Black Theatre Troupe brings Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

The actors and actresses, and those behind the scenes at the Black Theatre Troupe, say they strive to highlight and empower Black voices.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 5:49 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Throughout the month of February, Arizona’s Family will highlight some of the amazing voices from the African American community that make our state special.

The actors and actresses, and those behind the scenes at the Black Theatre Troupe, say they strive to highlight and empower Black voices. The Black Theatre Troupe has been a mainstay in the Phoenix art scene for decades. It was founded by Helen Katherine Mason in September 1970. Since then, hundreds of black actors, actresses, directors, playwrights, and crew members have put on many productions.

“I think acting chose me,” said actress Rico Burton. She’s been involved in several productions at the theatre. She’s set to star as “Bertha Holly” in the upcoming production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. “Bertha Holly is a very pivotal character here and she’s kind of the glue that keep things together. It’s amazing to see some of this character because in the 1900s, and early 1900s, a lot of people of color didn’t own things, but she and her husband own this boarding house. And so they’re entrepreneurs if you will,” Burton said.

Her mission is to help share and promote the experience of Black voices. “It’s important because it gives people an opportunity to expand their own perspectives, to see things from more than one point of view and to challenge themselves, sometimes correct themselves, and to find an opportunity to commit themselves to wanting to be better and do better,” Burton said.

Executive Director David Hemphill says he’s seen a lot of changes throughout the years. “It’s been said, and I’ve always learned, been taught that our humanity is reflected through our culture and through the arts,” he said while giving Arizona’s Family a tour of the theatre. He says it’s the art they create that has made the troupe an indispensable part of the city’s cultural landscape. Hemphill says they’ve come a long way from a small theater to the one near 14th and Washington Streets made possible by taxpayers.

“Here in Arizona, there isn’t a very large African American population. So, some of my friends back East see that we really do big accomplishment by doing Black theatre in a state where there are no Black people,” he said. He says the audience is majority African American, but they put on work for everyone to enjoy. Burton said that because so many people are coming to the Phoenix area after leaving vibrant, cultural scenes, they want that here in their new home.

“They want to experience some of that vibrancy that they felt in Minneapolis or Seattle, etc. like that,” he said. “So I think that that’s one of the main reasons that our niche has grown to become so important nationally, as well as locally.” Burton wants to remind everyone that they do the work of lifting Black voices every day. whether it’s on the stage or in their own lives.

“It’s a blessing that we can be highlighted in February and people get an opportunity to see some of what we do,” he said. “But please know that every single day we walk it, we talk it, we live it and it’s available for people, throughout the year in other productions.” The Black Theatre Troupe’s production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone runs this month from the 3rd to the 19th. You can get your tickets here! The Troupe will get an award from the August Wilson House in Pittsburgh as it’s one of the few companies in the United States to have produced all ten of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle plays.