The Rapidian

Black theatre group creates safe space to explore race

Edye Evans Hyde is the founder of Ebony Road Players, a new nonprofit that is recreating a lost voice in the Grand Rapids theatre community.

About Ebony Road Players

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Edye Evans Hyde knows Grand Rapids is missing something crucial in its theatre community. This is why she recently started the Ebony Road Players, a nonprofit black theatre troupe that focuses on racial issues. The company took to the stage at Aquinas College’s Kretschmer Recital Hall to present a reading of “The Story” on June 5, a play by a Tracey Scott Wilson. This play is the second performance the Ebony Road Players have held, the first being a choreopoem by Ntozake Shange called “For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. “

“I felt that we needed this voice back in the community,” Hyde says. She laments the loss of a theatre company that she used to perform in back in the 1990’s called the Robeson Players. The Robeson players provided a safe place to talk about racial issues but they stopped performing about 15 years ago. Hyde wants to recreate this safe place with the Ebony Road Players.

“This idea had been in my head for a long time, and all of a sudden, it was the time to do it,” she says. Hyde also acknowledges that she was in a unique position to do this. Having recently received the  Dr. MaLinda P. Sapp Legacy  award from Hope College and having a long history with the Grand Rapids theatre community enabled her to succeed.

“I had the ability to really draw the people together and really talk about this project,” says Hyde.

Ebony Road Players are in the process of acquiring their nonprofit status, and are currently working with the staff at Aquinas College where they performed the first two readings of their first season. Hyde is hoping in the future to produce much larger productions. She also wants to put the Ebony Road Players in a position to educate in the art of theatre.

“The biggest challenge is just to help people understand who we are. We are not monolithic. It's black theatre and we are talking about black issues, but we are very pluralistic and very diverse in the theatre we do,” Hyde says.

 Hyde is also banking on the wealth of acting talent in Grand Rapids to help propel the Players forward. “We have a lot of talent here in Grand Rapids, as well as a lot of nationally known playwrights, especially some of the more contemporary playwrights,” she says. Hyde talks about taking on projects that maybe other theatre companies in Grand Rapids don’t have the ability to take on. She hopes that by showcasing some of this more contemporary work she can create a forum for it in the future.

Tom Kaechele, the theatre program director at Grand Rapids Community College, is pleased to see a new theatre troupe in Grand Rapids.

“I think it gives any actors in the community more options for shows. If you have experienced theatre in Grand Rapids, you know we have a really deep talent pool. The more theatre companies that are around to tap into the talent pool, the better for theatre in general,” he says. “To a certain extent, you’ll see some plays at Circle or Civic or Actor’s Theatre that deal with racial issues, but having something someone who specializes in that kind of voice just lightens the community.”

Both Hyde and Kaechele appreciate the close knit nature of the Grand Rapids theatre community.

“They are ecstatic," says Hyde. "When I first started, they all offered to help me with anything I needed, running copies, space, etc. They’ve been so supportive.”

“Anyone who knows the history of theatre for the last 20 or 30 years knows the talent of Edye," says Kaechele. "They know that her energy behind this project will make it a successful endeavor.” 

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