The Bronze Collective Theatre Festival is hoping to infuse different kinds of African-American arts -- like theater, dance, and music -- into Rochester's theatrical scene this week. The festival brings together many accomplished local writers, actors, and other performers for "A Week's Infusion of African-American Theatrical Arts." The festival takes place at MuCCC from Tuesday, February 17, through Saturday, February 21.
To produce the festival, Curtis Rivers -- who has owned Mood Makers Books for more than 20 years and who has produced the annual Sankofa Evenings of Theatre and Jazz at MuCCC for seven years -- joined forces with local theater artist Reuben Tapp. Tapp has acted in numerous plays since coming to Rochester in 2005, most recently in Blackfriars' "I'm Not Rappaport" last fall; he also acted in Rivers' play "Talk" during last summer's Sankofa event.
But the Bronze Collective also brings together a host of African-American artists in numerous disciplines, many of whom are well-regarded in their community but hardly known outside of it. Rivers and Tapp say they hope this event -- which is purposefully offered during Black History Month -- will start to change that perception.
"Within the Rochester community there are approximately 10 African-American theater groups," Rivers says. "Many of us didn't even know of each other, let alone when we were performing. As a collective, we can network together, pool our resources, and cross-pollinate our talent."
This festival is the collective's inaugural endeavor. "We want to make people aware of the fantastic array of African-American talent in Rochester, and the heritage of continuous, active arts organizations in our community, performing in all different kinds of places," Rivers says. "We really have not gotten the notice we deserve."
"With a collective, all have a voice," Tapp adds. "And each voice has a better chance of being heard. Each group is autonomous; in planning the festival we told them, 'Do what you want to do.' But we all come together for a common cause: to get people in the seats."
The series begins on Tuesday, February 17, with a staged reading of "My People Perish" by the festival playwright-in-residence Jahaka Mindstorm. The reading is directed by Reuben Tapp. Dance and theater intersect for Wednesday's "Art Collaboration Night" with two pieces written and directed by Reenah Golden. Thursday offers what Rivers calls "a blast from the past," a nod to literary history with scenes from the plays of the great African-American writer James Baldwin, as presented by David Shakes and the North Star Players.
Djed Snead's play "The Love that Hate Produced" is a commentary on "The Hate that Hate Produced," Mike Wallace's famous 1959 TV exposé of the Nation of Islam. The writer combines his script -- a dialogue for two actors -- with footage from the original documentary to create the production. On Saturday, an afternoon salon features three short films by David Taylor, a scriptwriter for the Spike Lee movie "Drop Squad," followed by discussions. The evening is a family night, in which young people can come dressed as figures in African-American history, then take part in a pageant called "Kings and Queens."
"One of the great things about Rochester is that it has such a strong, healthy theatrical community in general," Tapp says, calling this week's event "a big cross-section of art forms." He thinks this is true of theater in general: "It encompasses the rest of the arts: visual arts, dance, music, multimedia.
"The arts are a uniter. The way generations communicate their values to each other is through art. And we are stronger together when our bonds are united in the arts."
Rivers adds, "Black culture is traditionally conveyed to the rest of society through the arts -- dance, music, even sports -- for good or bad. What we really want to get across is that this is theater for everybody. It's not exclusively for African-American audiences, it is relevant to white, black, Hispanic, or any other kind of audience. We are all people who all have the same wants, problems, and desires. Same eggs, different spice."
There really isn't a moral to the story. And it doesn't need one. "Assassins" is part history lesson, part black comedy, and wholly enjoyable.