Penumbra: Background

For immediate release

Release dated: 
November 15, 2016
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3148,
Lauren Peck, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3137,

Penumbra: Background

“Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage,” Feb. 18 to July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center.

Penumbra Theatre Company
Penumbra Theatre Company was founded in 1976 by Artistic Director Lou Bellamy to create a forum for African American voices in the Twin Cities theatre community. Through its commitment to providing realistic, inspirational works that redefine the consciousness of its audience, Penumbra quickly garnered praise and a loyal following.

Over the years, Penumbra Theatre Company has lived up to its mission of presenting artistically excellent productions that depict emotional, relevant and valuable experiences from an African American perspective. It has achieved national recognition for its quality productions and role in launching the career of many respected playwrights, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson.

In 2014, Sarah Bellamy, an educator and daughter of Lou Bellamy, was named Co-Artistic director of Penumbra Theatre. She has designed several programs that engage patrons in critical thinking, dialogue and action around issues of race and social justice and will become sole Artistic Director in 2017.

Today, Penumbra Theatre Company is Minnesota’s only professional African American theatre, and it is one of only three professional African American theatres in the nation that offer a full season of performances. Under the Co-Artistic Directors’ leadership, Penumbra has stayed on the cutting edge of the national theatre scene and continues to present groundbreaking productions.

Adapted from

The Givens Collection of African American Literature
The Givens Collection at the University of Minnesota Libraries consists of over 10,000 books, magazines and pamphlets by or about African Americans. Included are novels, poetry, plays, short stories, essays, literary criticism, periodicals and biographies that span nearly 250 years of American culture, with particular strength in the areas of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. The collection also includes the Penumbra Theatre Company Archives.

Umbra Search African American History seeks to make African American history more broadly accessible through various means including a freely available widget and search tool,; digitizing African American materials across University of Minnesota collections; and supporting students, educators, artists and the public through residencies, workshops and events locally and nationally. Umbra Search was developed by the Givens Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections, with partner Penumbra Theatre Company.

Adapted from

Minnesota Historical Society
The Minnesota Historical Society holds many collection items related to African American artistic expression and history in Minnesota, including the Rondo Oral History Project, numerous photograph collections, digitized African American newspapers from St. Paul and Minneapolis, organizational records of African American social clubs and a collection of theatre programs, including from Penumbra, which were collected by theatre critic Peter Vaughan.

The Minnesota Historical Society Press has published several books on theatre in Minnesota, including “Offstage Voices: Life in Twin Cities Theater” by Peg Guilfoyle, which features interviews with Lou and Sarah Bellamy, and “All the Lights On: Reimagining Theater with Ten Thousand Things” by Michelle Hensley. MNHS Press has a number of other titles on African American history in Minnesota, including the recent book “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota” edited by Sun Yung Shin.