Wittliff presents exhibition celebrating African-Americans in Texas theatre

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Trends Reporter

The newest exhibition in the Wittliff Collections celebrates the life, times and prolific works of African-American luminaries, bringing together several different cultures to redefine what it means to be in the Texas theatre business.

“Acting Up and Getting Down,” on display through Aug. 1, is based on an anthology of theatrical scripts of the same name written by the playwrights featured in the exhibit. Texas State faculty members Sandra Mayo and Elvin Holt collected documents for the exhibit and edited the anthology.

Mayo, an associate professor, said a theatre critic in the Dallas area once described and celebrated African-American culture in performances through the phrase “acting up and getting down.”

Mayo said the exhibit follows a structure similar to the one found in the anthology.

“It showcases the seven playwrights (featured) in the book and includes background on myself and Dr. Holt,” Mayo said.  

Holt and Mayo spent the last six years collecting documents, videos, photographs and reviews for research and to supplement information found in the collection.

Mayo said the exhibit now features more than 3,000 documents and 900 photographs donated by herself and Holt.

In addition to a celebration of African-Americans in the Texas theatre scene, the exhibit and its creators also strive to preserve and shine a light on the culture for future generations to appreciate.

“This exhibit illuminates the really rich cultural treasures we have in Texas that you see expressed in African-American theatre,” said Steve Davis, curator of the Wittliff Collections.

The exhibit showcases a rich legacy, diversity, quality and the scope of many artistic productions, Davis said.

Along with the seven playwrights featured in “Acting Up and Getting Down,” the anthology also includes work by Eugene Lee, Texas State alumnus and playwright.

Upon graduating from Texas State, Lee starred in several different plays, including an acclaimed appearance on Broadway.

Lee said a friend who was in between jobs and experienced the traumatic loss of his mother was his inspiration for playwriting.

“To be a part of this is humbling and is an honor to find out that I am a part of something that is historic,” Lee said. “When you start out, you don’t set out to make history, so when it happens it’s kind of nice.”