African American Performance and Community Engagement
in The Cambridge Companion to African American Theatre
ed. Harvey Young
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
In American theatre we have several ways of thinking about theatre and community, and most of them are negative. "Community theatre" is disparaged as amateur kitsch, though it may be important for non-professionals. Some performance subgenres actively disengage community - for example, an "art-for-art's-sake" ideology, purporting art does not exist for the audience's sake. We also have the business of theatre that attends to community cum subscribers, raising debates about art, economics, and the financing of aesthetics. Many community outreach programs have come to create "community" as a euphemism for "ghetto," and focus on bringing culture to the underprivileged (unfortunately, sometimes condescendingly). In the midst of these uses we often lose sight of the meaning of community in the performing arts that functions to create solidarity and emotional connections among people. At the core of African American performance history, I submit, is the phenomenological desire for and commitment to a sense of shared community. The ebbs and flows of the personal relationships between any given artist or group of artists devoted to work by, for, about, or near people of African descent, and the inspiration and commitment to those people, comprise the fodder and tradition of African American performance.