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7 Questions: Thembi Duncan, Artistic Director of African Continuum Theatre Company

TDuncan Headshot 2

Right now theaters are integrating and experimenting with technology and social media in their artistic work, as well as in their outreach efforts.”

In honor of Black History Month we welcome Thembi Duncan, Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre Company. The African Continuum Theatre Company presents high-quality productions, workshops, and programs that illuminate African-American experiences, examine multiple facets of identity, and explore the connections of African-Americans to the African Diaspora. A native of the Washington D.C. area, Thembi has performed as an actor, playwright, director, and teaching artist in the region for almost 15 years. Many of her most treasured and formative onstage experiences were in African Continuum productions, so she is honored to serve as the leader of this renowned artistic?organization.

  1. What motivated you to begin working with your organization?

This theater company gave me one of my first professional opportunities as a young actress, and I’ll never forget the warmth with which I was treated. I was cared for like family, and the artistic work we created was culturally meaningful.

  1. What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?

Right now theaters are integrating and experimenting with technology and social media in their artistic work, as well as in their outreach efforts. It’s exciting to watch this art form enter the 21st century with aplomb.

  1. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?

Oprah Winfrey’s philanthropy covers such a wide range of causes and demographics. She truly sees with her heart, and not her eyes. That is a great inspiration to me.

  1. What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?

I love our 1voice! 1play! 1day! partnerships with Project1Voice –We’ve presented reading of the same play, simultaneously with dozens of other theaters around the country. The most recent collaboration was a worldwide reading of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls…who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf.

  1. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?

Right now our biggest challenge is the question of whether or not a black theater is necessary in Washington, D.C. at this time. Yes, it is wonderful to have one, but are we essential? Can black theater artists thrive without this organization? 15 years ago, the answer was obvious. So much has changed since then, and black artists are self-producing as well as being produced in the major houses. I’ve been tossing that question around a lot lately.

  1. What advice do you have for other people in your position?

1. Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. 2. Stick to your core values. If you find that the work you are doing doesn’t line up with your core values, one or the other is out of line.

  1. What’s next/coming up for you?

The Black Theatre Symposium is coming up on Saturday, February 28. This is our second year partnering with the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies at the Clarice Smith Center (UMD) for this event, and it was a great success last year! We’re so looking forward to engaging in numerous conversations about many aspects of black theater.

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