Penumbra: Images

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: Images

The images may be used for editorial purposes in magazines, newspapers and online to promote “Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage,”  Feb. 18 to July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center. Credit information is listed.


The Ballad of Emmett Till

In spring 2014, Penumbra staged “The Ballad of Emmett Till” by Ifa Bayeza, a play based on the 1955 brutal murder of a 14-year-old boy in Mississippi who was accused of flirting with a white woman.

Penumbra’s play was part of the theatre’s “Season of Hope.” The previous summer, George Zimmerman had been acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin. Parallels between the stories of Till and Martin were obvious; Penumbra held post-play discussions that explored these themes.

From left: Sha’ Cage, T. Mychael Rambo, Mikell Sapp, Darrick Mosley, H. Adam Harris.

Image courtesy Penumbra Theatre Company; photo by Allen Weeks

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Hallie Q. Brown children’s production of Snow White, 1948

As a community center formed by the Twin Cities Urban League in 1929, Hallie Q. Brown provided social services for African Americans. By the 1970s, its offerings included everything from homework help to exercise classes to culturally relevant programs in the visual arts, music, dance, and theatre. In 1976, Lou Bellamy was hired to expand the theatre program at the community center. The following year he founded Penumbra Theatre Company and became its artistic director.

Pictured is the Hallie Q. Brown children’s production of Snow White, 1948.

Image courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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A portion of the set from the 2016 production of “Fences”

August Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Fences” in 1987. The play is set in 1957 and tells the story of Troy Maxson, a man who could have been a baseball star, but the color barrier prevented him from  making it out of the Negro Leagues. His bitterness over his lost chances spills onto his family—especially his son, Cory, a gifted football player whose dreams are dashed by his father. Penumbra’s first staging of the play was in 1990.

A portion of the set from the 2016 production of “Fences” will be on display in the exhibit. The play was directed by Lou Bellamy and co-produced by the Arizona Theatre Company, Indiana Repertory Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Image courtesy Arizona Theatre Company; photo by Tim Fuller

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Book cover of Black Arts by LeRoi Jones

LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) was a Beat poet living in Greenwich Village in 1965 when Malcolm X was assassinated. Baraka reacted to this watershed moment by moving to Harlem, where he cofounded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School with Larry Neal. Baraka became a leader in the Black Arts Movement. This book, published in 1967, and other landmark publications from the period are featured in the exhibit.

Image courtesy Lou Bellamy Rare Book Collection, Givens Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis

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Scene from Black Nativity performance

Written by Langston Hughes and first performed in 1961, “Black Nativity” has become a holiday staple for many African American theatre companies.

At Penumbra Theatre, the story has been framed within different historical eras: the Reconstruction period, featuring the northward journey of recently emancipated African Americans; biblical times in northeast Africa; a contemporary setting in St. Paul and a retelling of the nativity story with choral accompaniment. Pictured are Novik Stubbs, T. Mychael Rambo and Phillip Bond in the 1988 production.

Image courtesy Penumbra Theatre Company; photo by Connie Jerome

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Costume sketch for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

August Wilson wrote “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 1982. It tells the story of a jazz artist and her band in 1920s Chicago. It is part of  Wilson’s 10-play series, “The Twentieth Century Cycle,” which chronicles each decade of African American experience in the 20th century.

Penumbra staged the play in 1987, 1996 and 2011. Mathew J. LeFebvre designed the costumes for the 2011 production.

Sketch courtesy Mathew J. LeFebvre

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