Donald King '93 is artistic director of the Providence Black Repertory Theater.
BAM How does a recent college grad start a repertory company?
King I knew I wanted to work in theater - it was just a question of when and how. After I graduated, I got a job parking cars. Eventually I became an artist in residence at AS220, a local arts organization, and started a project called Exxodus. Every Monday night I hosted an open-mike performance workshop, which was a venue for Afro-American, Latino, and Asian artists. A friend who worked in planning and development for the city used to drop by. He said, "We need to do this every night." On September 9, 1996, we officially formed the Providence Black Repertory.
BAM Where did you get space?
King We had no money, so I found a print shop in a loft that used to belong to a RISD artist. No one knew why I saw beauty in this crazy, rundown, dilapidated space, but I did. I'd hustle each month to raise money for rent and renovations. Finally, a friend said, "Forget about the money, just start doing theater in there." He said, "Make the city believe you're a worthwhile investment, make them see that you're fulfilling a need, and then businesses will come on board." That's exactly what happened. Five years later, we're about to buy a new building with a caf}, office area, and rehearsal space.
BAM What is your programming like?
King We have a lot of youth programs. One of them, Peace and Reconciliation, uses theater to explore subjects like math, English, history, and art. On Saturdays we run a hip-hop academy to communicate ideas about community and society through lyricism, and on Fridays we host "Round Midnight: A Rapper's Delight," an open-mike performance workshop for local rappers. On our main stage we have a professional theater with student matinees, study guides, and discussions with the cast and crew. This season we're doing Fences, by August Wilson; A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry; and Jar the Door, a new piece by the up-and-coming playwright Cheryl West. I really try to make these shows accessible to everyone, so every Sunday we have a "pay what you can" people's matinee.
BAM You started Black Rep during an economic boom. Looking ahead, do you worry?
King Yes and no. Fortunately, this organization has been able to attract people who are sincerely invested in our mission, so in the tough times, people just get tougher. Everybody's spelling doom now, but if I listened I would be paralyzed - and I can't afford that.
-Interview by Kari Molvar '00