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African Continuum Theatre Company records

 Collection 0088-SCPA

The African Continuum Theater Company was founded in 1989 as the African Continuum Theater Coalition with the mission to assist African American community theaters in Washington DC to improve the quality and visibility of their work. The organization transitioned to a full theater company in 1995 and began producing professional-caliber plays with an African American perspective. ACTCo produced dozens of fully staged productions and hosted numerous public staged readings of new works by playwrights of color. After serving its community for a quarter of a century, ACTCo officially closed its doors in 2015. The ACTCo Collection consists of business and administrative records, press materials, performance recordings, photographs, prompt books, scenic art, and other organizational documents outlining its history.


  • 1980-2012
  • Majority of material found within 1990-2009

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is opern for research use. Materials from this collection must be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Contact the curator for an appointment:

Copyright and Duplication information

Some files are restricted due to personally identifiable information. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder. Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff. Contact the curator for more information at


36.75 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The African Continuum Theatre Company records cover the period of 1980 to 2012, with the bulk of the documents dating from 1990 to 2009. The records consist of business, administrative and financial records outlining the activities of the organization, including records from Chair of the Board of Directors, Rubie Coles. There are also numerous press materials relating to most of the productions. Production documents include stage manager binders and prompt books, rehearsal notes, recordings, box office statistics, and audience feedback. There are some photographs, scenic art drawings and lighting plots, though most are not labeled or dated. Other memorabilia include two Helen Hayes Award medals, posters, and many performance programs.

Administrative History

The African Continuum Theater Company (ACTCo) was founded in 1989 under a slightly different name: The African Continuum Theater Coalition. The intent of the original organization was to be "a coalition of theatre professionals, organizations, and advocates dedicated to strengthening and giving visibility to Black theatre in the nation's capital." The mission statement goes on to further state "The Coalition collaborates on activities and initiatives that will increase its ability to serve and involve the community, promote awareness, and create a supportive working environment." After their fifth anniversary in 1994, the board of directors began to transition the organization into a full-fledged theater company. This expansion of the organization's focus is reflected in the name change from Coalition to Company. The mission of the organization fundamentally stayed the same.

The Company fulfilled its mission in a number of ways. Since 1995, ACTCo produced dozens of fully staged plays, including seven world premieres. ACTCo also produced a staged reading series that featured new works by playwrights of color. The Fresh Flavas festival was a large part of the success of this program. ACTCo also reached out into the community through its Back on the Block (BOBCo) program, school workshop programs, and touring companies.

Over a dozen of these productions earned nominations by theatre Washington for a Helen Hayes Award. Three productions won the Helen Hayes Award: Torn from the Headlines in the 1995-1996 season, Spunk in the 2000-2001 season, and Two Trains Running in the 2004-2005 season. Two of the medals awarded are part of this archive. The company has been recognized for its achievements by the DC Theater Scene Audience Choice Award, the Mayor's Arts Award and the Washington Post Award for Distinguished Service to the Community among others.

Many stages throughout Washington DC have hosted ACTCo productions, including the Kennedy Center and Ford's Theatre. Beginning in 2006 the company became a resident of Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street. Collaborative partners included Ford's Theatre, the University of Maryland, Adventure Theater-MTC, and Washington Shakespeare Company.

After serving its community for a quarter of a century, ACTCo officially closed its doors in 2015.


The collection is arranged into seven record groups. The first group contains all documents related to ACTCo's time as the African Continuum Theater Coalition. The second group consists documents pertaining to the African Continuum Theater Company Board of Directors. The third group contains African Continuum Theater Company administrative documents from the period after they switched from a coalition to a company. The fourth is the largest record group and contains all production documentation. This includes stage manager binders and prompt books, technical information and drawings, production contracts, press materials, box office information, audience feedback, memorabilia, photographs, and other related materials. The fifth group contains performance recordings, posters, and computer files. The sixth group contains documents related to obtaining financial grants and donations. The seventh group consists of materials donated by the Chair of the Board of Directors, Rubie Coles. Each record group is arranged mostly chronologically by year. In the fourth group files are further arranged so that most identifiable production documents are grouped together.

  1. Company Documents
  2. Board of Directors Documents
  3. Administrative Documents
  4. Production Documents
  5. Posters, Recordings, and Computer Files
  6. Grant Documents
  7. Records of the Chair of the Board of Directors

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

JoAnn Williams, a former Executive Director for the company, made the first gift of records 29 April 2009. Ms. Williams contributed four accruals in June 2009, July 2009, May 2012, and August 2012. Regrettably, no further accruals were made following changes in leadership during the final years of the company. At the present the records covering September 2012 until the company's closure in fall 2015 remain unaccounted for. Record group 7 was acquired in July 2019, a gift from long-time ACTCo board member and eventual Chair, Rubie Coles.

Related Material

Video recordings of the following ACTCo productions are available at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library:

  1. I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda. By Sonja Linden. Call number: WAP 0644
  2. The Legend of Buster Neal. By Jackie Alexander. Call number: WAP 0584
  3. Blue Door. By Tanya Barfield and Larry Gilliard, Jr. Call number: WAP 0522
  4. Blues for an Alabama Sky. By Pearl Cleage. Call number: WAP 0539
  5. Intimate Apparel. By Lynn Nottage. Call number: WAP 0514
  6. Two Trains Running. By August Wilson. Call number: WAP 0334
  7. tripping through car house & Post Show Discussion: Emerging Black Women Playwrights. With Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Call number: WAP 0470
  8. A Monday Night with Bess and Tess. By Caleen Sinnette. Call number: WAP 0497
  9. The Hip Hop Nightmares of Jujube Brown. By Toni Blackman, Psalmayene 24, and Jennifer Nelson. Call number: WAP 0443
  10. The Amen Corner. By James Baldwin. Call number: WAP 0185
  11. Buffalo Hair. By Carlyle Brown. Call number: WAP 0172
  12. Euripides' Hecuba. Adapted by Marilyn Nelson. Call number: WAP 0005
  13. Torn From the Headlines. By Jennifer Nelson. Call number: WAP 0107
  14. Hubert and Charlie. By Jennifer Nelson and Mel Nelson. Call number: WAP 0138
  15. As You Like It. By William Shakespeare. With the Washington Shakespeare Company. Call number: WAP 0262
  16. Personal History. By Dominic Taylor. Call number: WAP 0199
  17. Joe Turner's Come and Gone. By August Wilson. Call number: WAP 0025

Processing Information

This collection has been received in multiple accessions. All documents have been kept in the original order as received to the greatest extent possible.

African Continuum Theatre Company records
Sarah Lindblom, September 2012, Melissa Brennan, September 2014, Pedro Gonzalez-Fernandez, March 2015, and Meghan Creek, January 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library

University of Maryland Libraries
8270 Alumni Drive
College Park MD 20742 United States