The Edward Lewis Black Theater Festival:
When Edward Lewis died of pancreatic cancer in August 2009, it looked like People Productions, the African American theater company he founded in San Hose CA, back in 1971, might die with him. That was certainly the concern of Richard Schraine, the University of Utah professor who joined Lewis in reviving People Productions in Salt Lake City in 2000. Later, the subject was discussed over coffee with Jerry Rapier, Plan-B Theater's producing director, the October following Lewis's death. It was then that Rapier had a brainstorm. Aware that several local theaters were planning 2010 productions with African American storylines and characters, he had the idea of marketing them all as part of a single festival named in honor of Lewis, Salt Lake's black theater pioneer. With that in mind, Rapier approached the Grand Theater, Pygmalion Theater Company, and Utah Contemporary Theater, combined them with Plan-B and People Productions, to create the first Edward Lewis Black Theater Festival.
There were three full productions in the original festival: Having Our Say-The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years at the Grand Theater; Plan-B's Wallace (with Schraine and Carleton Bluford, who also premiered Niggah at the 2012 festival); and Pygmalion's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. In addition, there were readings of Sharyn Rothestein's Neglect by Utah Contemporary Theater and three readings by People Productions: August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Richard Wesley's The Talented Tenth and Alice Childress Wedding Band. According to Schraine, Edward Lewis would have been happy to see such a festival no matter who it was named after: "He was a teacher at heart. To be able to share such a gift with the whole theater community–he would have loved it!"
Later this year, People Productions will proudly introduce its first writing program designed to promote guidance and instruction for aspiring minority playwrights. Two students from the program will have their work annually showcased at the Edward Lewis Black Theater Festival, which is now partnered with the Salt Lake City Main Library in Downtown Salt Lake. For further information, please contact Yolanda Wood: firstname.lastname@example.org or Michelle Patrick:email@example.com