Over a hot cup of coffee in a local diner last January, three talented black actors — Latrelle Bright, Danielle Barnes, and Paul Riddle Jr. — held a passionate discussion. In the midst of the conversation, Bright posed the question, "Do you want to start a theater company?"
It sounds a bit like the Little Rascals throwing a backyard circus, but in a city where local music and art come in a multitude of sounds, shapes, and colors, San Antonio's theater arts lacked an avenue for people of color to showcase their talents.
With an extensive amount of theater experience backed with a powerful drive to create something new for the community, the Renaissance Guild, San Antonio's new black theater company, was born. "We felt there was need for it in the community; we didn't see it anywhere," Bright notes. "We're actors, directors, we do lots of different kinds of things and we didn't have the opportunity — so when there's no opportunity you create your own."
The three founders put together a board of directors, including themselves, two outstanding professors, Darrell Pittman and Jim Mammarella, and Catherine Frye, former president of the YWCA.
"As a black theater company not only will we do pieces by black playwrights, we will also do pieces that showcase powerful social themes," Bright explains, adding that productions do not necessarily revolve around black playwrights. For instance, the Guild's first production, Betrayal, took the work of a white British playwright, set it in Harlem in the 1920s, and put an all-black cast on stage.
"There is a wealth of talent in San Antonio that is untapped," Barnes emphasizes. "There's no need to travel to other cities to experience quality entertainment; the talent is right here, San Antonio's a fountain of talent. We want to explore that. We want to develop talent, and we want to put new talent on stage and backstage as much as possible."
However, the Guild agrees that "there has to be caliber in whatever `we` do — there must be a high caliber script and a high caliber cast." Most important, the Guild wants to create a venue that affords people of color the opportunity to choose a broad range of challenging and positive roles, not stereotypical, demeaning ones.
The Guild's debut season began successfully; its next full-scale production, Thomas Gibbons' bee-luther-hatchee (the play continues though March 30 at Alamo Street Theatre) presents an amazing cast including Bright, John O'Neil, Angela Bennett, Mark Daratt, Nikki Young, and Kathleen Lovejoy. The play depicts a young editor who bursts into the limelight with her first non-fiction book, bee-luther-hatchee, the reminiscent memoirs of an elderly black woman. The book wins praise and awards, but trouble soon arises when the young editor begins to question the authenticity of the elderly woman's work.
To keep the momentum going, this summer the Guild plans to host a fundraiser talent show and produce its first musical. In the more distant future, the Guild envisions offering a drama workshop series to teach adults and children about theater.
Through March 30
Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm
Alamo Street Theatre
1150 S. Alamo