Listen: Penumbra Theater

MPR’s Nancy Fushan reports on new theatre opening in St. Paul, called Penumbra. Fushan interviews Lou Bellamy, Penumbra’s company coordinator, about the theater and it’s focus on black talent.

Penumbra’s first production is Steve Carter's “Eden.” It explores diversity of ethnicities within the African American community.


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NANCY FUSION: Penumbra, a word meaning half light, partial eclipse, and according to company coordinator Lou Bellamy, the symbol of his new theater. At this stage, he doesn't have any set directions for the company, but claims it is an alternative to other theaters in the Twin Cities. But looking at the cast and the shows he and his assistant coordinator David Dawley are considering, Penumbra resembles a St. Paul version of Minneapolis interracial theater Mixed Blood.

Dawley says that comparison is superficial, but it's one that some other area theater people are making. In fact, Mixed Blood producer Jack Reuler believes there's no difference between the companies except geography, but he doesn't particularly care. In fact, he wishes them good luck. Lou Bellamy isn't worried about the comparisons either.

LOU BELLAMY: I don't think it really matters because I think that audience we were talking about earlier will be around, and I think they're going to go to different shows. I don't see anything wrong with the concept of Mixed Blood, and I don't feel badly about doing something similar to it. This cast is primarily Black. So our first show is all Black. And the ones coming in the future won't be. In fact, what I would like to do is just do shows and cast indiscriminately.

NANCY FUSION: Billing yourself as a professional operation could be risky and Penumbra will soon face another St. Paul-based company which is claiming its professional stature by virtue of actor's equity affiliation. But again, Bellamy defends penumbra saying that actor's equity does not a professional make. What's more, he feels there won't be heavy competition for audience.

LOU BELLAMY: One of the reasons we're starting this theater is because this Black talent doesn't get a chance to do the sort of things that they're capable of doing. The roles that you generally see, and it's because of the people who choose the shows are waiters, butlers, things that if not debilitating, at least are not allowing them to show the extent of their capability. So I don't think they're going to be out to do the sort of thing we are at all. I don't think there's an overlap even.

NANCY FUSION: Penumbra is looking for a general audience, but views itself as inadvertently political presenting Black drama like Eden. It also promises to be fanciful with a production of Dracula scheduled later in the season. At present, Bellamy is working with 14 SETA-funded actors, all have had some formal training in the performing arts. From that group, he will choose his directors as well.

Eden is being directed by Claude Purdy, whose other directorial credits include off-Broadway and film work and a Minneapolis Twin Cities production of The Great White Hope. Bellamy considers netting Purdy a coup. And although Purdy has a directorial bent, Bellamy says he will also take his turn as an actor.

Whether this year's cast will become a resident company is a question mark. If Bellamy can find money to keep them on beyond the one-year federal funding, then the face is seen in this opening season may become familiar ones, but on the other hand, maybe not.

LOU BELLAMY: I'm hoping, though, that they will go. I really am. That's why I'm pushing so much this audition, the training function, getting the little loose ends put together. Black theater, the way most of it's written the plays, some of them tend to be melodramatic and they're criticized for it. But at least there's feeling, there's an aliveness, and electricity that happens on the stage. These folks have that. There's no doubt about that. They can just-- you walk in there and it's not smooth, it's not like the Guthrie, but it's alive.

NANCY FUSION: As with any new arts program, there is the potential for the product to bear the imprint of its founder. So will Penumbra become a Lou Bellamy company? He says emphatically, no.

LOU BELLAMY: Anyone can come in here and do this after this first season. The first season is all important. If you get the name, if you get people coming, if they don't even wonder or they may wonder, they don't even care what the next show is, they just know that when there's a show there, you go because they're used to good theater being there. And that's what I want to happen.

NANCY FUSION: Lou Bellamy, coordinator of Penumbra, a new theater company in St. Paul. I'm Nancy Fusion.


Materials created/edited/published by Archive team as an assigned project during remote work period in 2020

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