Austene Van, a brilliant performer, has long been outshone by fellow stars Jevetta Steele and Regina Marie Williams. But not because she’s, per se, a lesser talent. However, Steele saw her profile incredibly heightened by a stint in her autobiographical hit Two Queens, One Castle at Mixed Blood Theatre and Williams saw hers receive a tremendous boost when she performed in Dinah Was…at Penumbra Theatre Company. I’ve written on more than one occasion that Austene Van, —while for years enjoying the enviable success of not needing a day job and being able to make a rock solid living at theatre — sings beautifully, acts her hips off and can trip the proverbial light fantastic hadn’t come across just the right vehicle to distinguish her as a leading lady. Well, she found one in the form of Aida, which had a recent run this past January in downtown Minneapolis at the Hennepin Theater Trust’s Pantages Theatre. It’s fairly understandable why Austene Van — to those for whom the name doesn’t ring quite the same bell as does Steele or Williams — has been a harder fit for the Cinderella slipper, despite the fact that she’s a Penumbra company member and mainstay on the venue’s stage. Continue Reading →
Lou Bellamy brilliantly directs James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner at Guthrie Theater for a Penumbra Theatre Company/Guthrie Theater regional premiere. Bellamy, of course, is best known for taking scripts through their paces in St. Paul on Penumbra’s home ground at the Halle Q. Browne Community Center. An ace with ensemble casts, Bellamy has shown his hand to admirable effect with memorable Penumbra productions of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running. Here, Bellamy tackles an unwieldy script to winning effect. Continue Reading →
By Dwight Hobbes
“I was tired of seeing our youth in the community hopeless, lost without leadership and fatherless.” That could be just about anyone talking about conditions that have gone on in Black communities for what by now feels to many of us like an eternity. It could be just about anyone who gave up hope and walked away, if not finding a way to leave the community then just turning off mentally and emotionally, no longer caring. Instead, exactly the opposite, it’s Minneapolis MAD DADS CEO and President V.J. Smith, explaining why he rolled up his sleeves and stepped to and, in October of 1998, established the Minneapolis Chapter of Men Against Destruction-Defending Against Drugs and Social-Disorder, Inc. (MAD DADS).
V.J. Smith, right, in the streets ‘promoting hope’
A mere glimpse at statistics exposes the need for Minneapolis MAD DADS. In 2001, African American males were 32 percent of all prison inmates in Minnesota with 25 percent of all arrests in the state occurring in Minneapolis. Continue Reading →