How does a theater troupe measure success? They say, “You are only as good as your last work.” What about the box office—do people come to see your work? Should we consider the relevance of the works you choose to perform—does it matter? What about the caliber of the performers who grace the stage? Are longevity and community investment signals of worth?

A less ambiguous matter is the impact of theater on a community. Live theater builds, enriches, and connects community. Humankind’s oldest rituals include the tradition of storied performance. From firesides to footlights we have sat together in the dark and nurtured a love and reverence for the power in story to inform, connect and transform us as humans.

If one has doubt about the impact of The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc Oakland’s oldest North American African Theater troupe they need only check with audience members who witnessed ‘the gates of heaven open’ for August Wilson’s “FENCES” at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. FENCES, fraught with unanticipated production problems, marked the Playaz sixth offering from Wilson’s American Century Cycle, an epic ten-play series chronicling 100 years of American history through the lens of North American Africans.

The Playaz boast a broad array of talent from the award winning young film stars of “LICKS,” “Koran Streets” and Stanley Hunt, to award winning filmmaker Adimu Madyun.

The troupe’s earlier work in Shakespearian adaptations caught the attention of Scott Newstok, a theater scholar, who mentions the troupe in his study of Shakespeare in Color, “Wayward Macbeth.” Kenneth Bullock discovered the group described as one of Oakland’s secret treasures though its acclaimed original work “Mama at Twilight: Death by Love,” and noted the troupe’s dedication to the work of local playwrights. The troupe has a history of risk taking and a track record of commitment to work that has a message for the communities in which they perform.

As for longevity, the troupe founded in 1999 is planning its 13th formal season in Oakland. With more talent and pluck than anything else, The Playaz have survived homelessness, anorexic budgets, and a tumultuous tenure in a delightful, albeit freezing, outdoors venue frequently serenaded by sirens and gunshots. Once again homeless, the troupe had the gumption to continue to aim for being the first troupe in theater history to stage the American Cycle in its entirety, and in chronological order.

If the troupe is to be judged by its latest work, “FENCES” was a resounding success on multiple levels. It enjoyed robust attendance throughout its three show run, which included a nearly full house on Thanksgiving Day, and a standing room only crowd for its final show. The crowds contributed to the best box office receipts in the troupe’s existence. Each performance ended in standing ovations and praise for what multiple audience members called the best production of “FENCES” anywhere.  A review by Wanda Sabir attests to the caliber of the performance, the relevance of the work, as well as the excellence achieved in its execution and staging at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland.

Maybe it’s not too bad to be measured by your latest work. The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc is overjoyed at being discovered by so many new audience members. It hopes this translates into continued longevity and investment by the community as they plan a 2014 Season featuring “Two Trains Running” and “Jitney,” the next two installments from the American Century Cycle.

Discover The Lower Bottom Playaz and their history making march though August Wilson’s Cycle visit: www.lowerbottomplayaz.com and www.TalesofIronandWater.com). Contact Dr.Ayodele Nzinga @ wordslanger@gmail.com

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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