In 1971, the DC Black Repertory Company became Washington’s premier Black cultural institution. In those days of infancy, the company, popularly known as “the Rep” struggled to institutionalize Black theater in the nation’s capital. It would meet the success in its efforts to create a theatre-going population among Washington’s Black residents. Photo from “Day of Absence” by Oggi Oburn.
A SALUTE TO CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I was moved to create my third Black cultural institution, The DC Black Repertory Company in my hometown of Washington DC. I was 31 years old and celebrating healthy and busy acting and producing career. It was the turn of the seventies and America was in the middle of a burgeoning civil rights movement! Although there were enormous love and assistance from DC’s dedicated citizenry- and especially my amazing family living there- it was indeed a rough personal undertaking. However, those times were made much easier with the solid support and political backing of courageous Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who assisted me in cultivating a proud Black ‘arts aware’ community, and in creating the local theatrical and professional training success of our historic Black theatre company. Democrats were there for me when Republicans weren’t, and that showed me a lot politically. Thanks to the Democrats in Congress, welcoming me back home to DC, and helping me share Black culture with DC’s communities!
They’d assassinated Martin and the country was in utter turmoil! My hometown of Washington DC was literally burning down, and I had made plans to do something to help heal our city. I took leave from our very successful NEC and moved back home to build my third major theatre company and cultural training institution in the ’60s. The DC Black Repertory Company. Unlike the NEC beginnings in NY, the DC grants to help build were not forthcoming, so we had to do serious fundraising, and fast!. Below is the morning of our first fundraising press conference. With assistance from some of DC’s great supporters!…L to R- (Singer) Carl Anderson, (Congressman) Walter Fauntroy, (Secretary of the Army) Clifford Alexander, ( Founder) Me, (Political Consultant) Jim Gibson, (DC Mayor) Marion Barry, (NIH Architect) Jimmy Hooks, (Board &Staff member) Darrell Sabbs, (Board & Staff member) Bob Daughtry and (theatre administrator) Carolyn Smith. The first press conference was able to kick off a very successful fundraising campaign for our brand new and vital community cultural institution, The DC Black Repertory Company!
In 1971, the DC Black Repertory Company became Washington’s premier Black cultural institution. In those days of infancy, the company, popularly known as “the Rep” struggled to institutionalize Black theater in the nation’s capital. It would meet the success in its efforts to create a theatre-going population among Washington’s Black residents.
A photo of Robert Hooks (top left), as part of the founding management team of the DC Black Repertory Company. (Courtesy DC Black Repertory Alumni Association)
Here’s a Throwback photo image of two brilliant actresses and me from Jean Genet’s classic play “The Blacks”, a DC Black Repertory Company production at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It was the first (and only) time I actually performed with my young theatre company. On the left is the amazingly talented Janifer Baker, who played “Virtue”, and to the right is the classy and beautiful Dee Porter as the “White Queen”. We were the first Black theatre company to ever perform at and co-produce with the legendary Kennedy Center. It was a memorable run and a fabulous experience for our young theatre company. Bravo DCBRC!
More Black Theatre History: It’s 1971 and my brand new DC Black Repertory Company makes a stunning appearance at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in an innovative re-imagining of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks” which I directed, adding a gospel choir of almost 100 voices to the already ground-breaking and ultra-theatrical play. (And although I always was apt to decline to perform in any of the NEC or DCBRC plays I produced, I was prevailed upon – because I had a measure of celebrity – to reprise the lead role I had performed in the original New York production.) A precious memory of this production was that my beloved, now-deceased brother James W. Hooks (Jimmy)-an accomplished architect – did the astonishing sets.
Doesn’t seem like 49 years!… But what amazing history!
ARCHIVIST, EDUCATOR, HISTORIAN, and ARTiST
Dale Shields is a professor of theatre, director, and actor (Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and Regional).
The 2017 winner of The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award®, 2017 and 2015 Tony® award nominee for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, and the winner of the 2017 AUDELCO/"VIV" Special Achievement Award. In 2020 He was also awarded The Actors Fund / Encore Award
On the web, he is the archivist and historian of Iforcolor.org and Black Theatre/African American Voices [Facebook] (theatre, music, and art). He has taught classes and workshops at SUNY Potsdam, Susquehanna University, Denison University, Randolph-Macon College, Macalester College, The College of Wooster, Ohio University, Wayne State University, and the Joseph Papp Public Theatre (New York Shakespeare Festival).
B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees from Ohio University.