Guests filled the seats of Austin Playhouse at ACC Highland for Spectrum Theatre Company‘s largest benefit to date. Backers of the African-American troupe didn’t stop with food, drinks and chat. Billy Harden and company put on a full show, themed to the life and works of the late Boyd Vance, an irreplaceable performer and director who championed black theater in Austin for decades.
Also, the night’s songs, speeches and scenes previewed Spectrum’s upcoming season, which includes Regina Taylor‘s musical, “Crowns,” August Wilson‘s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flannery‘s sweet Caribbean tale, “Once on This Island.”
Among the distinguished presenters were Austin City Council Member Ora Houston, Travis County Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb, Six Square cultural leader Lisa Byrd, playwright and actor Eugene Lee and Statesman editorial writer Alberta Phillips Bledsoe. The local performers were no less stellar, including Pam Hart, Jacqui Cross, Janis Stinson, Judy Arnold and a host of other talents.
I was particularly impressed with young Cameron “Mercury” McKnight, who nailed the tough “Ms. Roj” monologue from “Colored Museum.” It’s clear that Spectrum is nurturing new talent as well as providing roles for established artists.
A word or two about the host company, Austin Playhouse. It’s thriving in a nifty home Don Toner built in the shell of old Highland Mall. His daughter, Lara Toner, is doing a terrific job as artistic director and she told me about smart ongoing partnerships with Austin Community College. She reports that the group’s current show, “Disgraced,” about a Pakistani-American lawyer and his artist wife host an intimate dinner party, is taking off. Hope to see it before it closes.