The Minority Arts Ensemble will present two major productions this spring, one about the crucifixion of chirst and one portraying the life of Malcolm X.
Arnett Holloway, producing director of the ensemble, said the group was founded a year and a half ago to provide an outlet for "the expression and development of the minority voice." The two productions reflect this purpose.
The ensemble will present "Women at the Tomb," a play about the crucifixion as witnessed not by Christ's apostles, but by the women most deeply affected, including Mary Magdelene and the wives of Pilate and Judas Escariot. The first performance is scheduled for tomorrow.
The ensemble's next production will be in April. "El Haj Malik," a play by N.R. Davidson, will trace the life of Malcolm X from his childhood until his assassination.
Against a backdrop of slides of Malcolm X and the Civil Rights campaigns of the Sixties, 14 actors - men and women - will take turns portraying the crusader for black pride.
"Everyone thinks of Malcolm as a fiery speaker," said Alan Sharpe, director of the production. "But through this approach, you see all the different aspects of his character, including the gentler, family-oriented sides of his personality."
In "Women at the Tomb," written in 1929 by the Flemish playwright Michel de Ghelderode, the ensemble will again try to make legendary figures seem more human.
"This is not the typical glorified approach to the people around Christ," said Mark Clopton, the director. "It shows that many people were afraid of the political impact of aligning themselves with Christ - that everyone wasn't pious, and everyone wasn't pure."
Clopton also found the play unusual because, with a cast of 11 women and one man, it focuses almost entirely on confrontations between women. "You never see a man dominating the scene," he said.
The group wants to explore a variety of material and roles, ensemble members stressed. They don't want to limit their work to themes dealing solely with blacks, Hispanos or women.
For instance, Holloway said, the company defines "minority" very broadly to include the elderly and children. In some cases, "it cn be difficult for children to gather the resources to express themselves," he said.
Holloway and Sharpe founded their first theater group, the Black Drama Collective, in 1971, when they were students at Boston University. It started as a vehicle for plays they each had written.For four years, it offered members a chance to write, direct and act.
When Holloway and Sharpe decided to revive the group in Washington as the Minority Arts Ensemble, they focused on building a roster of directors.
Now there are four members of the Ensemble's Directors Institute in addition to Holloway, who works as assistant director of community affairs at WTTG-TV, and Sharpe, who is employed by an agriculture consulting firm.
Other members are Mark Clopton, a real estate salesman and former teacher; Anna Clopton, who teaches learning disabled children and has directed children's theater for the Ensemble; Dianne Houston, who has performed with the Ebony Impromptu Theater Company and at the ASTA Theater and now is working at the Savile Book Shop; and Gideon Ferebee, who works at the Department of Interior and portrays the apostle John in "Women at the Tomb."
It is even more difficult for directors than for actors to find a vehicle for their work, said Holloway, so the Directors Institute makes sure its members have the space, resources and moral support. To find actors, the ensemble holds open auditions for performers of varying experience.
In addition to theater productions, which have been staged at local churches and the Back Alley Theater, the ensemble produces a monthly radio program on Pacifica Radio, featuring original plays and poetry.
The members have still bigger plans for the company. Holloway is trying to arrange permanent rehearsal, performance and teaching space at All Souls' Church at 16th and Harvard streets, where the ensemble now rehearses, and at the Marie Reed Community Learning Center, 2200 Champlain St. NW.
In addition, the Cloptons are eager to begin drama classes for children. And almost all the ensemble members hope that someday they will be able to support themselves through their art.
"Women at the Tomb" will be presented at the Washington Cathedral at 3 p.m. Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday (free). It will continue at Al Souls' Church on April 7, 8, 14, 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. (donation). "El Hajj Malik" will open at All Souls' Church April 20.