The theme of The Renaissance Guild’s 2013-2014 season could not be more appropriate—We Are Who We Are: The Migration Project.
Since 2001, San Antonio’s “Premiere Black Theatre Company” has been producing and promoting quality black theater on San Antonio’s East Side. Now, with the help of new Artistic Director Bill Lewis, word is spreading and San Antonio is getting to know The Renaissance Guild (TRG) and the powerful voices of the black community.
TRG is a non-profit organization that examines, preserves and celebrates the black experience through theater—a significant effort in a city in which African Americans comprise only 7 percent of the population. In addition to producing classic plays by black playwrights, such as Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange, and plays that directly portray the black community, such as Fences and Bee-luther-hatchee, TRG reimagines traditional works through the lens of a black perspective. On TRG’s stage, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew concludes with Katherine and Petruchio, both played by black actors, proudly clutching their prize money and each other, and in Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, the resolve of black women ends a war when they withhold sex until men declare peace.
Though the plays emphasize the black experience, Lewis believes that in a democratic society, their story is everyone’s story. “We are all trying to understand who we are in relation to each other and the world we inhabit,” he says. “[Working with TRG] is an opportunity to tell our story, the African-American story, in the context of all the other stories being told.” Some of TRG’s stories also come from local playwrights, who, once a year, are invited to share their work in the ActOne Series.
TRG President and co-founder Danielle King welcomes and strives to give back to the community that supports them. “I am proud that TRG is able to . . . give opportunities to people of color who otherwise might not have a chance to perform on stage in San Antonio,” she says. “We have been doing this out of a love and passion—not only just to educate people on black theater, but showing them the theater belongs to all of us, no matter your race.”
King’s and Lewis’ sentiments are manifest in the theater’s offerings for the 2013-2014 season, which explores the impact of the 20th-century African American migration on the present day: Black Nativity, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, African Folktales, and most recent at the time of this article’s publication, Katori Hall’s award-winning play The Mountaintop (pictured above), a fictional account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final night before his assassination.
Some critics take issue with Hall’s presentation of the civil rights icon as a drinking, smoking, cursing, flirtatious, vain and even frightened human being. But it is this humanization that connects the everyman to MLK and assures audiences that anyone can take up the baton and do something great. To believe that TRG’s productions are only of interest to a black audience would be as naive as believing that Martin Luther King Jr. is only relevant to African Americans.
In the future, Lewis hopes to bring TRG theater to San Antonio schools and to collaborate with other theater organizations. Until then, everyone is welcome to experience The Renaissance Guild at The Little Carver Theatre on North Hackberry street. Visit therenaissanceguild.org for more information.