One sketch even takes aim at Lorraine Hansberry’s beloved “A Raisin in the Sun.” Is nothing sacred? No. This is satire with the gloves off — and Wolfe doesn’t pull his punches.
“Authenticity is the heart of the play,” says director Bryce. “In African-American terms, Wolfe is signifying — he’s looking at the gap between who you say you are, who other people say you are and who you really are. Thanks to that experience, we can laugh at ourselves, cry at ourselves and hopefully better ourselves. Getting in touch with your true self is how you do that, and that’s really Wolfe’s intention.”
Bryce adds that Wolfe’s work is all about storytelling, which makes it ideal for a staged reading. “The actors will perform a series of monologues in the voices of different characters,” he says. “It’s a theater of the mind, very much like old-time radio. Pay attention and put your imagination to work. You will be rewarded!”