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For theater companies during an economic recession, the drama isn't just in the plays, as Donald King '93, artistic director of Providence Black Repertory Company made clear at a public forum in Rites and Reason Theatre on Friday. Before the talk, King was honored with the 2009 John Hope Alumni Award for Public Service, presented by the Brown Alumni Association and the Swearer Center for Public Service.

King founded Black Rep in 1996, when the company's only home was a Providence print shop. Black Rep grew into one of the city's major theaters, ending each of its seasons with Sound Session, a seven-day summer festival culminating in a Caribbean parade.

But the downturn made it more difficult for Black Rep to continue its programming. Due to financial difficulties, Black Rep entered receivership — a type of bankruptcy in which a receiver is appointed to run the company — on Aug. 17.

But King said he and the company will attempt to put budgets together and work as hard as possible to "get us out of receivership."

In an attempt to balance the books, King cancelled some of Black Rep's public programs, including an open-mike rap workshop, "Round Midnight: A Rapper's Delight." King said he found it frustrating when some accused Black Rep of moving away from its urban mission.
"How much more urban do you get than Providence Sound Session?" he said. "We cannot let BET and HOT 106 be the purveyors of what is black."

Support for Black Rep has remained strong in Providence, King said, and the company's remaining programs have continued to be popular. This summer's Sound Session "was the biggest Sound Session ever," he said. "They don't want Black Rep to go away."

At least a few of the approximately 30 people who attended the talk — mostly faculty and Providence residents, with some students as well — seemed to agree with that statement.
Richard Gray '85 called Black Rep "one of my favorite places to go," and Providence resident Laurie Marshall said she was amazed and grateful for what King had accomplished.

"We really need you here," Marshall told King, earning the applause of the room.

King said he plans to remain positive and work through receivership.

"We hold our head up high," he said.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Swearer Center, the Department of Africana Studies and the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America.


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