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*On this date in 1994 (Shakespeare’s birthday), we celebrate the founding of the African American Shakespeare Company (AASC).
AASC is the only company of Black actors in the United States that perform European Classical works. Located in San Francisco, the company was founded by Sherri Young. The Theatre company has expanded to include a full production season, an after-school program, a school touring component, and a Summer Youth Troupe. These traditional works are told from the point of view and cultural dynamic of the Black culture.
Young, a graduate of the American Conservatory Theater's Master of Fine Arts Program in 1992, believed there was a problem with theatre companies and color-blind casting as well as the "expectation that they [actors of color] would stick to 'black plays' when they graduated." She thought this was "inconceivable and unacceptable," which motivated her to create the African American Shakespeare Company to provide opportunities for actors of color to master classical theatre. Young is on the board of Handful Players, a children's musical theatre, and was previously Commissioner for the San Francisco Arts Commission, where Governor Gavin Newsom appointed her. L. Peter Callender joined the company as its Artistic Director in 2009.
The African American Shakespeare Company's mission is to produce European Classical works with an African American cultural perspective and to provide opportunities and accessibility for non-white artists and their communities to view these productions in a manner that is inclusive of their cultural heritage and identity. The African American Shakespeare Company has received recognition from fellow artists and critics in the Bay Area. AASC is a member of the Shakespeare Theatre Association. AASC is a resident organization at the city-owned African American Art and Culture Complex (AAACC), with its office located at 762 Fulton Street, Suite 306, in San Francisco, California, 94102. Since 2002, it has staged its productions at the 200-seat Buriel Clay Theater on the ground floor of the AAACC building with an annual audience of over 7,500 patrons.
However, for its 2016–17 season, it has moved its productions to the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center's Herbst Theatre for Cinderella, Marines' Memorial Theatre for August Wilson's Jitney, and San Francisco Opera's Taube Atrium Theatre for William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. Callender states the move was due to "the business operations model of the Complex has changed under the new leadership, which has made it increasingly difficult to produce our works. The leadership has reduced rehearsal, tech, and preview times."
Its signature production of the classic Cinderella fairytale is an annual holiday tradition. Past productions include Shakespeare's Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors, Julius Caesar, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night, Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum. AASC offers an arts education program called Shake-It-Up. Also, AASC offers free student matinees for public schools where more than 2,200 students and their chaperones from all over the San Francisco Bay Area attend each season.
AASC also offers educators a Teacher's Night Out event for preview performances that educators can attend at no cost. Since 2015, AASC has hosted an annual free community outdoor performance series in the Fillmore District, Western Addition, and Hayes Valley neighborhoods. Participants included Afro Solo, The San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company, Nitty Dupree Studio of Dance, Cultural Odyssey: The Medea Project, and Samba Funk! SFJAZZ, San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Alumni and Friends of the San Francisco Youth Symphony, and Citizen Film.
AASC has partnered with various San Francisco Bay Area organizations throughout the years. Macy's sponsored its Cinderella student matinees and offered special invitations to AASC supporters to various events, such as Black History Month celebration events at their Union Square store. AASC partnered with Golden Thread Productions to produce Isfahan Blues, a story inspired by Duke Ellington's tour of Iran in 1963. In 2015 for its production of Romeo & Juliet, it partnered with Oakland School for the Arts to cast teen actors in the title and supporting roles, as well as Litquake for their Teen quake programming. AASC has also collaborated with the San Francisco Opera for their Cinderella exploration workshop for families.