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Hattiloo Theatre‘s home in Memphis, Tenn.’s Overton Square.

7 Theatres Form National Association of Black Theatre Building Owners

Theatres from New York to Houston, brought together by Chicago director Chuck Smith, are joining forces to advance and advocate for their work.

NATIONWIDE: A group of independent Black theatre building owners have created a new alliance, the National Association of Black Theatre Building Owners (NABTBO), to share knowledge and resources as well as strengthen the infrastructure of the Black theatre landscape and ensure the Black theatre movement’s sustainability, longevity, and growth. The member theatres will work to ensure that the Black Arts Movement, which prompted the need for culturally specific institutions dedicated to providing consistent opportunities for Black artists in the 1960s, continues to be alive in their houses, while also highlighting and strengthening the Black aesthetic.

Members of NABTBO include Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Fla.; the Arena Players in Baltimore; Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago; the Ensemble Theatre in Houston; ETA in Chicago; Hattiloo Theatre in Memphis, Tenn.; and National Black Theatre in New York City.

“In owning our buildings, we are an indestructible force that stands together to ensure that these ‘homes’ will continue to remain a birthplace for our playwrights, actors, designers, musicians, and artists,” said the membership of NABTBO in a joint statement. “We offer permanent shelter and an opportunity to live, grow, and thrive while moving forward in our commitment to perpetuate the importance of Black theatre to the growth and development of American culture.”

The group was first brought together by award-winning director Chuck Smith, who urged these theatres to start working together, with the theatre leaders then committing to being a conduit for creating strategies and building platforms that benefit Black theatre as a community. In press releases from the companies involved, NABTBO emphasized that it honors, respects, and supports all Black theatre companies, including collegiate, storefront, and church theatres around the country, and noted that there is room and a need for all. Membership in this organization is meant to acknowledge the difference in perspective and responsibility among theatres that are also building and land owners.

“As the oldest Black professional theatre in the Southwest that owns its facility, the Ensemble Theatre is honored to be a founding member of this new alliance,” said Ensemble Theatre artistic director Eileen J. Morris in a statement. “It is important that our Black theatre legacy be maintained and upheld, and this alliance ensures that our pathways remain wholly identified.”

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