In terms of film and television, we are living in a time where the brilliance and creativity of Black people seems to be flourishing in this country. With blockbuster films and high television ratings, African-American creatives are making significant impact in Hollywood. However, an often-forgotten black tradition is in theatre arts. Historically, the black theatre community has always, consistently impacted the community; and, very often sparking movements leading to social action and change.
Since 1991, the Beverly Hills-Hollywood Branch of the NAACP has been hosting the NAACP Theatre Awards to honor and celebrate theatre and its impact on our community. It is also important to note that black arts organizations receive less 10% of all annual arts funding, nationally. In the face of funding challenges, Los Angeles’ Black theatre arts community thrives.
For a quarter-century, The Robey Theatre Company has been the standard-bearer of classical Black theatre in Los Angeles. In the rich tradition of its namesake, Paul “Robey” Robeson, the noted lawyer, humanitarian, civil rights activist and dramatic actor who regularly spoke out against racial injustice and was involved in world politics.
Founded in 1994, the organization began as a readers’ theatre centering on classics. The Robey Theatre Company is the heart-centered work of veteran actors, Ben Guillory and Danny Glover. The friends and colleagues joined forces to establish the organization as a professional company of artists who believed in the transformational power of plays. And since inception, have dedicated to the production of stage plays that tell the vital and complex stories of the global black experience.
As the Los Angeles Theatre Arts Community’s leading curators of socially conscious theatrical performances, Robey works to foster a community of creatives through acting workshops, playwriting labs, staged readings, and productions reflecting its commitment, mission and purpose.
Recently, The Robeson Effect, a documentary by renowned documentarian, Juney Smith, premiered at The Pan African Film Festival. The film tells the rich history of The Robey Theatre and features commentary and archival footage. In the film, Danny Glover credits his friend, Ben Guillory with keeping the work of The Robey Theatre alive, “You know Ben, is really the creative force behind The Robey Theatre Company. It is his tenacity and genuine love and passion of theatre that keep this engine running.”
Mr. Guillory’s profound desire to mentor the next generation of artists through theatre arts is best demonstrated through his hands-on work as acting coach and director. And, his relentless commitment to the development of original plays, and his efforts to provide a platform for new voices whose impact will be felt for generations to come.
Robey operates its offices and theatre house at Los Angeles Theatre Center in historic DTLA. Generally, the organization offers limited-run productions in Black Box theatres with capacity between 70 and 100 seating, as well as, the occasional Equity production with its collaborative partners. This model allows the organization to offer classical theatre as well as serve as an incubator for new and experimental original works.
In addition to theatrical productions, the organization offers Workshops and Labs using Robey’s intensive creative process that is carefully designed to support the work of creatives and artists. The Playwright’s Lab works with established and emerging playwrights to develop ideas into viable stage plays. The Advanced Scene Study Workshop assists actors in developing their craft through the study and practice of theatrical disciplines – voice, speech, movement, analysis of human behavior.
This year, and all-year-long, the organization is celebrating its 25th Year Anniversary in Black Theatre Excellence. To commemorate this occasion and kick off its 2019 Production Season, on Saturday, April 6, Robey will present the world premiere of Birdland Blue written by Randy Ross, Ph.D.
Dr. Ross is an author and retired LAUSD Administrator. An Angeleno since the age of 4, he graduated from John C. Fremont SHS. After attending college and working in New York, he returned to Los Angeles in 1982 where he has remained. Dr. Ross joined Robey’s Playwrights Lab in 2016 and serves on Robey’s Creative Team, as well.
Birdland Blue is a product of over two years of development, his original play was carefully nurtured and in Robey’s Playwright’s Lab, and be helmed by Robey’s own, award-winning Producing Artistic Director, Ben Guillory.
Birdland Blue is a behind-the-scenes look at Miles Davis on one evening in August 1959. He is interviewed and engages in a certain banter with the beautiful reporter for a jazz magazine. He copes with the division within his ranks, as two of his musicians are on the verge of leaving his Miles Davis Sextet to start their own groups. He deals with a substance abuse problem. He argues with the club owner/manager over proper compensation. His biggest challenge may be coming from an NYPD detective.
The cast includes (in alphabetical order) Jermaine Alexander, Tiffany Coty, Rogelio Douglas III, Eddie Goines, Charles Isen, Marcus Clark Oliver, Darrell Philip, Michael D. Ricks and Damon Rutledge.
For the second time ever, a Robey production will feature musical performances by Ricardo Mowatt, Marion Newton and playwright, Randy Ross Ph.D. Dr. Ross is also an accomplished saxophonist and the three musicians are members of the jazz group the Blue Morning Quintet.
Birdland Blue is not a documentary, but an engaging dramatic and speculative tale of a night in the life of an unforgettable musical genius. If you are a fan of the coolest music or the glamour of the era, then Birdland Blue is the show for you.
Birdland Blue is produced at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, in its intimate Theatre Four, 514 S. Spring St. in downtown Los Angeles, CA 90013. Previews are April 4 and 5 at 8:00 p.m. The Gala Opening Night World Premiere performance is Saturday, April 6, 2019 at 8:00 p.m. Regular show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. On Sundays April 21 and May 12, curtain time will be instead at 7:00 p.m. The concluding performance will be on May 12.
Tickets for all shows can be ordered online at www.thelatc.org or by phone at (866) 811-4111. To learn more about The Robey Theatre Company, please visit the organization’s website at www.robeytheatrecompany.org or call the office at 213-489-7402. Discounted tickets are available for students, seniors, veterans, educators and groups through The Robey Theatre Company Office.
The Robey Theatre Company is funded in part by grants from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the County of Los Angeles through Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Los Angeles Arts Commission.