African-American Shakespeare Company
African-American Shakespeare Company was established in 1994 by professional theater artists from the American Conservatory Theatre as an alternative answer to the “color-blind casting” initiative that began in the early 1990s. While this initiative temporarily changed the diversity on stage, African-American Shakespeare Company felt color-blind casting was ignoring these artists’ rich cultural heritage and was inspired to highlight the dynamic cultural vibrancy that actors of color could bring to classical works. For over sixteen years, the company has produced over 34 productions, toured to 97 schools, and reached over 110,000 patrons through mainstage productions and through their arts education program. The goal is to bring the classics to a diverse community in a method that would appeal to their aesthetic; the overall vision and desire is to demonstrate through the arts the universal similarities by sharing, appreciating, and nurturing the human spirit. The company’s distinctive productions have included a Hip-Hop version of Macbeth, The Importance of Being Earnest set in the Harlem Renaissance, a Gospel version of Antigone, and Twelfth Night, an original jazz composition and Film Noir setting of the 1940s.
As part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, African American Shakespeare Company’s production of Merry Wives of Windsor will marry the urban black theater movement with Elizabethan theatre practices to create a theatrical experience that is joyous, groundbreaking and relevant to the lives and history of its audience. Directed by Becky Kemper and starring L. Peter Callender, this two-hour abridged production will open in the Spring 2013. Ten to twelve Bay Area schools will receive ten hours’ worth of in-classroom curriculum which provides a basic training structure for the students to comprehend Shakespeare. Schools that have participated in the partnership before will take part in a second phase of performance-based training, working on a monologue or a scene from Merry Wives of Windsor with African-American Shakespeare actors as guest artists in the classroom.