I don’t think anyone is going to argue with me when I say that Boston is a great city for theater. From Don Quixote at the Boston Opera House to the Donkey Show at the Oberon, there is always something to see in this city.
One name that should never go unmentioned on the topic of Boston theater is the Huntington Theater Company. Founded by Boston University in the early ’80s (though separately incorporated), the Huntington Theater Company is a non-profit whose primary goal is to lead the art community of Greater Boston in highlighting the diversity of this area in ways that meaningfully alter public perception. As they put it, their mission is to
“celebrate the essential power of the theatre to illuminate our common humanity.”
In 2004 the Huntington built the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion to be their base of operations, from which they run educational programs and foster the development of new plays and local theater groups.
This season (the Huntington Theater Company’s 30th anniversary season) will include such titles as The Luck of the Irish, a drama about the struggle of integrating Boston in the 1950s, Private Lives, a light comedy about romantic mix-ups, and currently onstage at the Boston University Theater, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Written in 1982 by August Wilson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the first of his ten Century Cycle plays about the African American experience in the 20th Century. Set in Chicago in the year 1927, Ma Rainey centers on a group of musicians who have gathered in a recording studio to cut records of blues music. Blisteringly critical of the treatment of black musicians in the 1920s, Wilson boldly tells it like it was: Ma’s manager and producer exploit Ma and her music shamelessly. The artist herself, alongside her band, struggle to maintain integrity in the face of racial oppression, holding their heads high and subtly resisting however they can.
Yvette Freeman, the actress who plays Ma Rainey, was quoted in The Boston Globe explaining that her character “has been through it, and she knows the game. She knows how to wield power, and for a black woman in 1927, that is a big thing.’’ This representation of the dignity and steadfastness of the African American spirit despite the many indignities and humiliations of the early 20th Century is absolutely vital in the theater, where it has, thanks in large part to Mr. Wilson and the Huntington Theater Company, found a strong voice.
In the 1980s the Huntington Theater Company was among a group of regional theaters that helped to develop the Century Cycle plays before they moved on to Broadway. This support for Wilson and his work did not go unacknowledged:
“I have a long and valued relationship with the Huntington. They have contributed enormously to my development as a playwright, and I guard that relationship jealously.” –August Wilson, 2004 (as quoted by the Huntington Theater Company)
The Company’s long-term relationship with Wilson’s work adds significant weight to a production already hailed as a milestone: as of March 9, when Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom officially opened at the Boston University Theater, the Hunting Theater Company has staged all ten the Century Cycle plays. To compound this achievement, the Company’s Education Department co-hosted the Boston regional August Wilson Monologue Competition, a nation-wide contest that challenges high-school students to perform monologues from the Century Cycle.
These achievements display the dedication of the Huntington Theater company to their central goal: the illumination of our common humanity. Boston is still a city of deep racial and cultural divisions, and we at the Future Boston Alliance, alongside the Huntington Theater Company, have made it our mission to bridge these gaps. Diversity is one of Boston’s greatest and least-known strengths, and it is only through coming together as a city that we can fully harness our power to create lasting change.
–Rachel, Future Boston Intern