LETTER FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MAY 21, 2020
#PENUMBRASTRONG || Video message from Company Member Tonia Jackson & more!
Greetings Dear Community,
Do you remember the last play that you saw? Do you remember the lights going down in the house and the hush of the audience around you? Do you remember being pulled into the world onstage; did you laugh or cry? Did you rise to your feet to applaud what you’d experienced? And how long has that experience stayed with you?
Experiences like these have called countless artists and patrons to invest in Penumbra. One of those artists, who encountered Penumbra’s powerful work as a young girl was Tonia Jackson. Tonia grew up at Penumbra, cutting her teeth in plays that illuminated the joys and the sorrows of the human condition through the prism of the African American experience. Her irrepressible talent and tenacity catapulted her through the ranks and soon she was a fixture in each season. She eventually left Minnesota, migrating to warmer climes, but Tonia returned in the summers to nurture the dreams of young artists by teaching in Penumbra’s Summer Institute program. Her daughter Alexxis would come along with her as a little girl, watching her mom push young artists to take themselves seriously and to embrace the power of their creativity. Soon Lexi was old enough to join Summer Institute as a student herself, and after three years with the program, she worked as a coordinator helping teens have the wonderful experience that she’d had. Generations have grown up at Penumbra.
So this week, we pay homage to the talent, grit, and elegance of the Penumbra style-an aesthetic so clear that folks recognize it throughout the nation, wherever our Penumbra family roams. This clip, in which Tonia shares a “cheeky” monologue from August Wilson’s King Hedley II, is emblematic of the style for which Penumbra is known. Nowhere in the country have I seen an approach and dexterity quite like what the Penumbra Company commands. The ease, confidence, texture, and levels Tonia plays here is masterful; the craft so strong that you barely notice that she’s acting. It makes me miss the stage experience dearly.
And yet, Penumbra is alive and well in the hearts of all of those who cherish it. While we may be shuttered to the public, Penumbra is continuing to engage artists in the racial equity work that is foundational to the company.
The art has always been our way into the heart, helping the sometimes reluctant head to follow. Thanks to artists who followed their hearts, whose dreams were bigger than any barrier they may have faced, there is a place that black artists can call home; a fount of artistic inspiration that continues to nurture the next generation of activist artists.
I hope you enjoy this fun yarn and remember how good it felt to laugh and hear it echoed all around you in the voices of other theatre lovers just like you. We’ll be together again soon.
Until next time, blessings for good health and peace of mind.
“How are we going to take the songs of all of this wonderful flock here and weave them together to create this great orchestra that will sing the song of healing? ”
—Seitu Ken Jones