Community Theater

In the 1960’s community theater was thriving in L.A.  Among them were Ebony Showcase theater on Washington Blvd. (Nick and Edna Stewart); Inner City Cultural Theatre (C. Barnard Jackson); Performing Arts Society in Los Angeles (PASLA), (Vantile Whitfield); Frances William Corner Theatre on Exposition and Frank Silvera’s theatre on La Cienega in Hollywood. I attended performances at all of them. Plays written by African Americans were performed regularly, plays such as James Baldwin’s Amen CornerDay of AbsencePurlie VictoriousA Soldier’s Story, and The River Niger.  

These theaters sprang up after the Watts Riot and were attended by the community as well as Hollywood actors like Robert Hook, “Trouble Man” 1972, (one of the founders of the Negro Ensemble Company); Bea Richards, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967); Butterfly McQueen, “Gone with the Wind” 1939; Nichel Nichols, “Star Trek” and others. 

From these theaters, located mostly in the Black community, actors, writers, poets, producers and directors honed their craft.  Those who were curious, but knew little about the industry had the opportunity to learn. In other communities around L.A. theaters were being formed to produce plays by and for the Native American, Asian, and Hispanic communities. 

These theaters presented not just plays but they also provided a place where poets, (Watts Poets) singers, musicians, and artists could perform and display their work to the community.  Rising out of the ashes of a rebellion, a cultural renaissance changed the landscape of L.A. and beyond.