New theater company opens with solid production, dynamic cast

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To fill a void in the Kansas City metro theater community, Damron Russel Armstrong developed a new company of thespians to create more diversity and opportunities for persons of color when he formed the Black Repertory Theatre group that had it debut production, “The African Company Presents Richard III,” hosted by The Fishtank Performance Studio.

For the initial production Armstrong teamed with Kansas City Shakespeare Festival and summoned one of their directors, Sidonie Garrett to produce and direct the play. “The African Company Presents Richard III” tells the story of a troupe of Black actors who want to present Shakespeare in New York City for a mixed audience–predominately Black with the Whites in a cordoned off section at the rear of the auditorium.

Trouble arises when a competing Shakespearean company chooses to present “Richard III” at the same time, across town, and with a famous Shakespearean actor. The competing company wants no competition and offers to buy out the house after having the theater in spected and closed for code violations. Fighting back, The African Company rents a hotel ballroom next door to the established theater group. Power plays begin and the tension mounts. Afraid of the competition, money comes into play as the White theatre group offers to purchase all seats if the African Company will stop their production. Guaranteed money loses to personal morals and principals, causing the African Company to open the show next door to the competition. As a result, the Black actors are arrested and taken to jail when they attempt to present their show.

For their initial offering, The Black Rep. made a great selection and then followed up with a superb cast of actors who created a spectacular production in the tiny Fishtank Studio. Because of the small performance space, limited seating, the Black Rep capitalized on weaknesses and turned them into strength. The space, being tight made an intimate setting for the audience and put then inside the show. The strength of the cast just pulled the audience into the story and helped bring out the comedy and pain of the piece.

Not only does “The African Company Presents Richard III” deliver Shakespeare’s prose, it opens the play to the pain and suffering of the characters from Shakespeare and also the acting troupe whose lives and feelings are mirrored in “Richard III.” The anguish of the Black characters mirrors the society and problems of their present situations.

“The African Company Presents Richard III” stands as an ensemble piece with all the Black characters having equal parts. All give strong and multi-leveled characters as they deliver their lines as characters and as characters portraying Shakespearean characters. The two White characters have smaller parts and represent the challenges and discrimination faced in this piece. Ben Auxier an Andy Perkins deliver great villainous characters–strongly against their actual personalities.

Teddy Trice, Rufus Burns, and George Forbes are the three actors who want to create the “Richard III” for their audience. They are funny, tragic, and sad as the piece develops. Beautiful acting, facial expressions, and a range of emotions characterize their perfomances. Amber McKinnon makes the audience feel her pain and strife in portraying a Shakespearean character that so mirrors her situation. She is very convincing. Meredith Wolfe always creates a realistic character, and in this case uses her sweetness and humor in her character development. Overall, there is not a weak performance in the show.

The production features Teddy Trice, Rufus Burns, George Forbes, Amber McKinnon, Meredith Wolfe, Andy Perkins, and Ben Auxier. Performances were through Oct. 30. Those who failed to view this production need to plan ahead to not miss subsequent productions.

“Founded in 2016, BRTKC is a non-for-profit organization designed to impact the Kansas City community, a spokesman said. “Each production will be tasked to give life to the neglected stories virtually untold in Kansas City. In an effort to bridge the gap between the rich realities of black experiences and the incomplete depiction displayed in most media outlets.”

According to Damron Russel Armstrong, “BRTKC recognizes that only through shared experiences and true depictions can we come together as one strong community. Both the lack of stories told through minority perspectives and the presence of minorities in Kansas City theatre are what gave birth to this company. BRTKC equally focuses on education and the inclusion of black youths in theatre. The Black Rep is currently taking educational programs throughout the Kansas City Metro area schools: implementing scholarships, internships, and mentorships.

Information in making donations to the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City and details of the inaugural season can be found on BRTKC’s website.”

 

Tags: Kansas City, Performing Arts, Arts & Entertainment, Black Repertory Theatre, The Fishtank Performance Studio, “The African Company Presents Richard III”, Kansas City Theater, Drama, Mid America Shakespeare Festival

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