Congo Square Theatre Company, well known for its powerful portrayal of African American classics and gripping new works, commemorates its 20th Anniversary season with a rare production of the 1965 satirical fantasy, Day of Absence, at the Richard Christiansen Theatre (housed inside Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.), February 27-March 22, 2020. Its official opening night is Monday, March 2, 2020, at 7:30pm.
Day of Absence was written and directed by Douglas Turner Ward in 1965 and helped launch the New York-based Negro Ensemble Company, whose overall mission is to present live theatre performances by and about black people to a culturally diverse audience that is often under served by the theatrical community. Day of Absence recounts the uproarious emergencies that occur when a Southern town is faced with the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of all its black citizens; it is traditionally performed as a ‘reverse minstrel show,’ with black actors in whiteface. A past winner of coveted Vernon Rice and Obie Awards, this reimagined production is directed by Congo Square ensemble member Anthony Irons and produced by the company’s Founding Artistic Director and Associate Professor of Theatre at UIC, Derrick Sanders. The cast will be announced shortly.
“It’s a pleasure for me to return as a producer to kick off Congo Square’s 20th year celebration. Congo Square has been inspired by many ensemble theater companies; none more significant than the historic Negro Ensemble Company. Our desire to produce Day of Absence comes from both the need to honor its legacy and impact on our theatre company, and also to examine the contemporary evolution this biting satire has had on America present-day culture. I am equally thrilled to bring more ensemble members back to our stage than we have had in years,” said Sanders.
From February 27-March 22, 2020, Day of Absence will be performed Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, and Sunday afternoon at 3pm. All tickets are priced at $35 ($25 for seniors and students). Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. To purchase tickets, and for more information, please call 773-296-1108 or visit the website at www.congosquaretheatre.org.
20th Anniversary restructuring
The choice to produce Day of Absence speaks to the legacy of African American theatre companies and comes at a time when Congo Square is celebrating 20 years of producing theatre in Chicago.
The 20-year milestone comes at a time when the organization is restructuring, so that it can continue to be the creative home of black artists at all stages of their career, while continuing to produce powerful theatre that portrays the African American experience. The restructure includes Luther Goins joining as Interim Executive Director. Goins is a producer, director, playwright and theatre consultant whose past experience includes serving as the Managing Director at Chicago Theatre Company; more recently he served as Business Representative with the Chicago office of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union for Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
In addition, Congo Square expands with the addition of Kelvin Roston, Jr., the first new member to formally join the ensemble in several years. Roston wrote and starred in the one-man musical, Twisted Melodies, which portrays the life and death of R&B artist Donny Hathaway. Originally produced by Congo Square here in 2015, a Twisted Melodies remount directed by Derrick Sanders recently toured with stops in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and in New York at the famed Apollo Theater. He can be seen starring in the title role of Oedipus Rex in Court Theatre’s critically acclaimed production which opened November 7.
The Board of Directors has also grown under the leadership of Christopher Audain, who joined the board in 2015 and was elected Board Chair in January 2019. Further, in October 2019, Chicago native and stage & screen actor Harry Lennix was approved by unanimous vote to serve on the Board of Directors. Lennix, known for his roles in The Five Heartbeats, Get on the Bus, Ray, and The Blacklist, brings business acumen, industry expertise, and a broad network to the board.
Additional board members added in 2019 are Sandra Hoyt, Dawn Frances Reese, Gertrude Wooten, and Alvin Goldfarb. Chanel Coney rejoined a board which also includes Constance Jones, Mike Pitts, and Hugh Williams, all bringing experience in fundraising and nonprofit management to the organization.
About Congo Square Theatre Company
Congo Square Theatre Company (Congo Square) is an ensemble dedicated to artistic excellence. By producing definitive and transformative theatre spawned from the African Diaspora, as well as other world cultures, Congo Square seeks to establish itself as an institution of multicultural theatre. Congo Square is one of only two African American Actors’ Equity theatre companies in Chicago. Founded in 1999, Congo Square aimed to provide a platform for black artists to perform and present classic and new work that exemplified the majesty, diversity and intersectionality of stories from the African Diaspora.
Congo Square has risen to become one of the most well-respected African American theatres in the nation. Previously mentored by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, Congo Square would go on to cultivate talents such as playwright Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), who penned the 2006 Jeff nominated play Deep Azure, and playwright Lydia Diamond, who penned the massively successful Stick Fly, a critically acclaimed play that explores race, class, and familial friction. Stick Fly ultimately ran on Broadway and is currently being developed into a full-length series for HBO with Alicia Keys serving as a producer. Congo Square also produced the widely praised Seven Guitars, which would eventually go on to win top honors for best ensemble, best direction, and best production at the 2005 Joseph Jefferson Awards. This would earn the theatre company the distinction of being the first African American theatre company to receive such an honor.
Congo Square’s Educational Programs bring the impact of theater to young audiences. Its two outreach programs, CORE (Curriculum Objectives Residency Enrichment), and CAST (Congo After School Theatre), present and teach theater arts by providing classroom and after-school residencies that provide Teaching Artists to build upon already established Chicago Public Schools literature and art curriculums. CORE and CAST impact students and schools located in the Bronzeville, Auburn, Gresham, Douglas, and Woodlawn neighborhoods.
For more information, please call 773-296-1108 or visit www.congosquaretheatre.org.
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