Fort Worth — The first Jubilee Theatre season selected by its fourth Artistic Director, William "Bill" Earl Ray—and the theater's 36th season—has been announced. Ray was appointed to the post in February. The company's co-founder, Rudy Eastman, died in 2004. After a national search, the board hired Ed Smith, and after Smith resigned four years later, Tre Garrett, who was just turning 30. Garrett was dismissed after legal issues in early 2015.
The 2015-16 season, which was selected by Sharon Benge and others at Jubilee, was a markedly safe season, after Smith and especially Garrett had been introducing audiences at North Texas' oldest African-American theater to some newer, acclaimed black writers such as Tarell Alvin McCraney and Katori Hall.
The 2016-17 is an even safer season. With the exception of George Stevens' one-man play Thurgood, which premiered in 2006, there are no titles written in the current millennium. There are a few tried-and-true works from the 20th-century canon that haven't been done at Jubilee (August Wilson's Two Trains Running and Emily Mann's adaptation of Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years). For the musicals, we have the crowd-pleasers Working (based on the Studs Terkel book), Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain's musical adaptation of O. Henry's short story The Gifts of the Magi in the holiday slot, and the season closes with the raucous revue Beehive—The '60s Musical.
It's important to note that although all of these shows speak of the black experience, are about blacks in American history (Thurgood Marshall and the Delany sisters, the latter adapted from the book of the sisters' oral history) or can easily appeal to crossover audiences (Beehive has songs popularized by the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and others), only one of the playwrights or adapters for the six shows on the season is black: August Wilson.
In the news release for the season, Ray writes:
"As an African-American director, I feel it is my duty and responsibility to produce plays and present roles that compensate for the lack of our own conservatories. To shape opportunities for African-American actors, which offer roles that go beyond the stereotypical urban suspects, and to reveal the deeper and varied resources of our culture—while remaining true to our mission. The theme of our 2016-2017 Season is 'Places in Time' and it is my sincere hope that you will travel with us for what we feel will be a glorious ride from places in our chronological past and into the time of our theatre's future!"
To be fair, Jubilee is working to get rid of a $30,000 deficit, so playing it safe is probably a smart bet. But we'll have to look at future seasons to see if Ray can continue the work Smith and Garrett had done to include Jubilee in the national theater conversation. (Dallas Theater Center and Stage West are among the local theaters programming some of the newer buzzed about black writers, such as Branden Jacob Jenkins and Robert O'Hara.)
"When I got a call about applying for this position, I was told the main job would be to get us out of deficit," Ray said in a phone interview. "I looked at a number of plays by black writers and many of them had too many actors in them. I chose shows that I thought would help us financially and artistically."
Two Trains Running uses seven actors, but Thurgood is only one and Having Our Say is two. Ray says that he is getting to know the work of the newer black writers on the scene, and plans to use them in future seasons.
"I’ve been hired to act and direct for so long that I've haven't had to be concerned about what’s out there," he says. "I am now on that research, and I’m still getting my feet wet."
We'll give Ray the benefit of the doubt and hope he helps Jubilee back on its feet.
Here's the lowdown on Jubilee's 2016-17 season:
Working – A Musical
From the book by Studs Terkel
Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso
Songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, Dance Music by Michele Brourman
Directed by William (Bill) Earl Ray
Sept. 30 – Oct. 30, 2016
The characters of WORKING are everybody you know! The situations are everyday situations. But this musical is anything but ordinary. A different look at the seemingly humdrum lives of working people reveals a myriad variety of hopes, aspirations and dreams. Of course, to some, life is a Monday to Friday drudge, but to others there is great pride in their daily routine. A powerful contemporary score with songs by Stephen Schwartz and James Taylor among others, backed by a vital and dramatic book makes this show a winner.
The Gifts of the Magi
By Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain
Directed by William (Bill) Earl Ray
Nov. 25 – Dec. 24, 2016
A Christmas Musical of True Love – In Lean Times
Based on the classic O. Henry short story and told through music and lyrics, this is a story of two very poor people who loved each other so much that each sold their most prized possession to buy the other a Christmas present. In addition to their story, there are also various city folk going about their holiday business, and the hilarious plight of a cheerful bum named Soapy, who wants only to get arrested so he can spend the night in a cozy cell, all told by a tuneful newsboy-narrator, Willy, who adds his own melodious contribution and informative observations to the delightful proceedings.
By George Stevens Jr.
Directed By Dr. Harry Parker
Jan. 27 – Feb. 26, 2017
Prior to his appointment to United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall worked tirelessly as a lawyer for the NAACP. This one man play tells the story of his role in the civil rights movement and the people that influenced him. Both historical and inspiring, the heroism of Marshall’s life’s work and the hard-fought civil-rights victories achieved under his stewardship are truly uplifting, and will leave you misty-eyed with that famous line from the play.
Two Trains Running
By August Wilson
Directed By William (Bill) Earl Ray
Mar. 17 – Apr. 16, 2017
The civil rights movement is sweeping across Pittsburgh’s Hill District in 1969 and Memphis Lee’s diner is scheduled to be torn down, a casualty of the city’s renovation project. Struggling to cope with a rapidly changing world, Memphis and the diner regulars fight to hang on to their solidarity and sense of community. From Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson comes this masterpiece about everyday lives in the shadow of great events, and the unsung men and women who are anything but ordinary.
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years
By Emily Mann
Adapted from the book by Sarah l. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth
May 26 – June 25, 2017
103-year-old Sadie Delany and 101-year-old Bessie Delany were the daughters of a former slave, grew up in the Jim Crow South, lived in Harlem during its renaissance, and had professional careers as a teacher and a dentist, respectively. While they make dinner to remember their father’s birthday, the two sisters tell us the story of the last century, as they lived it. History at its most immediate, and poignant.
Beehive – The 60’s Musical
Created by Larry Gallagher
Directed By William (Bill) Earl Ray
July 28 – Aug. 27, 2017
A wild toe-tapping, head shakin’ musical tribute to the rockin’ women who made the music of the ‘60s so special – everyone from Lesley Gore to Janis Joplin, from the Shirelles to the Supremes, Aretha Franklin to Tina Turner. And every woman in between! Featuring such iconic tunes as My Boyfriend’s Back, One Fine Day, Downtown, Proud Mary and Piece of My Heart, Beehive will have you dancing in your seats.
Season subscriptions are $95-$250 are now available online at www.jubileetheatre.org or by calling the Box Office at 817-338-4411. Single tickets ($19-$33) will go on sale in the fall.