Regarding This Adventure: The Development and Production of a Special Detroit Black Theater Edition for Black Masks Magazine
by David Rambeau
When I discussed what we plan to do and are doing with this special Detroit Black Theater edition for Black Masks magazine published and edited by Beth Turner with Nehemiah Pitts, a Detroit theater producer, we immediately agreed that other cities/states with a black theater movement could and should develop a special annual theater edition for themselves.
We thought Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Dallas/Fort Worth, St. Louis, Boston, Pittsburg and several more cities could do what we’re doing. Cities outside the U. S. like Toronto or Montreal could also get involved. Even African cities might participate. (A special edition on black theater in black colleges is another possibility, as well a special edition on black theater at the high school level. We clearly need to explore the creative through-line from high school to college to community.)
Maybe other cities could produce even more editions per year and better. If this were done, this publication could easily expand from a bi-monthly to a monthly, could double the page count from 16 pages to 32 per copy, could increase the number of copies printed and sold, (Can we sell 100 copies or 1,000 copies in Detroit, to whom, and through what outlets?) and the advertising.
I realize that expansion of this sort is more than a notion. It will require new energy and work, but the need, if not the necessity, is there. This, of course, is speculation on my part, but if we in Detroit can do it, I know that others could as well.
This would also change the business model and cultural concept for this magazine as well as for black theater nationally. What I’m proposing is merely what should be part of an on-going re-evaluation and analysis both of which are critical to survival and growth, not only of this magazine and black theater, but of black life and culture.
When I brought an earlier draft of this article to our Project BAIT Writers Workshop and had it reviewed by members of our group, their criticism opened up my thinking to changes that needed to be made. So too with Black Masks and black theater. Both need review and critical analysis and change.
This magazine and black theater has always focused on New York. I’ve always felt that was a mistake for the development of black theater specifically, and black culture generally, as well as black folks. We need to recognize and develop talent on a local basis, if for no other reason than the fact that most creative artists will remain at home, will need to bloom where they are planted. A magazine like Black Masks is the vehicle to accomplish this goal. This is clearer now to me than ever.
We need a national, if not global, urban perspective. That perspective should be urban-centered because that is the focal point for black people and within the urban environment, theater and other art forms have a chance to grow. In Detroit the chance for growth is fading as Detroit declines as an urban environment friendly to the arts. Detroit over the past fifty years has lost about half of its population, most of its industry, and much of the black middle class, so the question of a viable theater movement in a declining urban environment is a serious one. The same challenge has been and is being faced by jazz musicians and art galleries.
We need a national or urban-centered theater movement, not one focused solely on New York. This would enhance the process for everybody, including the folks in New York. So this is my productive statement of that concept, a statement that is twenty years overdue with respect to this publication, and forty years overdue in communication since I was on to this a very long time ago, back in the 60s when Concept East Theater was alive and well in Detroit.
The proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best time is today”. We could have edited a special Detroit Black Theater edition for Black Masks in 1986. We missed that opportunity. We’re going to take advantage this year.
This will be our first time, our first special edition, and while we’ll make a good effort, anything we do will show some inexperience. We’ll miss some people we should have included; we’ll make some mistakes. But that’s ok.
We anticipate doing this project on an annual basis since doing it just once would create more enemies than friends. Planning for at least three years or three editions will mean that those who aren’t included in the first special edition can look forward to the next year, or the year after that. If you’re too late for this edition, you’ll be early for the next one.
We hope to focus on the theater group or institution rather than on individuals (actors, directors, producers or playwrights). It is through the group that we produce the play, train its participants and develop an audience. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
We may also deal with ex-Detroiters for what they do here or have done here. When they are elsewhere, other venues in other communities, they should be a part of that city’s feature edition of Black Masks.
Originally I merely proposed a single, special project, a Detroit black theater edition to the editor/publisher, Beth Turner. But after minimal thought I have projected a different business model for the magazine and for that matter for black theater nationally. Again, black theater should be decentralized from its bi-polar disorder which focuses currently on New York (the stage) and L.A. (Hollywood) (the film).
Black Masks, as a national publication with two decades of experience and contacts could play a leading role in this seismic change, this paradigm shift. We hope this special edition will lead the way and that others will follow.
We started on this journey in March, 2006. We’ll see when and where it bears fruit.
For more information about David Rambeau access the website: projectbait.blakgold.net and video.google.com – project bait search.