Student-led group to highlight Black narratives, uplift Black thespians
As a freshman, Marvin Brown ’22 saw an opportunity to increase representation in campus productions.
“I really enjoyed the learning experience and being a part of a talented cast,” Brown recalls of performing in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along.” But he also wondered how many opportunities he would have to play a Black character or participate in a performance focused on Black narratives.
In response, Brown founded the Black Theatre Troupe to offer culturally relevant theatre and production opportunities to Black students and help the larger TU community experience Black narratives as a vehicle for social change and transformation.
“I felt like it was my responsibility to create a permanent place where Black thespians could perform and educate themselves on what Black theatre is while studying plays and performance characters that tell their narratives,” says Brown, a mass communication major with minors in electronic media and film and theatre arts.
The group plans to host workshops with guest artists in acting, playwriting, directing, production, design and advocacy with a lens on the Black world, beginning with South African novelist, artist and playwright Zakes Mda this spring.
Brown’s leadership of the Black Theatre Troupe is supported by the Department of Theatre Arts at TU, including staff advisor Elena Versényi and faculty advisor Mukwae Wabei Siyolwe, an assistant professor and performance activist from southern Africa.
“This project seeks to create unity in diversity through arts education by providing access to Black narratives for the whole campus and promoting them into the mainstream of American theater,” says Wabei Siyolwe.
In January, the Black Theatre Troupe was one of five TU projects to receive funding from the Towson University Foundation. The $22,700 grant will support honoraria, student travel, workshops, resources and the program evaluation as it relates to understanding the cultural and personal impacts of the programming.
The project aligns with Towson University’s mission as an institution for the public good, as well as the university’s commitment to advancing equity and diversity through its inaugural Diversity Strategic Plan.
The Black Theatre Troupe aims to be inclusive, giving the entire campus and Baltimore region the opportunity to experience Black narratives.
“We’re looking forward to having students from different communities within the Black community participate, but we’re also open to other people from all over the world that represent the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area,” Wabei Siyolwe says. “There’s going to be space for you, because the Black story touches everybody’s story in the world. We look forward to having as many different types of people within the organization as possible.”
The Black Theatre Troupe is looking for students to join and serve on its board of directors. To learn more, visit the group on Instagram.
“The short-term goal is to support Black students with a theatre club on campus, and the long-term goal is the Towson community to consistently see and share Black stories, Black narratives that will promote and reinforce the university's commitment of creating a more equitable and diverse society,” Wabei Siyolwe adds.
“It’s going to make the campus more interesting and, [not only] give Black students culturally relevant opportunities, but also present global narratives that represent our campus, [which is a] very international, diverse community. We have many more stories to tell.”