It’s about time there was some good news in the world of theater. And Margo Hall taking over as artistic director of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre certainly qualifies.
Having one of the Bay Area’s most beloved and revered actors and directors at the helm of San Francisco’s signature Black theater company would be reason enough to celebrate. Hall being the first woman to lead this troupe named after the first African American woman playwright to have a play on Broadway just makes the moment all the more poignant.
The move comes at a time when the future of live theater is very much in question, with theaters closed indefinitely to help minimize the spread of the Coronavirus. (This week, Broadway said its theaters would be dark through at least May.)
It also coincides with a growing movement among theater artists of color to hold traditionally white American theaters accountable for discriminatory practices and demand change, both nationally through a series of “We See You” manifestos and locally through a “Living Document” anonymously cataloging injustices experienced by artists at various Bay Area theaters.
“I thought about Black theater, and I thought about the fact that a lot of these institutions would be the first to fall, because we have less funding, we have less support, and we’re the most vulnerable population in the arts,” Hall says. “So I just felt like it’s time for me to devote my energies in that direction.”
“I’ve been blessed to work a lot in the Bay Area,” she adds. “I’ve worked with a lot of the predominantly white institutions, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with these institutions on equity and diversity and all of that, and I may not have given the amount of energy I needed to give to the local Black institutions. And I felt like this was where my focus needs to be.”
Long San Francisco’s home for classics of African American theater as well as new works, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre was founded in 1981 by Stanley E. Williams and Quentin Easter, who ran the company for nearly 30 years until both passed away in 2010. Veteran local actor Steven Anthony Jones took up the helm until 2017, after which first actor Aldo Billingslea and then director Darryl V. Jones served as interim artistic director.
In recent years its full productions have been relatively few, supplemented with staged readings and coproductions at other local theaters.
Billingslea first met Hall shortly after he first moved here in the late ’90s and co-starred with her more recently in a string of shows at California Shakespeare Theater, including “Spunk,” “A Winter’s Tale,” “Fences” and “black odyssey.”
“Margo has been the right person for a long time to lead the company forward,” he says. “But it’s been such a demanding task that if she had done so, we might not have had her in ‘black odyssey’ and other things, because of where the theater was and where Margo was. But the Hansberry is at a point now where it’s ready for Margo.”
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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment