RIPR News
2:34 pm
Wed December 22, 2010

The end of the Black Rep

Providence, RI – After years of hosting theatrical productions, Afro-sonic dance parties, and a lively music festival in the streets of Providence, the story of the Black Repertory Company ended with the sound of an auctioneer selling off everything in the building.

Folding tables stacked with mixing boards, theatre lights, woven baskets, and even a rolled up piece of snake skin take over the performance space. Nick Bauta surveys the scene as he sits on a stairway leading up to the balcony.

"You know, I've been here from the get go," Bauta says."I saw the floors being laid in and the walls being painted; I figured I should come for the end of it all when it's being picked apart."

Bauta is an old friend of Don King- the former artistic director of the Black Rep. He says he's thinking about buying something for Firehouse 13, a performance space he owns on the West side of Providence. But Bauta feels a little weird about the situation. It's odd to think about buying a bar where he's had so many drinks.

Donnie Cenna, a local DJ, says he has a lot of memories of this building. "My two year old son was in here running around during the day," Cenna says. "You know, Don King was like, yeah, come on in, just let him run."

Cenna says his son was only six months old when he brought him to Black Rep's Sound Session. It was raining, but he didn't care.

Black Rep's former artistic director Donald King designed Sound Session to resemble Juve- a Caribbean party where musicians and dancers parade through the streets. The first year of the festival is one of his favorite memories. "When we came around by the Turks Head building and you got to hear the hum of being in that corridor, that is a moment I'll never forget," he says.

King says other favorite moments happened when no one was watching- rehearsals with scenes so powerful the actors broke down and cried; the time a singer finally found her voice. And then there was Black Rep's appearance at the Providence Performing Arts center.

"It was a time when we were missing payrolls and we were all miserable," he says, "and we had done this piece on Langston Hughes and we got a standing ovation and we all looked at each other, and we were like, 'oh, this is why we do this,' you know?

Money was tight at the Black Rep long before the auction last week. The organization went into receivership in 2009, and Don King says there were warning signs years before that.

"I was cleaning my office out last week, and I come across a document from my first development director," he says. "She warned us, that if you don't put an infrastructure in place at the Black Rep Don, you will be chasing your tail every year to try to keep this organization running. "

King started the Black Rep not long after graduating from Brown University, and at the time he was more interested in designing incredible events than whether they were making money.

"I know how to program," King says. "You know, I can book Mos Def. That is not the difficult part. The hard part, the part that's not sexy, that's the part I wish I had known better."

King hopes to take a different approach with a new venture he's been working on for the past three years, a for-profit music venue in Providence's Olneyville neighborhood. He says this time he's obsessed with designing a solid business infrastructure. He's researching database programs and working on his mailing lists.

Still, King is cautious about giving financial tips to the new tenants of the Black Rep's building. "I don't that I'm qualified to give that kind of advice yet," he says. "I don't know if anyone wants to take any advice from me right now."

Providence Inner City Arts, a non-profit led by local story teller Len Cabral, plans to reopen the space in March. Although the mission of the organization is slightly different, Cabral promises that he'll continue at least one aspect of the Black Rep's legacy- Sound Session will continue to march through downtown Providence as long as he's in charge.

Web Extra
Listen to more of Megan's conversation with Don King here

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@wrni.org.