The Black Actors Guild was originally founded by five juniors at the Denver School of the Arts who were frustrated with the available material and also by the stereotype of the black actor, according Ryan Soo, the guild's director of operations. "A lot didn't apply to them, and a lot that did they didn't want to do," he remembers.
So they decided to make their own shows. The group grew to include students from several disciplines: theater, dance, cinema, stagecraft and design, band and orchestra; it has been open to artists of all races from the beginning.
Their first show, put together for Black History Month, was called Black to the Future, and revolved around Barack Obama's life as a teenager. It was both serious and funny, according to Soo, "but mostly funny."
Two years on, many of the original actors are still with the company; some attended the University of Northern Colorado but "realized how impossible it would be to do both college and the company and decided to take a leap of faith," Soo explains. Work with Shadow Theatre Company's youth program, Krunk, brought more recruits. Members now perform regularly, teach in Denver schools, and run acting and improv. workshops. And they've found what's likely to be a permanent home at the city-owned Crossroads Theater where, since May, they've been putting on a bi-weekly sketch comedy series called Doin' the Most.
Writer and one-time Crossroads owner Kurt Lewis, who's still deeply involved in events at the space, advises the group, and has contributed written work for their performances. He learned of them from theater operations manager Steve Nash. Remembers Lewis: "He said, 'Kurt you have to come in and seen these guys? They're great. They're funny and organized and nineteen and twenty years old and asking whether they should be profit or non-, doing video, making up business plans, teaching classes.' "For such young kids," he adds, "they have such a large knowledge."
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The important thing is to push people to create and share their own material because, Soo says, "in my opinion, there's not enough of that in the educational system." The work is "something we all love," he concludes. "I've never been happier."
The last Doin' the Most program of the year is at 8 p.m. Friday, December 23, at Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington Street. Tickets are $10, and wine and beer are available; for more information, call 303-242-5580 or 303-815-0013, or go to www.blackactorsguild.org.