CONCORD — Director Pascale Florestal was overseeing the technical rehearsal of “The Colored Museum,” a play which takes a serious — and satirical — look at what it means to be Black in America.
It was Saturday, May 14, less than a week before the play opened at The Umbrella Arts Center. Then the news broke: 10 Black people had been killed at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket in what authorities say was a racially motivated attack.
“We keep talking about change and nothing seems to be changing,” Florestal, a 30-year-old Black woman, said.
She felt her cast, though shocked and saddened, became even more determined to deliver a quality performance. George C. Wolfe wrote the play in 1986. One of the monologues deals with gun violence. Sadly, the themes of the play are more relevant than ever.
“I hope people get an opportunity to think about how they view history,” Florestal said. “I hope audiences will think more clearly.”
Where the nation has been regarding race and “definitely where we can go,” she said, is an overriding theme.
“The Colored Museum” tackles America’s racial legacy head on, but uses a surprising amount of humor to do so. The 100-minute play showcases five actors and features plenty of audience interaction.
May 20 marked the first performance in Concord. There are two more weekend performances scheduled.
“The Colored Museum” will be performed at The Umbrella’s main stage 344-seat theater this Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Next weekend follows the same schedule.
“I think it’s going really well,” Florestal said. “I’m really excited about the show. We’re getting a lot of great reception. It’s very exciting to see The Umbrella have a deep connection with the piece.”
The production of “The Colored Museum” has earned positive reviews, but the play isn’t the only way Concord, which is 97% white and overwhelmingly affluent, can examine the Black experience.
The Concord Visitor Center and the Umbrella Arts Center have teamed up to offer guided tours highlighting the town’s history around slavery, abolitionism and the first generation of freed African Americans.
The first one was offered May 22. The final two are this Sunday and then Sunday, June 5. Tours depart at 1:15 p.m. from The Umbrella, located at 40 Stow St. The 60-minute walking tour covers about two miles.
Then, after returning to The Umbrella, groups can visit, “The Colored Museum: Past/Present/Future,” an art gallery exhibition. The exhibit features the works of emerging Black artists curated by Cedric “Vise1” Douglas.
As excited as she is for people to see “The Colored Museum,” Florestal said the art gallery exhibition is beyond impressive. Florestal said she hopes people visit the gallery before and after the play.
Unfortunately, Florestal said, people “continue to struggle” with race relations in the U.S.
“The Colored Museum” aims to entertain while it educates and The Umbrella Stage Company is presenting Wolfe’s play in a fresh, relevant way. The satire features 11 exhibits that undermine Black stereotypes and explore inter-community conflicts.
The Umbrella Arts Center stands on the grounds of the former Emerson School, built as a high school in 1929 and Concord’s first steel-beamed structure. The building was deemed obsolete after more than five decades.
Today, the town of Concord retains ownership of the building and leases it to The Umbrella Arts Center, which is responsible for programming, capital improvement costs and building maintenance.
In 2019, construction was completed on an ambitious $25 million project. The front part of the building has been completely renovated. New construction produced a state-of-the-art facility. Most of the $25 million has been raised from private donors, according to Stewart Ikeda, The Umbrella’s director of marketing and strategic communications.
The result is stunning. The arts center includes a second theater space (a 100-seat black box venue), a new dance studio classroom, studio space for more than 50 artists, three gallery exhibition spaces, space rentals for private events, newly renovated ceramics facilities and four large teaching studios for classes and workshops.
In short, something for nearly everybody.
“We have people coming from out of state,” Ikeda said. “They remember us from the old days. They’re sort of amazed by the transformation. When people do get to see the theater, they say, ‘I can’t believe we have access to this quality of theater in MetroWest. We can’t believe it.’”
Ikeda said one of the goals of The Umbrella is to be an inclusive meeting place for all groups. That means promoting diversity, equity and accessibility.
The walking tour, art gallery exhibition and “The Colored Museum” play are examples of the kind of inclusive place The Umbrella wants to be for the greater Concord community, Ikeda said.
The three events are a collaboration between the Robbins House, the Concord Visitor Center and The Umbrella.
“It is open every day,” Ikeda said of The Umbrella. “We want to be Concord’s living room.”
To purchase tickets for “The Colored Museum,” go to theumbrellaarts.org.