NORTH OMAHA Dramatic Arts
 
   What is the importance of the dramatic arts for African American identity, community, and culture?
 
     

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John Beasley Theatre / LaFern Williams Centerstage

Located at the corner of 30th and R, the South Omaha Community YMCA has been the home for both the Center Stage Theatre company and the John Beasley Theatre

Waiting for the Spotlight

Research compiled by Ben A., Glenasha W., and Celine H.

Dramatic Arts

Minstrel shows were a variety of acts performed to stereotypically down grade the African American culture. You may find this historically funny or you may read this as extremely disgraceful to blacks and disrespectful just as the blacks did. However, what the whites did not know is that by trying to be comedic, all they were doing was shining a bright light in a dangerously dark space. This gave blacks the drive and ambition to showcase their theatrical side and educate those who didn't know the real struggles and truth behind their black culture.  Some of the theatrical talent to arise from Omaha’s black community included Lincoln Motion Picture Company, one of the first African-American film companies; the Afro Academy for Dramatic Arts; and Center Stage Theatre, which won both the National and International Amateur Theatre Festivals in 1983.
Afro Academy of Dramatic Arts
Dramatic Arts

The Afro Academy of Dramatic Arts

The Afro Academy of Dramatic Arts was a program that developed a black cultural arts center for Omaha. They taught African Americans music, dance, art, theatre, and creative writing as a way to nurture a sense of pride within the African American community of Omaha. This was to show Omaha a more honest Black identity and allow African Americans to define themselves.

Harry

Harry Eure

Harry Eure, along with his brother Daryl, started the Afro Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1969. Daryl was a student at Central High School. As a college junior, Harry wanted to give African American artists a chance to showcase their work. Harry and others wanted to get rid of stereotypes by telling stories about human tragedies that transcended racial boundaries. Some of the plays they performed were “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men", “Rose Red” (instead of “Snow White”), and “A Raisin in the Sun.”

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Center Stage Troupe

The picture above shows the cast and crew of “Ain't Misbehavin'” arriving in Eppley Airfield. They just came from the Toyama International Amateur Festival, in Japan , where they one first place! They won the National Festival in Alaska, which is a milestone in letting an African American Cast represent Omaha and America!

Bill Davis was an achiever in making a theatrical outlet for African Americans and other minorities. He Founded Center Stage in the October of 1980. They performed shows such as the “West Side Story”, which they changed from Puerto Ricans vs. Whites to Blacks vs. Whites. Sadly, because of the lack of money and commercial advertising, the theatre was shut down, but it was later opened again by John Beasley.

Beasley

John Beasley

John Beasley is a famous, local actor, who re-opened Center Stage Theatre, renaming it the John Beasley Theatre, in November of 2000. He has maintained the same mission as Center Stage; present shows that everyone could relate to. Beasley greatly admires the playwright August Wilson who wrote a series of plays focusing on each decade of the 20th Century and the African American experience. They even have performed “Ain't Misbehavin'”again, which was a success. He has numerous classes and workshops for actresses and actors. This is very important because he brought back an award winning tradition.

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An earlier era: Lincoln Motion Picture Co.

The Lincoln Motion Picture Company was one of the first “negro” organized film making companies with an all black cast. Nobel Johnson founded the Lincoln motion picture company May 24 1915 in Omaha, Nebraska but later transferred to Los Angeles, California. Being performers of an all black cast their motive and reasoning was to showcase “black pride” and erase stereotypes that white people imagined about them. “Realization of a Negro’s Ambition” was the first all African American film they released. It was really risky but a huge opportunity for colored people to speak their mind and allow the community to see their real identity.

Additional Information

The information we’ve shared above touches on critical points in the development of African-American theater in the Omaha area. Our documents span the twentieth century, from one of the first film companies to successfully provide a voice for black self-definition on the silver screen in 1915, to the triumph of the all-black Center Stage troupe at the Toyama International Amateur Theater Festival in 1983.

By glimpsing the past, we can better understand the vibrant life of African-American theater on stages across Omaha today. The Afro Academy still exists under the direction of Mr. Harry Eure, as does the old Center Stage-turned-John Beasley Theater. Furthermore, Omaha’s Salem Baptist Church has a history of excellence in its drama ministries program through the work of nationally acclaimed playwright Llana Smith, who writes on both biblical and black historical themes. She has passed on her gifts to her daughter Quiana (known professionally as Q. Smith), a Broadway actress and the first African-American woman to be part of Disney’s touring production of “Mary Poppins” in the role of Miss Andrew.

This tradition continues to bear new fruit as well in the work of sisters Lanette Moore and Camille Metoyer-Moten (formerly actresses with Center Stage) in forming the “Young, Gifted, and Black” program at the Rose Theater. The program consists of “an ensemble of African American youth [ages 13-18] that explore issues by performing the works of great African American playwrights” (www.rosetheater.org). This is a wonderful opportunity for young black artists both to hone their theatrical abilities and to explore their cultural history. Finally, I find great hope for the future of Omaha theater in the young researchers who compiled the documents above, each a budding playwright, director, or actor/actress. It will take educated and engaged young people such as these, of all colors, to ensure that what was once an invisible history will have the future in the spotlight that it deserves.
FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:

http://leoadambiga.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/gospel-playwright-llana-smith-enjoys-her-big-mama’s-time/

http://www.rosetheater.org/classes-programs/2011-12-teen-season/broken-mirror-12/

http://salembc.org/ministries/music_and_worship.shtml

http://www.johnbeasleytheater.org/

http://www.qperstar.com/
Q Smith, Queens of the Theater (forthcoming as of July 2012)
Student Reflections
"I am going to look at my history and continue to learn as much as I can. Because of this program, I have a better understanding of my community and my identity."

Glennasha W

"The stereotypes that white projected were the reason why a lot of Blacks wanted to become REAL performers... I now want to be, and do way more in my 'drama' life because of the struggles Black actors went through years ago."

Celine H.

"I got to learn what it was like to be Black during the Civil Rights movement. They would use theatre as a cathartic outlet for all their anger. They told me that theatre brought the community together to see a show. Everyone appreciated art, this added to the community's identity."

Ben A.