Perry countered: “I think traditional black theater is suffering because of comments like that one. What makes the people who go to your shows better than people who go to mine?”
“It’s insulting on so many levels, not just to me but to the millions of black hardworking folks who want to go out and have a good time. . . . If he is waiting for me in particularto raise the level of theater before I’m invited, I probably won’t get an invitation.”
Sitting in his Southeast Washington living room watching the program, Alan, who is also an actor, thought: “What a shame, because Tyler Perry has a story.”
The debate over the artistic merits of the various genres of black theater spurred Alan to create a festival in Washington that would include playwrights from all categories. “We wanted a festival that embraced both sides of the story — both urban and regional theater because of the importance of the story,” Alan said. “It is still our story. Urban theater might be told with humor versus August Wilson, who tells it with pain and seriousness. ”
The D.C. Black Theatre Festival, which began in 2010, has quickly grown. The number of submissions has risen from around 300 to close to 400; productions have increased from 127 to 150; attendance has gone from approximately 14,000 in 2010 to 22,000 in 2011 to an expected 25,000 this year. This year’s festival also has a impressive lineup of actors appearing in plays or moderating or presenting workshops, including Rain Pryor, daughter of Richard Pryor; Taimak of “The Last Dragon”; Petri Hawkins-Byrd of “Judge Judy”; Jessica Holter, who has been seen on HBO; Darrin Henson of “Soul Food”; and Doug E. Doug of “The “Cosby Show.”
The festival, which runs Saturday-July 1, packs 150 performancesof black theater on 15 stages across the Washington region. The more than 125 performances will include full-length plays, one-act play competitions, theater workshops, readings of new works, and a directors’ challenge.
Each play comes from one of three major genres in black theater — traditional, urban and gospel. “We are doing theater from every aspect,” says Alan, who has written more than a dozen plays, including “Don’t Sing No Blues for Me,” which will be performed during the festival. It is a drama about a young man coming to a small North Carolina town for the funeral of the mother he never knew, and his arrival threatens to uproot long-buried secrets. “Whether you enjoy August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry or Tyler Perry or a good old gospel stage play,” Alan says, “the festival has something for you,”