Kenny Leon’s True Colours Theatre celebrates 20 years of wonderful Black artwork






Kenny Leon’s True Colours Theatre marks its twentieth anniversary this weekend with a sequence of particular occasions that organizers hope will really feel extra like a theater expertise than a conventional fundraising gala.

Based in 2002 by Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon and Jane Bishop, True Colours Theatre Firm’s mission is to have fun the custom of Black storytelling and the work of daring artists.

Beneath Creative Director Jamil Jude’s management since 2019, exhibits like Fannie: The Music and Lifetime of Fannie Lou Hamer and Marie and Rosetta have dedicated equally to inventive excellence and civic engagement.

“The namesake of the group units an inventive commonplace,” Jude mentioned of Leon. “I’ve no want to ever attain beneath that bar. So, we all the time attempt to discover a present that meets that commonplace. With exhibits like Fannie and Marie and Rosetta, we have fun Black girls who’ve made impacts on this planet and ensure their legacies aren’t misplaced to the sands of time.”

He mentioned that mission will proceed within the firm’s future with new productions, just like the upcoming world premiere of Rachel Lynett’s Good Dangerous Individuals, which addresses problems with state-sanctioned violence towards Black folks, race, wealth and sophistication from the attitude of surviving members of the family.

True Colors AD Jamil Jude
Jamil Jude, inventive director of True Colours

“That’s going to be a enjoyable play to dig into; it’s going to be messy,” Jude mentioned. “Individuals are going to get mad. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to do some theater that will get us again to the explanation why we select to assemble in shared areas. We’ll have interaction each other in dialog and say the issues we wouldn’t have been in a position to say if we have been simply in our homes, round individuals who suppose like us.”

True Colours produces exhibits for all audiences, but typically the exhibits are aimed toward sparking conversations throughout the Black neighborhood.

“Generally we’re going to have intra-community conversations, although we’re inviting and holding the doorways open for everyone,” Jude mentioned. “Displaying these whose experiences could not normally be represented onstage, we’re asking you to bear witness to an expertise that you’re privileged to affix in and watch. We ask folks to honor that have as a result of that’s what theater is finest at. It will increase our capability for empathy.”

Chandra Stephens-Albright, managing director of True Colours, mentioned celebrating True Colours and Atlanta’s legacy of Black theater firms, like Jomandi Productions, is essential as a result of it has influenced what all of Atlanta theater has now grow to be.

Coming from a background in chemistry and 20 years of working at Coca-Cola, Stephens-Albright, whereas volunteering for Jomandi after which becoming a member of True Colours, was dazzled when she noticed what theater artists may do.

Chandra Stephens-Albright, managing director of True Colours

“My first True Colours expertise that cracked my coronary heart open was my first rehearsal, which was Holler if Ya Hear Me in 2017,” she mentioned. “And watching Kenny discuss to those actors, and, like 15 seconds after the opening discuss, they’re doing the play. They usually’re buzzing the music. And the music director was doing stuff. And I used to be startled as a result of we’d simply gotten there; they’d simply met. How was this even potential?”

That hip-hop musical additionally was Jude’s first True Colours expertise.

“I wasn’t there for the primary rehearsal, however I used to be there for the primary preview,” he mentioned. “My first True Colours expertise was stepping out on the stage and seeing an viewers full of people that appeared like me, and for the ten years prior in my profession, I had been advised that was unattainable, that individuals of coloration didn’t present as much as the theater in these sorts of numbers and that they weren’t fascinated about new performs. That delusion was damaged proper at that second.”

That includes returning performers and restaged moments from the corporate’s historical past of exhibits, three 90-minute cabaret occasions might be held this Friday night at 7:30 p.m., then Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Southwest Arts Heart in South Fulton.

Among the many featured scheduled performers are latest Suzi Bass Award nominees Amitria Fanae and Robin McGee, who appeared in final season’s performs Marie and Rosetta and Fannie. Additionally showing are India Tyree, Adrienne Reynolds, E. Roger Mitchell, Elisabeth Omilami and Denise Burse, who will carry out a monologue from Fences, which she starred in throughout True Colours’ first-ever manufacturing.

Different shock company might also seem in particular person or by video, mentioned Jude, including that the cabaret goals to welcome folks again to the theater expertise in a means {that a} black-tie occasion wouldn’t.

“This was a chance to nonetheless placed on one thing huge that appears like a True Colours present, however to do it in a means that’s scalable contained in the pandemic,” he mentioned. “Additionally, it offers us a distinct method to have interaction our viewers and supporters that isn’t your conventional gala or fundraiser, like we’ve finished for some time. We sought an ideal mix of artwork, tradition and neighborhood.”

Exhibits like “Marie and Rosetta” have dedicated to inventive excellence and civic engagement in addition to celebrating Black girls.

The brand new donor program launching on the cabarets is named the twentieth Anniversary Troupe, which new donors can be part of by giving at the very least $20 a month for the following yr. Stephens-Albright mentioned that one of many objectives of the fundraising efforts is to encourage recurring monetary donations from patrons, which is able to assist the theater survive. Proper now, 15% of the theater’s earnings comes from donors, whereas most White-owned theaters nationwide keep 60% of their earnings from donations.

“We’d wish to get the extent of funding that different organizations get coming right here,” Stephens-Albright mentioned. “We do Black artwork, and we do it in a superb means. Different organizations do Black artwork, and so they do it in a great way. Ours is superb. It’s deserving of that funding.”

“One of many issues that grew to become painfully evident to us in the course of the pandemic is that contributed earnings is a big a part of any theater,” she added. “You possibly can’t dwell on tickets. What we’re attempting to do is encourage folks to grow to be recurring donors … These recurring donations will construct a tradition of ongoing assist.”

Additionally, True Colours offers audiences with a supportive expertise not like any that she’s seen elsewhere.

“I’m a local Atlantan, so after I was going to True Colours as a fan, I’d come to exhibits after which go away,” she mentioned. “Nicely, now it’s my job to be within the foyer, which I like. So everyone in my life has come by way of that door, folks I haven’t seen since eighth grade, the neighbor down the road the place I grew up. It’s identical to household in there, actually and figuratively. Once you stroll right into a True Colours foyer, it actually appears like we’re so rattling glad to see you. The folks you’ve recognized 40 or 50 years in Atlanta or the individuals who’ve simply walked in, they get the identical greeting. If it’s a crunchy present or a tough present, you have got that hug earlier than you go in. If it’s an amazing present, we’re right here laughing with you once you come out.”


Benjamin Carr, a member of the American Theatre Critics Affiliation, is an arts journalist and critic who has contributed to ArtsATL since 2019. His performs have been produced at The Winery Theatre in Manhattan, as a part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Quick Play Pageant, and the Heart for Puppetry Arts. His novel Impacted was revealed by The Story Plant in 2021.

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