Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company By Autumn Mur r ay
K enny Leon, a Tony Award winning Broadway and film director and former Artistic Director of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, founded Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in 2002 along with his former Alliance colleague, Jane Bishop. Kenny and Jane created the nonprofit theatre company to celebrate the rich tradition of black storytelling and to give a voice to bold artists of all cultures. In 2019, Kenny Leon selected Jamil Jude, True Colors’s Associate Artistic Director at the time, to replace him as Artistic Director. Jude is a highly accomplished director, producer, playwright, and dramaturg who has spent his career focusing on bringing socially relevant art to the community. Prior to joining True Colors, Jude co-founded The New Griots Festival, a festival dedicated to celebrating and advancing the careers of emerging Black artists. He served as the artistic programming associate at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN. He has served as the National New Play Network (NNPN) Producer in Residence at Minneapolis’ Mixed Blood Theatre Company and remains an affiliated artist with NNPN. Before joining the staff at Mixed Blood, Jude served as a New Play Producing Fellow at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and co-founded Colored People’s Theatre. WE SAT DOWN WITH JAMIL AND ASKED HIM ABOUT HIS NEW ROLE AT TRUE COLORS AND WHAT IT IS LIKE FOLLOWING IN THE AMAZING FOOTSTEPS OF KENNY LEON. Kenny will always be an ambassador for True Colors and remain on the board in an advisory role. I’ve had the benefit of having Kenny in my life for over 10 years. He was one of the first black male directors I saw doing the work and he was a mentor for me as I navigated my career. Being asked by Kenny to be his replacement is an honor and a major confidence boost. WHAT PRODUCTIONS ARE YOU WORKING ON FOR THE 2020 SEASON? I have two shows that will be a part of the She Griots season where the focus is on black women story tellers. Each play in the She Griots season is written by black women or features an all-black woman cast. In 2020, the year of Jubilee, all True Colors produced plays feature a black female director and one show featuring all-black women artistic design team. School Girls, the African Mean Girls Play , written by Jocelyn Bioh starts in February. Like the movie Mean Girls transported to a Ghana boarding school
Photos by Lelund Durond Thompson
JAMIL GAVE US INSIGHT ON HOW HE AND HIS DEDICATED STAFF DETERMINE WHAT SHOWS THEY WILL PRODUCE. “We try to put together a narrative on what our audience and our community really want to discuss. We are putting together not just a slate of plays but a slate of conversations to work in conjunction with those plays. I get inspiration from things that I have seen or read in addition to plays being pitched to me by directors, actors and designers.” WITH THE EVER-GROWING FILM INDUSTRY IN GEORGIA, WE ASKED JAMIL ABOUT THE IMPACT ON THE THEATRICAL WORLD. “You know the old saying “Rising waters raises all boats.” With more eyes on the film industry here in Georgia, actors, directors, set designers, and more are coming to Atlanta looking for work. Additionally, there are a lot movie and tv studios opening up in Atlanta which are creating a lot of job opportunities. I think there is an opportunity for the theatre community to work with the tv and film industry on creating a better symbiotic relationship. There is definitely room for the theatrical world and the tv and film industry to work together so that everyone is benefitting from the growing resources here in Atlanta.”
We are putting together not just a slate of plays but a
in 1986 when a new girl comes to town and the power dynamics are interrupted. It is a hilarious coming of age story. Marie and Rosetta , written by George Brant will start in June. This play tells the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who is basically the godmother of Rock ‘n Roll. It sheds light on “invisible” black performers in the old South and the legacies that were left behind. I am working on the title for the 2020/2021 season—but I think I am going to go with “Joy and Pain” understanding that to be black in America is to be constantly oscillating between those two feelings at any given moment.” slate of conversations to work in conjunction with those plays.
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