Dramaturgical Resources


The African Company Presents Richard III

By Carlyle Brown

Over the course of the season, our assistant directors and student dramaturgs will be compiling dramaturgical resources relating to each production as it develops. Below are some links to websites which relate to the history of the play, the biography of the playwright, and sites that contextualize and, we hope, shed light on the directorial approach to the dramatic material.

We hope you find these resources of interest.

Carlyle Brown

The play The African Company Presents Richard III was written byCarlyle Brown an African-American playwright, and the artistic director, and founder of Carlyle Brown & Company, established in 2002 and based in Minneapolis.  As a playwright, Brown’s plays center around Black American historical events and figures.  His goal is to portray black people through a different lens from those of how Blacks are often portrayed.  For example, Brown’s play, Big Blue Nail touches on the historical event in which Robert Peary was credited as being the first man to reach the North Pole when, in reality, Peary's journey would not have been possible had it not been for an African-American man named Matthew Henson who was never credited with possibly deserving the title, and only recognized over 10 years later.

For The African Company Presents Richard III, Brown was inspired by the formation of the first known Black theater in the United States, The African Grove Theatre. The theater was created in 1821 by William Henry Brown, a former ship steward and a free Black man from the Caribbean.  William Henry Brown's enterprise began as a tea garden in his backyard where singing and recitations grew into performances.  Brown then moved his theater to Mercer Street next door to an all-white theater company, the Park Theater.

Initially, white theater owners and audiences ridiculed the concept of Black people performing. However, when the Grove started attracting a significant number of white audiences, it became the Park Theatre’s direct competitor.  With this popularity and through Black excellence, it challenged prejudices that deemed Black individuals inferior.  White theatre owners and audiences became enraged, created noise, and filed complaints, which lead to the shutdown of the Grove Theatre.

Why did the African Grove want to perform Richard III?

Richard III during the period was the most performed play and for Black individuals at the time, the character Richard encompasses the fight for power which Black people lacked during slavery. 

Who has the right to play Shakespeare?

Carlyle Brown incorporated the historical character William Henry Brown into the play.  In the text, when characters discuss producing Richard III, the character Brown states that it is a way of “telling everybody that our ways, our ideas, our beliefs be just as good as theirs”.  This asserts that the African Grove actors consciously used Shakespeare as a way of demonstrating that they were just as articulate and intelligent as their white counterparts.  Shakespeare's was not the only work Black people staged.  To prove that they were not limited to Shakespeare, William Henry Brown--also credited as the first Black American  playwright--wrote an original play called the Drama of King Shotaway.  This further highlighted Black creativity, with Black individuals expressing themselves through storytelling and creating rich cultural artifacts in a society that frequently denied the opportunity to do so.

The African Company Presents Richard III demonstrates the power of voices, community, and storytelling.  The silencing of voices through racial constrictions in the 1820s is still, unfortunately, relevant today.  In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis threatened to ban AP African American studies from high schools.  This followed a curricular watering down as well as a removal of books from some Black authors that was issued by the College Board.  This repression of the knowledge of the Black experience evoked an outcry against discrimination and the ability of Black authors, academics, and theorists to be free to tell their story. 

In the face of this removal of Black voices from educational settings, within theater companies, there can also be a lack of respect and recognition of Black actors. For instance, the Cleveland Playhouse's Interim Artistic Director (and formerly Artistic Director pf Rochester's Geva Theatre Center) Mark Cuddy, was accused of ignoring the sexual assault of a Black actor during a production at the theatre.  When Cuddy was questioned about the theatre's lack of action he was quoted as responding that it wasn't at the forefront of his mind. The actor was retraumatized with no readjustment or comfort.  This illuminates the secrecy in attempting to cover the incident as well as the lack of justice the actor received.  Lastly, with the continuation of systemic racial injustice within cultural settings, a movement ‘We See You White American Theatre’ was created in 2020 to address racial injustice and decolonize theater spaces.  The movement stressed the accountability needed for anti-racism to be effected and the need to focus on the well-being of Black bodies.  Black people continue to not receive justice whether it be through the destruction of voices through literature or in spaces that are supposed to provide a haven of safety.  In The African Company Presents Richard III, Carlyle Brown recovers Black histories through his celebration of the first known Black theatre company.  The play enables the stories of Black people to continue to be embraced and celebrated.