Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #9

Contents

BOSTON’s BLACK THEATER HISTORY – REMEMBERED

FRANK SILVERA: FROM BOSTON’s STAGE TO HOLLYWOOD’s SCREEN

THE INSIDE SCOOP ON SPIKE LEE’s “INSIDE MAN”

MARIA and T WINS at RCC TONIGHT

ONE LOVE DVD & CD

THE FIRST WEEKEND CLUB – NOW IN BOSTON

KIRSTEN GREENIDGE

UPCOMING EVENTS


BOSTON’s BLACK THEATER HISTORY – REMEMBERED

by Kay Bourne

13b59e060641b582e6e4e108671a70d4.124.100 Kay Bourne Arts  Report   Issue #9 Filmmaker, Lisa Simmons and her sister, Alison Simmons, were cleaning out the house of their Aunt Mil when they came upon a large box in the back of a closet. The big carton contained a treasure trove of playbills, flyers, and photographs from a time in the 1930′s when Boston was a star among some thirty-nine Black Theater Units, functioning in various cities, nationwide.

The WPA Federal Theatre Project was established as part of an economic recovery program under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” The Depression had put nearly everyone on the skids. For a lively group of theater artists of Color across the country, and here in Boston, directed by Ralf Coleman, however, the Federal Theatre Project gave steady employment. There were also Theatre Project units devoted to Yiddish, Irish, and Italian ethnicities, which in Boston, often shared costumes, actors, and stage space. Above is a cast photo from a Boston Negro Federal Theater play entitled, “JERICO.”

“I knew I’d hit gold!” exclaimed Simmons at the debut screening of her work-in-progress, documentary short, “Boston’s Negro Theater: 1935-1939.” An audience at the Great Hall in Dorchester, March 20, ooh-ed and aah-ed at the stills of actors, including a young Frank Silvera, from a time gone-by. Ralf Coleman’s company put on plays throughout Boston, often at the Repertory Theater, now the Huntington currently operated by Boston University (where in recent years, August Wilson’s plays were staged, prior to going onto Broadway). The early Monday evening screening of Simmons’s documentary, edited by Robin Saunders, was sponsored by Filmmakers Collaborative, the Huntington Theater, and the Codman Square Library branch of the Boston Public Library.

Obviously pleased at the enthusiastic response to her film and its topic, Simmons told the sizeable audience that she plans to expand the 12-minute “Boston’s Negro Theater: 1935-1939″ to perhaps an hour. “I’m going to put myself into it somehow – so many of the people were family members, including Uncle Frank (Silvera).” she said.


FRANK SILVERA: FROM BOSTON’s STAGE TO HOLLYWOOD’s SCREEN

by Kay Bourne

5cfc78eb74622bb62e25929b8e2f3050.124.100 Kay Bourne Arts  Report   Issue #9Even before those heady times, Ralf Coleman had established the Boston Players, which he directed. The company provided the cast for the New York production of Paul Green’s “Roll Sweet Chariot” (1933 – 34) with Ralf as the romantic lead, Tom Sterling and his brother, Warren Coleman, as the mythic “John Henry.” The following year, Warren originated the role of Crown, on Broadway, in the debut of the opera “Porgy and Bess”.

Film, TV, and theater actor, FRANK SILVERA, however, emerged from the Boston unit’s WPA Federal Theater Project years. And taking a leaf from Ralf Coleman’s book, Silvera would act, direct, produce and write plays for the stage and screen. He acted in some 63 movies and TV episodes. Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1914, Silvera was five years old when his family moved to Boston. He was educated in Boston Public Schools, and before deciding on an acting career, went to Northeastern Law School, with plans to become a teacher of Law.

Following the WPA years, Silvera headed for New York and then Hollywood. He was very active in The Civil Rights Movement of the 50′s and 60′s, and gave James Baldwin his first Broadway experience as a playwright when Silvera produced (with Maria Cole, Nat “King” Cole’s wife) and directed “The Amen Corner” in 1965. He also took the lead in Baldwin’s other play, “Blues For Mister Charlie” when the drama about the Civil Rights Movement was produced in L.A. where Silvera was then making his home.

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