As the Congo Square Theatre Company celebrates nearly 20 years, it’s working to ensure that Black stories are told on the stage, virtually.
“The expanse of the Black story is never limited in any shape or fashion,” said Congo Square Theatre Managing Director Charlique Rolle. “So that’s why we have a range of what we do. We go from August Wilson to sketch comedy, to musicals. There’s this wide variety of work we’re able to produce because we love our Blackness, so we celebrate it every chance we get, which is all the time.”
This celebration was most recently seen in “Hit ‘Em on the Black Side,” a biweekly sketch comedy series, streamed virtually.
“So each piece with its own genre also commented on different themes within the Black community,” said Anthony Irons, the show’s creator and director. “Police brutality, no-knock raids, COVID-19, remote learning. So we wanted to make sure each piece was funny and timely. It is Congo Square, so we are hitting them in ways that can challenge you to think about how we as people of color view, interpret and respond to what’s happening in the world around us.”
Alexis and Kevin Roston, Congo ensemble members who are married, say the virtual experience has been empowering.
“FUBU: For us, by us. Our voices haven’t been heard enough across most mediums of the entertainment industry. So we get the opportunity and honor to tell our stories from our perspectives,” Alexis Roston said.
“When you talk about working with other theater companies, we create a family for a moment,” Kelvin Roston said. “But working with Congo, I’m already with the family. You’re a lifer.”
With more virtual shows and festivals in the works for 2021, the Black theater company says its overall goal remains the same.
“In the next 20 years we’re thinking about the legacy we’re building not only as an organization, but in the people we’re impacting in the community,” Rolle said. “So not just Congo’s legacy, but the Black arts legacy and how we’re able to pour into the next generation of Black voices.”
One of those upcoming virtual festivals is happening later this week: Festival on the Square features roundtable discussions and workshops with actors of color. And “Hit ‘Em On the Blackside” returns in March. You can catch up on the current season online now.
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.