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Ensemble joins festival celebrating black theater troupes

Published 6:13 pm, Friday, June 28, 2013
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  • Joseph Palmore performs a scene from The Ballad of The Ballad of Emmett Till...
  • Joseph Palmore, left, and Kendrick Brown star in Ensemble Theatre's
  • Kendrick Brown, front left, Lee Waddell, back left, Joseph Palmore, center,...

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The Ensemble Theatre will perform Ifa Bayeza's play "The Ballad of Emmett Till" as part of the National Black Theatre Festival being held July 29-Aug. 2 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The biennial festival is the largest assemblage of black theater companies and their staffers. This year's festival is expected to attract more than 65,000 people to the six days of performances, readings, workshops and seminars. The presentation of plays is by invitation only; this year's appearance marks the fourth time the Ensemble has been asked to present a play at the gathering.

"We're excited about our fourth opportunity to commune with our brothers and sisters in the arts," Ensemble artistic director Eileen Morris said. "It is imperative that black theater companies continue to grow professionally, explore new perspectives and find innovative ways to tell our stories."

The Ensemble will revive its 2012 production of Bayeza's theatrical collage about Till, the Chicago teen who was lynched while visiting relatives in rural Mississippi in 1955. The play received a 2009 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. For the festival presentation, Elizabeth Van Dyke will direct the original Ensemble cast of Kendrick Brown, Rachel H. Dickson, Broderick Jones, Joseph Palmore and Lee Waddell.

The festival was founded in 1989 by Larry Leon Hamlin, with the support of noted poet Maya Angelou, to unite African-American stage companies, showcase their best work and help ensure their survival. Hamlin, the founder and artistic director of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, died in 2008 at age 58.

"Larry Leon Hamlin was a pioneer who had a dream, much like our (the Ensemble's) founder, George Hawkins," Morris said. "He pursued every avenue to make that dream come true and, with his vision, created a festival that celebrates African-American art and brings together actors, directors, playwrights, theater founders, technicians, filmmakers and educators in dynamic interchange. He left a legacy that will continue to change and impact the nation's perspective of our culture."

Everett Evans

Mildred's 2013-14 season

Among Houston's small, alternative theaters, Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Company is the wild card - perhaps the company whose "type" of programming is most difficult to define. The track record has been variable, but the output consistently interesting - almost always recently premiered plays, usually offbeat ones and often brand-new scripts from area writers. So as you read Mildred's lineup for the new 2013-14 season, if you don't recognize any of the titles, don't worry about being out of the loop.

"Foxfinder," Aug. 15-31: Mildred's will present the U.S. premiere of Dawn King's play, a finalist for this year's Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Premiered at London's Finborough Theatre in 2011, it's described as "a darkly comic exploration of belief, desire and responsibility, set in a world both strange and familiar, from a striking new voice in British theatre." It depicts a time when "foxfinders" are employed to unearth and destroy creatures believed to threaten man's civilization.

"Carnival Round the Central Figure," Nov. 7-23: Produced off-Broadway in 2011, Diana Amsterdam's play takes a woman's visit to a dying friend and turns it into a wild ride spanning all the mysteries and fears surrounding life's final moments. The result is billed as "an extravagant psycho-fable about a man whose imminent demise makes him a ringmaster in death's circus."

"Museum of Dysfunction IV," Dec. 6-14: The latest in the company's annual program of short plays, co-produced by Wordsmyth Theatre, selected from 200 submissions by writers across the U.S.

"Rome," March 6-22: Mildred's has produced several intriguing scripts by area writer John Harvey. This will be the latest, which is all we know about it so far. But it must have something to do with the Eternal City, right? Watch this space.

All the company's 2013-14 productions will be at Studio 101, 1824 Spring.

For information and tickets, go to www.mildredsumbrella.com

Everett Evans

Former HGO trainee wins contest

Jamie Barton, a former member of Houston Grand Opera's training program, recently won one of the world's most prestigious vocal contests, the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Barton, a mezzo-soprano, was a member of HGO Studio from 2007 to 2009. She performed in the world premieres of Andre Previn's "Brief Encounter" and Christopher Theofanidis' "The Refuge," and she also appeared in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and Hector Berlioz's "Beatrice and Benedict."

The biennial Singer of the World contest was established by the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1983. Past winners include soprano Karita Mattila and baritones Bryn Terfel and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Barton, a native of Rome, Ga., is only the third American to win the top prize.

Barton will return to HGO in April 2014 to play Fricka in Richard Wagner's "Das Rheingold."

Steven Brown

Celebrate the Fourth of July at Bayou Bend

No fireworks for this daytime event, but you can celebrate Independence Day with a free afternoon party at Bayou Bend. Crafts, games, performances and more will take place on the grounds of Miss Ima Hogg's mansion. Hear the Texas Army Fife and Drum Corps; see uniforms and weapons from the American Revolution; listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence. 1-5 p.m. Thursday at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, 6003 Memorial. Details: www.mfah.org

Alyson Ward

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