FIRST STEPS—Mark Southers in PPTCO’s first venue, the Garfield Theatre, promoting the first play of the Cycle, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
Many arts organizations struggle in their first few years; and they survive those first lean years through sheer determination. With Kuntu Repertory Theatre taking its final bow after 34 years of nurturing and showcasing the vast under-appreciated wealth of homegrown Black talent, Pittsburgh now has an even smaller handful of theater venues with a continuous agenda of providing regular opportunities for artists of color to perform.
So for a steelworker with no formal theater training to have the audacity to start a theater troupe that has reached a 10-year milestone is reason for pause.
Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company was founded by Mark Clayton Southers in 2003. It began as the resident company of Garfield’s Penn Theater, and moved to a 75-seat space at 542 Penn Avenue in the downtown Cultural District in January 2005. Southers (also producing artistic director) is the first African-American man to run a theater company in Downtown Pittsburgh since the 19th century. Pittsburgh Playwrights is celebrating 10 years of providing the region’s theater community with unique and very necessary opportunities that, for a lot of artists, would not have existed otherwise.
IT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL—From left: Wali Jamal, Mark Clayton Southers and Art Terry in a scene from Pittsburgh Playwrights’ production of August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” (Photos courtesy of PPTCO)
In October 2011, PPTCO (with a major assist for The Cultural District) relocated to the penthouse at 937 Liberty Avenue and still continues its mission of “developing and showcasing works of local playwrights; to nurture a racially and culturally diverse community of playwrights, directors, staff, actors and technical specialists to hone their craft and to network creative opportunities who, together, promote audiences that reflect the rich variety of Pittsburgh.”
PPTCO’s first 10 years have been ambitious and groundbreaking. The Theatre Festival in Black and White, PPTCO’s signature annual production, takes five White playwrights from the Pittsburgh area and matches them with five Black directors, five Black playwrights from the Pittsburgh area and match them with five White directors to create an experience like no other. PPTCO helped create the Pittsburgh Pride Theater Festival and continued the mix through the Culture Clash series written by Southers. PPTCO has earned the loyalty of top shelf actors from Broadway and television who share his vision including Ben Cain, Montae Russell and Anthony Chisholm.
“From our humble beginnings in Garfield to our edgy garage mezzanine, and to here our penthouse boutique theater space,” Southers said. “We have survived with the help of foundations, a well-balanced pool of wonderful and committed actors, crew, directors and designers. Then there’s our incredible audience base who make it all worthwhile.”
This month, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre concludes its first decade with the final installment of August Wilson’s epic Century Cycle (locally referred to as the Pittsburgh Cycle), “Radio Golf” directed by Eileen J. Morris.