Saturday, September 23, 2006

Another reason why we should support the Hattiloo Theatre, Memphis,Tn's new and only Black Rep. Theatre!!!

Hattiloo Theatre at 'Home' on Marshall

Photo Photos by Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Charlie Giggers Jr. rehearses as Cephus, lead character in "Home," the debut production at Hattiloo Theatre.
Director Ekundayo Bandele enjoys the show as he watches a rehearsal of the play "Home," which opens tonight at the new Hattiloo Theatre on Marshall.

The Article appears courtesy of the Commercial Appeal...Make sure you check out the Hattiloo Theatre's inaugural play "Home" of the historic first season!!!

Curtains open tonight on repertory dream
September 22, 2006
By Christopher Blank

The odor of fresh paint and sawdust is common in theaters a few days before a show opens.

But at the Hattiloo Theatre on Marshall, it's not just the paint on the scenery that's still drying.

When the doors open to the public tonight, the whole building will have that new theater smell -- from the lobby, which will soon double as a late-night lounge serving drinks and music, to the 70-seat theater space.

Executive director Ekundayo Bandele brought his dream of a new black repertory theater to fruition in about nine months.

"After I got my first check from the Jeniam Foundation, that's when I realized this was serious; there had to be follow-through," he said of the frenzied experience of building a theater company from the ground up. "I told my board of directors I don't work for them. I work for every person who comes through that door and gives a dollar to support us."

The opening production is the aptly titled "Home," a 1980 Tony-nominated play by Samm-Art Williams that Bandele describes as "a beautiful love story about being true to self and roots."

The production came together the same way the theater did -- a combination of serendipity and using available resources.

"I originally wanted to do an August Wilson play to open the theater," he said. "But they're very male heavy and we have more female actors.

"All the directors in town were busy this time of year, so I had to direct ('Home'). But it's a good, three-person Southern play with Northern nuances."

Hattiloo, a portmanteau word created from his two daughters' names, has received considerable support along the way.

Playhouse on the Square consulted with Bandele about theater management. The Orpheum donated the stage lighting. Rhodes College donated black curtains. Mr. Lincoln's Costume Shoppe in Overton Square gave him 200 costumes. The electricians and builders reduced their rates. His landlord, an artist, gave him free rent until the theater was up and running.

In all, the theater cost around $100,000, for which Bandele has been the primary fund-raiser.

Hattiloo isn't the first attempt to bring theater to the area of town known as "The Edge," a neighborhood of warehouses between Downtown and Midtown. Just across the street from Hattiloo, a blues club may soon open at the site of the former indie theater Sleeping Cat Studio.

To the east of Hattiloo is Sun Studio, and to the west, a new late-night exotic dance club.

"I don't think our audiences will clash," he said of the vicinity's clientele. "Our hours are different and the important thing is there's going to be more traffic down here."

Earlier this week, Bandele gave a last-minute tour of the theater in construction mode. Electricians and carpenters floated quietly through the building on the voice of Billie Holiday, played over the P.A. system.

"Whenever people come in, they always comment on the energy of the place," Bandele said, downing a quick lunch before the actors' arrival.

Bandele built the "Home" set himself in two days. Carpentry is just one more thing he's picked up in the process of starting a theater.

"I'm learning every day," he said. "My head is so full of information. It's why they made caffeine and NoDoz. On Sunday I just want to sit in a hot tub and read a book."

Ultimately, he plans for the "black repertory" to become a "repertory of color," which would include plays for the growing Memphis Latino and Asian communities.

He has stated that the point of a theater devoted to "high art" plays by minorities is not to promote exclusivity, but to give Memphis residents a wider range of drama currently not well represented by major local theaters.

About Christopher Blank
Classical music, theater and dance writer Christopher Blank began his career in arts journalism at the St. Petersburg Times after a brief stint in professional theater. Before moving to Memphis in 2001, he graduated from Florida State University with a focus on dramatic literature and taught theater in a program for at-risk youth. In 2003, he was awarded a prestigious fellowship to the Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program in Los Angeles. He is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association. Reach him at 901-529-2305 or by e-mail.

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