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Hattiloos coming to town!

  • Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
A Black repertory theater is set to join the Memphis arts scene Sept. 22. Auditions will be held next weekend for roles in its inaugural season of productions. Hattiloo Theatre is the brainchild of seasoned arts professional Ekundayo Bandele...
When it opens in September, the Hattiloo Theatre will set about nurturing actors as well as offering an alternative on the cultural landscape of Memphis. We haven’t had a Black repertory theater here in quite some while; and it’s been sorely missed.

A Black repertory theater is set to join the Memphis arts scene Sept. 22. Auditions will be held next weekend for roles in its inaugural season of productions. Hattiloo Theatre is the brainchild of seasoned arts professional Ekundayo Bandele.

If Ekundayo Bandele has his way, then Memphis will be home to a successful Black repertory theater. Located at 656 Marshall Ave., one block from Sun Studio on Union (in what is known as The Edge neighborhood…just on the edge of downtown), the Hattiloo Theatre is set open Sept. 22. Auditions for its inaugural season will be held next weekend, July 29 and 30. (More on the auditioning process later in this article.)

Bandele is a writer/director with a long history of putting on plays in the Memphis area. Since the early 90s, he has given the artistic community such original stage productions as If Scrooge Was a Brother, Hand in Hand Lest I Fall, Troubled Brother, and I Remember Ghost. It is his considered opinion that Memphis can support a Black repertory theater company; and he’s just the man to bring it into successful fruition.

Hattiloo Theatre is named after its executive director/artistic director’s two daughters. They are named Hatshetsut and Oluremi, who he has nicknamed Hatti and Loo, respectively.

With a history in the arts leading the way, Bandele had the idea that Memphis needed a Black repertory company. That idea was formed only last January. With the help of his board of directors and Jackie Nichols of Playhouse on the Square, Bandele will open his theater to the public in September – a mere eight months after the idea came into being.

Why the quickness you may ask? “This needs to be done now. There is a sense of urgency. [Because] Memphis is going through a growth right now,” Bandele says. At the moment, there are very few institutions that deal with the Black art experience, and he hopes to fill the void with a viable alternative. The way he sees it, “you can plan your whole life…and it will never get done.” This is one theater professional that is more than just talk; he wants to get things done.

After the Memphis Black Repertory closed its doors some time back, there’s really been nothing to fill its place. People are hungry for a replacement, Bandele says. There’s virtually nothing else to do for entertainment if you are a young Black person who doesn’t go out to clubs. Yes, there is definitely a need for a Black repertory company in Memphis.

Bandele says he’s found that if people are offered something cultural and artistic they will show up. They have shown up. People are hungry for it. “You’re getting more and more Blacks that are educated and travel to New York and Chicago,” he explains. “It’s almost like a ‘if you build it they will come’ type of situation.”

He hopes people will come out to next weekend’s audition dates. Auditions for roles in the 2006-07 season productions will be held Saturday, July 29 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Sunday, July 30 from 1-5 p.m. Auditions will be held at the Hattiloo Theatre, 656 Marshall. Since Memphis isn’t a theater town, participants who don’t have headshots can still come on down. A photographer will be on premises. If you are auditioning for a musical, bring sheet music. There will also be opportunities for under studies. Under studies for the Hattiloo Theatre will definitely have a chance to perform on stage, unlike what is typically called for when understudying a role.

The Hattiloo Theatre will exist to mentor upcoming talent. For under studies, participants don’t necessarily have to have acting experience. Though all ages are needed, the theater really doesn’t need any more children actors. Though, they will keep such names on file for future reference.

Positions needed (male and female) include: They Sing Christmas Up in Harlem (musical) – six women and six men; The Odd Couple (comedy) – six men and two women; Mahalia (musical) – one man and two women; Spunk (musical) – four men and two women; and Jar the Floor (drama) – five women.

Participants are asked to prepare a two minute monologue; bring a resume and/or list of performances; and have sheet music if auditioning for a musical. Men and women of all cultural backgrounds and ages are encouraged to attend. For more information, call 502-3486.

Bandele says people may also want to consider career jobs backstage, as well. There’s a great need for anyone interested in the technical crafts: lighting, set design, set builders, makeup, wardrobe, and the such.

Opening a new theater is consuming a lot of this theater executive’s time, but he still manages to do some writing. “I’m still writing,” he offers; “but I’m actually writing more as a novelist. Now that I’m opening a theater, I am going to go back to playwriting. I miss it.”

As long as he can be financially responsible, Bandele says he has no doubt that the Hattiloo Theater will be successful. He has garnered a great deal of public support and that will help. In fact, he is setting up Hattiloo to be run successfully long after he is involved with the project. Though theater and the arts are among his great loves, he will one day retire; and when he does, Hattiloo will survive. “I’m not going to get bored with it, I’m in it for the long haul!”

Art means that much to him. It seems he’s born and bred to enjoy artistic expression and pass that interest along to an upcoming generation. The way he sees it, art plays a very important role in everyone’s life – whether it’s known or not. “Everything a person does when they are not working involves art,” reasons Bandele. If you go to the movies, read a book, or listen to music, art is involved. “Creativity makes life worth living; I truly believe that. For me it translates the beauty of life…the ugliness of life. It helps me live beyond myself…my immediate perception.”

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