African American Children’s Theatre announces closing

June 28, 2018

After nearly 30 years of providing theatre arts training and performing opportunities to Milwaukee children, the African American Children’s Theatre (AACT) announces the ending of their programming and closing of the classroom at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.

Constance Clark founded the African American Children’s Theatre in 1989 after children of families affected by gun violence asked “Aunt Connie” to help them create a play as a way to cope with their loss. She soon realized that theatre arts training and performance could be a viable and ongoing project with positive messages and development opportunities for youth and the community.

Since that time, thousands of youth participated in more than 100 performances. AACT focused on musical theatre works by African American artists, including adaptations of Broadway shows, the music of Motown, traditional African folk tales, original productions honoring Milwaukee heroes, as well as pieces on contemporary issues and historical civil rights movements. Theatre-based presentations were made to friends, family and the public, and more special performances were created for groups such as Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Alliance, Milwaukee Art Museum, Boehner Botanical Gardens, Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and others.

Among the master local artists who provided instruction over the years are Dr. Wallace Cheatham, G. Dwight Hamilton, Azeeza Islam, Jason Drake-Hames, Sheri Williams Pannell, Ron Lee, Faye Cheatham, Adolphus Ward, Teju Ologboni, Samantha Montgomery, Della Wells, Evelyn Terry, and Ammar Nsoroma. A number of alumni who are now young adults have also developed professional careers in theatre with leading parts on Broadway, other stages, television and film.

The company initially performed at a variety of spaces, including SDC Westside Academy, several area churches, and HeartLove Place, before landing at Calvary Presbyterian Church (now Tenth St. Theatre) for 13 years, and eventually being offered space at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center in 2005.

AACT worked in collaboration with groups such as Arts@Large and Milwaukee Public Schools. Recent funding sources included MPS Partnership for the Arts and Humanities, the Bader Foundation, Wisconsin Arts Board, CAMPAC Milwaukee County, Meyer & Norma Ragir Foundation, Herzfeld Foundation, Jack and Lucy Rosenberg, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, The Links Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Black Arts Think Tank, past and present board members, and many individuals.

AACT had been reducing their programming options recently. Decreased funding from granting agencies and increased competition among local arts groups for these ever-shrinking dollars was cited as contributing factors in the decision to close the company. AACT’s Board and the executive director Constance Clark want to thank community, especially the parents of Milwaukee’s youth, for their love and support since 1989.