As the theater gets back on track financially, it seeks “deeper engagement” through programs and films.
That was Penumbra Theatre founder Lou Bellamy’s message Monday as he introduced the 37th season of his St. Paul-based company.
The roster is the company’s first after a fiscal crisis that threatened its existence in 2012.
Penumbra pulled out of its straits by raising $359,000. It also instituted a program that it hopes will offer permanent fixes to chronic cash crises. Each mainstage production in the new season is surrounded by programs, panels and film screenings.
“Over these 36 years, our audiences have been primed for deeper engagement,” said Sarah Bellamy, the theater’s education guru, who has been promoted to associate artistic director. “They want more. And the things that we have lined up give them opportunities to become more deeply involved with the theater.”
Penumbra kicks off its season with “Aloud,” a festival of new works by third-year students in its summer training institute. Lou Bellamy directs (Aug. 15-17).
Penumbra is introducing a festival of one-person shows named for actor and director Claude Edison Purdy, who lured then-unknown poet and aspiring playwright August Wilson to the Twin Cities. That festival launches with Bellamy’s staging of “A Brown Tale” (Sept. 12-22), written and performed by James T. Alfred. Alfred has had some memorable performances for Penumbra, including the hotheaded trumpet player Levee in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which Penumbra did at the Guthrie Theater.
That show is followed by “Jamaica Farewell,” Debra Ehrhardt’s highly praised work about how she left a rough life in paradise. Hollywood’s Joel Zwick, of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame, directs (Sept. 26-Oct. 6).
Penumbra will return to the original Langston Hughes script for its revival of “Black Nativity” in a concert version that features narration by Bellamy and such singers as Greta Oglesby, Dennis W. Spears, Yolande Bruce, Sanford Moore and the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church Mass Choir (Dec. 12-22).
Director Talvin Wilkins takes the reins for “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” Ifa Bayeza’s drama about the killing of a 14-year-old Chicago boy that became a catalyst in the struggle for civil rights (Feb. 6-March 2, 2014).
“The Mountaintop,” by Katori Hall, was a hit in London’s West End and on Broadway. The two-actor work re-imagines the last night of Martin Luther King’s life. No stars have been announced for Penumbra’s production, which will be directed by Bellamy and make three tour stops — two in Arizona and one in Charlotte, N.C. — before landing at the Guthrie (March 28-April 19, 2014).
This season represents “a maturation of ideas that have been nurtured here for decades,” Sarah Bellamy said. “The theater has new energies and life solidly anchored in its past.”
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390