ACT II: 1989—1999
With allocations from the Memphis Arts Council and Tennessee State Legislature, BCCC formed the first and only professional black theatre company in Memphis in 1989. Housed at TheatreWorks on south Main Street, BCCC now had a home stage and paid professional actors. With Ruby O’Gray as director, the acting ensemble included Verna Aldridge, Darrell K. Hagan, Phillip Bell, Michael Adrian Davis, and Percy Bradley. Danny White was technical director and Arthur Hall was guest choreographer. The first season productions included RISING FAWN AND THE FIRE MYSTERY, DOWN ON BEALE, and KNIGHT SONGS. RISING FAWN, written by local Native American author Marilou Awiakta, was staged using a multi-ethnic cast. The discussion session after the show which featured Native Americans in this area was one of the liveliest of BCCC’s post-show audience forums. In addition to staged productions during its regular seasons, BCCC launched a touring company that traveled extensively throughout the Mid-South. Productions during other BCCC seasons included RITUAL MURDER, LOVE ON THE ROCKS, TICKLE THE RAIN, AMEN CORNER, BLACK NATIVITY, GOD’S TROMBONES, YOU’RE DIFFERENT, 3XQD, RAISIN IN THE SUN, and BIG TEN.
In LIES, LEGENDS AND TALES OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Mud Island River Museum exhibits were brought to life by BCCC re-enactments of local historic events such as the development of the blues and the Battle of Vicksburg. Over 1,000 Memphis City Schools students attended the sold-out performances. The museum won a commendation from the American Association for State and Local History for this production.
BCCC hosted the Southern Black Cultural Alliance annual festival at the Old Daisy Theatre on Beale Street in 1990. SBCA, a regional arts cooperative established by Tom Dent in the 1970s, served as forum for southern black creativity. Groups from Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Texas and the Carolinas presented a series of plays collectively called You Don’t Say and conducted workshops, readings and other performances.
In 1992, the Sorbonne, University of Mississippi, Harvard University, and Columbia University invited scholars and artists from around the world to the African-Americans and Europe International Conference in Paris, France. BCCC was invited to perform A TRIBUTE TO RICHARD WRIGHT, a compilation of dramatic readings, photographs, and dance that highlight the writer’s career from his boyhood in Memphis to his final years as an expatriate in Paris.
With a BRAVO award from First Tennessee Bank, the National Civil Rights Museum and BCCC brought CHEN AND DANCERS, a world-renowned company based in New York, to Memphis for a two-week residency. In addition to a public performance at the Cook Convention Center, the company of Asian-American dancers and folklorists worked with youth at the First Chinese Baptist Church and BCCC Trolley Stop Arts Camp.
In 1993, BCCC presented “An Evening with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee” at the Memphis Ellis Auditorium. The successful celebrity couple, who had been married over 47 years, shared their life story with over 1900 adoring fans. With careers spanning more than four decades, Davis eloquently described their personal and professional longevity: ”Ruby and I just seem to keep on going and going. We’ve been very blessed and fortunate and we always seem to have a full plate of projects to keep us busy.” While in Memphis, the couple was presented a proclamation from the mayor and keys to the city.
In response to growing concerns regarding violence among youth, Levi and Deborah and their good friends, Drs. Jebose and Theresa Okwumabua, created PEACE IN THE HOUSE, an initiative that used the arts as an alternative to anger. Through drama, music, writing, and painting, youth found creative avenues to channel inappropriate behavior while learning about the value of peace. BCCC worked with youth organizations throughout the Memphis who utilized PITH as an instrument for positive youth development. This dynamic arts intervention strategy was also presented to the Oklahoma City Schools system.
The BCCC stage was often a home to notable artists who acted in productions or conducted performance workshops. Willard Pugh, who portrayed Harpo in The Color Purple, was guest artist for PEACE IN THE HOUSE. Michael Sanders, an accomplished mime, was a performer in many productions and conducted performance workshops. Chuck Patterson, an actor in Hair and The Five Heartbeats, conducted acting workshops. Arthur Hall, founder and choreographer of theArthur Hall Dancers in Philadelphia, directed TICKLE THE RAIN. Film and television actor Thomas Byrd was a guest dancer in BLACK NATIVITY and conducted workshops in Memphis- area schools. Lowell Smith of Dance Theatre of Harlem choreographed DOWN ON BEALE. Cato Walker, a member of the B. B. King band, directed DOWN ON BEALE. Daryl Williams, of the Broadway production Rent, performed in TICKLE THE RAIN. Ossie Davis and Ruby Davis was the guest artist in A CELEBRATION FOR A KING.