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‘The Colored Museum’ is a traveling theater experience that winds through the campus of the Alliance for the Arts

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Tom Hall
Chantel Rhodes, Renee Freeman and Tijuanna Clemons running lines;

Sonya McCarter and the Alliance for the Arts produced Emmy award winner George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum at the end of their inaugural 9-week CHANGE (Communities Harnessing the Arts to Nurture and Grow Equity) course that challenged eleven adults from minority communities to explore the fundamentals of acting, character development, and scene work. Now, the Alliance brings back the vignette-based play that has electrified, discomforted, and delighted audiences of all colors since 1986, undermining black stereotypes, old and new, and redefining our ideas of what it means to be black in contemporary America.

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Tom Hall
Director Sonya McCarter

Sonya McCarter once again directs.

McCarter has long admired Wolfe not just for his uncanny ability to eviscerate the stereotypes we all embrace, both intentionally and unwittingly, but for his gift for “intentional phraseology.” By stripping off facades, artifice, and emotional armor of the characters he contrives, Wolfe shines a cold, unapologetic light on the essence of the black experience in this country.

New York Times reviewer Frank Rich put a fine point on Wolfe’s incisive play some 35 years ago. “How do American black men and women at once honor and escape the legacy of suffering that is the baggage of their past?” he wrote.

It was that very query that compelled Wolfe to courageously excoriate the assumptions underlying no less than Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic play A Raisin in the Sun. In a sketch titled “The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play,” Wolfe ridicules the characters of Mama and her son, Walter Lee, mocks the dialogue that passes between them, and skewers the expectations that white audiences have of mainstream black performers and the playwrights who infuse them with animus—making good on his promise to deliver “a searing domestic drama that tears at the very fabric of racist America” by revealing the cultural blind spots of blacks and whites alike.

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Tom Hall
Chantel Rhodes, Tijuanna Clemons and Chris McCarter listen to Renee Freeman deliver lines in "Last Mama on the Couch"

From an intellectual standpoint, The Colored Museum is the perfect exclamation point for a journey that Bill Taylor and Theatre Conspiracy began five seasons ago with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and which continued in successive seasons with Seven Guitars, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and King Hedley II, all part of the August Wilson Century Cycle.

Now McCarter returns to direct an all-star cast that includes Cantrella Canady as La La Lamazing Grace, Tijuanna Clemons in various roles, Derek Lively as Miss Roj and Ruthgena Faraco as Topsy – fresh from her triumphant portrayal of Celie in The Color Purple for the Laboratory Theater of Florida.

When McCarter last produced and directed The Colored Museum, attendance was restricted to her students’ family and friends. This time the play is open to the entire community, but McCarter makes use of the play’s eleven individual playettes to construct a highly-personal interactive experience with audiences traveling through the Alliance gallery and campus to visit each “exhibit” in The Colored Museum. Ironically, the Foulds Theatre will be the only space at the Alliance not used for the production.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

This Spotlight on the Arts feature is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.