Baton Rouge, Louisiana
7 Day Forecast
Follow our weather team on social media

Small theater company with big heart showcases Black stories and talent

1 year 1 month 3 weeks ago Monday, February 27 2023 Feb 27, 2023 February 27, 2023 5:04 AM February 27, 2023 in Black History Month
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - The history of the Black theater in America can be traced back to the slave trade in the 1600s.

“They would dance to entertain and they would put them back on the slave ships at the different stops. All of that is history and all of that is our story,” Dr. Ava Brewster Turner said.

“They were forced to not show their emotions. It was like happy dancing going on and things like that. The happy side of life,” Dr. Alexander Marshall said.

The first Black theater company in America, African Grove Theatre, was established in New York City in 1821. It was short-lived, but the tradition of drama continued through the church.

“Not only was that a place of education for Black folk, but also a stage for Black folk in terms of theater,” Marshall said.

“That gospel music tells stories. ‘Go and lay down my burden down by the riverside to study war no more.’ We're still telling stories,” Turner continued.

After graduating from Grambling State University, it was a tradition that Dr. Ava Brewster Turner wanted to continue.

“I was brought up in the Baptist church. We did Christmas plays and Easter plays and grandparents plays, so I wanted to continue that same thing,” she said.

“I developed a performing arts group, and we were performing at all of the local churches here in Baton Rouge and outside of the city, traveling."

She founded Upstage Theatre Company in 2002, the quaint black box theater on Wooddale Boulevard.

“We needed to tell our stories. We needed to tell the African American experience,” she plainly stated. “I'm thinking about the story of growing up and my grandmother picking cotton and their quilting. And they're telling stories as they're building a fire in the old tin heaters, and they're talking about and drinking coffee and going to Bible study and walking, so those were the stories that we were missing."

According to her longtime mentor and former Grambling theater professor, Dr. Alexander Marshall, it hasn't been easy for Turner, but Upstage reaches the goal of theater at its core.

“Once they go through a production, they believe in her. That's what theater is about. You have a kind of self-confidence and self-worth,” Marshall said.

Today, many of her former students have taken those skills to continue the line of Black theater into communities across the country.

“I tell them there are no small roles in theater, so whatever your role is, you shine,” Turner said.

Upstage Theatre is located at 1713 Wooddale Boulevard. You can find more about Upstage Theatre company here.

More News

Desktop News

Click to open Continuous News in a sidebar that updates in real-time.
7 Days