New book traces history of Penumbra Theatre

New book traces history of Penumbra Theatre
Image courtesy the University of Minnesota Press
Macelle Mahala has turned her longtime interest and connection to Penumbra Theatre into a book tracing the history of one of the Twin Cities' signature companies.

"It grew out of the work I did at Penumbra. To see the variety of work Penumbra did at the time, in all different genres and all different parts of history, that was intriguing to me," Mahala says.

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The book, Penumbra: The Premier State for African American Drama, was recently published by the University of Minnesota Press. Mahala will be at Penumbra this evening at 5:30 p.m. for a launch event hosted by Sara Bellamy.

Mahala used a bevy of archived materials and interviews for the book, which examines the theater from its founding in the middle 1970s up to its present day, looking at the triumphs and struggles of Lou Bellamy's theater.

Mahala first encountered Penumbra as an audience member. "I appreciated the work on one level," she says. "I appreciated the artistry of the work. When I worked for Penumbra doing dramaturgy and facilitating post-show discussions, I really tried to make a connection between what the artistic team was trying to do and convey and what the audience was seeing. I was trying to bridge and help to facilitate that connection and conversation. The work I've done on the book is an extension of that."

Part of Penumbra's influence has been through the development of new work. "You have playwrights like August Wilson and Carlyle Brown and many others that have really made a major contribution to American theater who really developed some of their early work at Penumbra," Mahala says.

Since it was founded in 1976, Penumbra has showcased a wide swath of styles, forms, and topics. "Sometimes people think black or African-American theaters are limited in scope. They have a narrow focus. The point of the book was to show how expansive the work at Penumbra is. It has touched all aspects of life and the arts. The theater that Penumbra has done is an example of an African-American theater that is really diverse," Mahala says.

Penumbra has showcased that expanse, such as taking on the plays of August Wilson, performing work like Slippery When Wet with "interracial dating between a black man and an Asian woman," and hosting hip-hop artists like Will power.

"You have musicals and gritty dramas together in the same theater," she says. 


Let's Talk Theatre with Macelle Mahala
5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14
Penumbra Theatre
270 N. Kent. St., St. Paul
Free, $10 suggested donation; reservations required
For information and reservations, call 651.224.3180 or visit online.

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Penumbra Theatre

270 N. Kent St.
St. Paul, MN 55102


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