When Edward Lewis was a student at San Jose State University, he discovered that their theatre department had never done a black play. In 1971 he created People Productions, a theatre company designed to bring together underserved youth with community artists which donated all of it’s profits to the Glaucoma Foundation, to fight a disease from which both his mother and his grandmother suffered.
He later revived People Productions in Los Angeles, where he directed and acted in plays by Eugene O’Neill, Lonne Elder (of the original Raisin in the Sun cast), and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Gordone. After his son Edward Lewis Jr. graduated from the University of Utah, Edward Sr. moved to Salt Lake City. By that time Department of Theatre Professor Dr. Richard Scharine had been teaching African-American theatre at the U for nearly 20 years, and a former student of his, Karen Alexander (who graduated from the Department of Theatre in the late 80’s) connected the two.
Together, Lewis and Scharine revived People Productions in the summer of 2000 with James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, performed in the Department of Theatre’s Studio 115. People Productions continued creating diverse theatrical experiences for the next 17 years, ending in April 2017 with August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. During that time Edward played leading roles in such plays as Lonne Elder’s Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play, August Wilson’s Jitney, Richard Wesley’s The Mighty Gents for People Productions, and Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth.
Edward Lewis died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, and that winter (with several plays featuring black actors being performed) Jerry Rapier had the idea of marketing them all under the title “The Edward Lewis Black Theatre Festival.” The Festival has continued yearly in the month of February, usually in the Salt Lake City Public Library auditorium, with several different local theaters contributing short plays or scenes from their current productions.
University of Utah Adjunct Assistant Professor Dr. Lynn DeBoeck’s The Lynchpin Life which brings together Civil Rights pioneer Ida B. Wells with a Black Rights Matter woman of today.
Me Too Monologues (Wasatch Theatre Company)
Let Me Down Easy (Canary Down the Mine) · Written by Anna Deavere Smith, founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at New York University.
The 10th Annual Edward Lewis Theatre Festival
Sunday, February 10
2 to 5 p.m.
Salt Lake City Public Library