Document Type


Date of Award



School of Communication (SOC)

Degree Name

MA in Communication

First Advisor

Professor Eui Bun Lee


This paper examines the landscape of formalized African American theatre (AAT) dating back to its beginnings as the Black Arts Movement and its evolution into what we know today as a residential/regional theatre network. Documented surveys showed that the AAT's audiences were, in addition to getting older, getting smaller in attendance overall. Younger people were represented in fewer and fewer numbers. These findings further illustrated a socioeconomic gap between faithful theatergoers and those on the periphery. AAT groups were not getting their messages to newer generations with lower income and less education. This data and other research, then, ultimately indicated a distinct, diminishing sense of identity through the years and unto today. Audiences had indeed become largely affluent, upwardly mobile and highly educated. I hypothesized that this identity crisis is the direct result of the evolved theatre funding model; that AAT companies often find themselves obtaining much of their funding from white institutions (public and private). Such circumstances are arguably 1 2 antithetical to those of the Black Arts Movement, which was community supported and grass-roots in its scope and reach. I sought to illustrate that this funding model, in fact, has negative effects on the message content; sanitizing, if you will, black theatre messages. I wanted to explain that the AAT had lost its resonance within its content and subsequently not reaching the masses of black people. My methodology was an online survey instrument and an at-length interview with Lou Bellamy, Producing Artistic Director at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul MN. The data analysis did not show such a correlation, but was not entirely unfruitful in that it did offer some clues to further research in the area.