Jubilee Theatre: Setting The Stage and Paving The Way for African-American Creatives in Texas

By Kimberly Dijkstra

The oldest African-American theatre in North Texas, Jubilee Theatre has been going strong for 41 years. Rudy Eastman, a beloved Fort Worth teacher, and his wife Marian noticed a lack of African-American performers in the area and founded Jubilee in 1981. For several years they staged productions anyplace that would have them before finding a permanent home for the troupe. Since 1993 they have been at 506 Main Street and the historic theatre is now under artistic direction of D. Wambui Richardson, who took on the role in 2018.

“If you look at the history of Jubilee Theatre, you have so many artists who found their legs in the arts here and they’ve gone on into the professional realm,” Richardson said. “We were a good training ground for them.”

As a theatre under the Actor’s Equity umbrella with a special contract, Jubilee wants to make sure local African-American artists know there’s a place for them in the arts. While other theatres have a handful of roles for people of color, Jubilee has African-American-driven shows all year round and consistently offers opportunities to both Equity and non-Equity actors.

“African-American theatre is American theatre,” Richardson said.

Fort Worth is a diverse city and Jubilee Theatre strives to bring the whole community together – people of every color – with the stories it tells.

“Yes, it’s an African-American-led story, but there is universal truth that applies to everybody in the room,” he said. “When we can tap into the universal nature of a story, it brings us all together as a community and it helps to further along a dialog about what’s happening to us in our community.”


D. Wambui Richardson, Artistic Director


The intimate 143-seat theatre does a little bit of everything – plays and musicals, contemporary and period pieces, classics and original works.

“Because we have all of the generations showing up for our shows, we try to create a season that will feel like there’s something in that season for them,” Richardson said, and he’s not afraid to tackle any subject.

“From season to season, and show to show, sometimes we zone in on a particular aspect and allow our audience to explore an angle of it that they probably haven’t thought of before or hadn’t been able to express before in a safe environment,” he explained.

Richardson estimates two-thirds of their actors come from the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area and he is happy to give them a foundation in the arts.

“We have a Reader Series that is designed specifically to look out for and identify new and emerging playwrights throughout the DFW area,” he said. “We’re able to bring them in for a workshop and then hopefully do a staged reading of that show.”

Supporting promising young artists of color is a priority for Jubilee.

Richardson said, “We’re always fostering new relationships with up-and-coming African-American writers, designers, and directors.”

Richardson and his team engage with local students, from middle school to college age, to show them what’s possible in the world of theatre.

“We’re tapping into young artists, showing them ways that they are able to make a living as artists and how to create employment for ourselves,” he said, noting that one doesn’t have to be an actor on a stage to be an artist. Richardson routinely speaks to art classes about what they do as a theatre, what is involved in being an artistic director, and what other potential jobs there are in the industry.

“Not every kid is meant to be on stage or really wants to be on stage, but they know that there’s an artist somewhere in them,” Richardson said. “If we’re able to introduce them to all of the different areas of the theatre, it may spark that fire in them.”

 

In addition, Jubilee invites students from DFW high schools to dress rehearsals of upcoming shows, giving them the opportunity to watch the whole process, from what the light technicians are doing to the notes the director gives the actors. Afterwards, the classes have “deep-dive” conversations about what they saw and the relationships between each person vital to the success of the production.

“After they have that experience, then we invite them back again to see the show opening week, so they can see a before and after – this is what the rehearsal process looks like and this is what the final product looks like,” Richardson said. “That program has been pretty successful so far.”

Richardson advises young creatives to consume as much theatre as possible and network with the people who are making it happen. He recommends doing a character analysis, like one would do for a character in a play, of someone successful in the business, and using that analysis to plot a career path to get to the same level.

For the upcoming season, Jubilee is planning a series of professional development workshops for emerging and established artists. In particular, Richardson sees technical director being the next hot job for artists of color and knows the talent is out there in the DFW area.

By implementing a range of safety precautions, Jubilee Theatre has managed to make it through the entire pandemic thus far without a single COVID-19 case or having to shut down a performance. Richardson feels blessed by the way the community “wrapped their arms around us” and proud to have kept his staff employed through a difficult time.

“We have consistently produced high-quality theatre for our community even when we had to move to a streaming platform,” Richardson said.

“Five years from now, we want to double what we’re doing,” he said emphatically. “We want to be able to increase programming, increase the number of and types of productions we pull in…and I also want to increase the number of local artists, playwrights that we bring to the table, and always to increase the amount of new, original works that we foster and give birth to.”

Finally, Richardson wants everyone to know one thing.

“Jubilee Theatre is a place where all are welcomed.”

For more about Jubilee Theatre, visit www.jubileetheatre.org.

 

 




True Colors Theatre Company - Atlanta, GA

Congo Square Theatre Company - Chicago, IL

Ebony Repertory Theatre - Los Angeles, CA

Jubilee Theatre, Fort Worth - TX

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