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Penumbra has 12 employees and a $1.2 million budget, making it the nation’s largest African-American company. It was founded by artistic director Lou Bellamy in 1976 and has been a hotbed of theatrical creativity ever since, even as it has weathered fiscal troubles.
Sarah Bellamy, who grew up in the theater and has acted onstage in Wilson’s plays, seeks to expand Penumbra’s focus beyond its main stage productions. The company is seeking more ways to engage social-justice causes and also is expanding its educational program.
Already, Penumbra’s Summer Institute, a leadership training program run by Bellamy, has gotten national attention. The New York-based Surdna Foundation recently granted the institute $300,000.
“What Sarah brings is the intellectual, philosophical framework to do the work,” Lou Bellamy said. “I’m a practitioner, and someone who taught at the U, but she has the real training to go toe-to-toe with the intellectuals.”
Mu, which has six employees and a $600,000 annual budget, produces work at various stages around town. It has little interest in having its own stand-alone space at the moment.
Reyes is drawing admirers, not least of all from his predecessor, Rick Shiomi.
“Randy’s very outspoken, but we agree 100 percent on the issues,” Shiomi said. “When I started Mu, I was very cautious, because I was building an organization. Mu’s established now. Randy went through the application process, interviews with the board, everything. I had little to do with it. But I’m thrilled for the new directions, and for the fact that he speaks his mind.”
That new direction at Mu is reflected beyond the announced season. Reyes also has formalized and expanded a training institute for actors and for taiko drumming at Mu.
“When I was at school in Utah and at Juilliard, I was a minority,” he said. “I learned some wonderful things at those places, but I want to create a space, an environment, where we train artists without the pressures of being a model minority, where we can experiment and fail and not be expected to be perfect little Asians.”
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390 Twitter: @rohanpreston