Penumbra Theatre Company Announces Opening of BLACK NATIVITY: A SEASON FOR CHANGE, 12/3-12/27

Penumbra Theatre Company, the nation's preeminent African American theatre, proudly announces the opening of Black Nativity: A Season for Change, by T. Mychael Rambo and Lou Bellamy, directed by Dominic Taylor, with musical direction by Sanford Moore on Thursday, December 3, 2009. The production will run December 3 – December 27, 2009.

For the sixth year in a row, this spectacular holiday production plays on the Penumbra stage, marking the 22nd year of this Christmas tradition.  This season, we are taken into the Walker family home. The story follows four family members, representing three generations, as they each journey away from the expectation and need for material gifts towards the recognition that a true gift is one that money can't buy-the gift of love. The Walker family offers us the spirit of hope and cheer, sharing their gifts to us through song and dance.

"One of the reasons Black Nativity is so important is that our hope and our faith are connected to coming together as one. When individuals and families tie their lives to each other, we are strengthened.  Together, we can weather most any storm.  Together, our happiness is more joyful," said Dominic Taylor, director of the production and Penumbra's associate artistic director.

This powerful gospel journey includes old favorites such as "No Room at the Inn," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Joy to the World," and several songs new to Black Nativity including "The Twelve Days of Christmas," "The Soulful Noel," and "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus." The performance features live music by award-winning musicians, original dance choreographed by the renowned Uri Sands of TU Dance Company, and a stellar gospel choir ensemble that includes members of Moore by Four and the Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness.

Featured vocalists include Ginger Commodore, Iman Fears, Nicole Foster, DeMarcus T. Green, Jackson Hurst, Greta Oglesby, T. Mychael Rambo, Dennis W. Spears, and Jennifer Whitlock.

Joining the vocal ensemble are TU Dance Company members Alanna Morris and Marciano Silva dos Santos, with live music by Sanford Moore and David Hurst on keyboards, Jay Young on bass, and Erick Ballard on drums.

Adult single tickets are $38 and students are $18.  For tickets call 651-224-3180 or visit

Dominic Taylor (Director) is the Associate Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre. Select directing credits include the new opera Fresh Faust at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, The Negroes Burial Ground at the Kitchen, N.Y.C., Uppa Creek at Dixon Place, and Ride The Rhthym in the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota where he has directed The Wiz, Night Train To Bolina and this spring will direct Execution Of Justice. He is also the director of Penumbra's OKRA New Play Development Program. Dominic has worked with Crossroads Theater, Rites and Reasons Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, The Public Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons, and Ensemble Studio Theatre, among others. He is an alumni member of New Dramatists. He holds a Bachelors' and a Master of Fine Arts Degree from Brown University.

Lou Bellamy (Co-conceiver & Assistant Director) is the founder and artistic director of Penumbra Theatre. Under his leadership, Penumbra has produced 23 world premieres, including August Wilson's first professional production, and is proud to have produced more of Mr. Wilson's plays than any theater in the world. Bellamy is an obie Award-winning director, an accomplished actor, and sought-after scholar. He has been a member of the University of Minnesota's faculty for 32 years and is currently appointed to the rank of Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance. Recent directing credits include Radio Golf, Fences and The Piano Lesson at Penumbra, A Raisin in the Sun and Gem of the Ocean, Penumbra Productions staged at the Guthrie, Two Trains Running at the Signature Theatre in New York, Jitney at Kansas City Repertory Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company, and the staged reading of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom at the Kennedy Center.

SARAH BELLAMY (Education Director) is a playwright and educator, and holds a b.a. in creative writing and post-colonial theory from Sarah Lawrence College and a Master's degree in Caribbean history and the trans-Atlantic Slave trade from the University of Chicago. She is currently working toward her doctorate in cultural studies and critical discourse at the University of Minnesota.

T. Mychael Rambo (Co-conceiver & Son) is a Penumbra company member. Select Penumbra credits include Gem of the Ocean, The Piano Lesson, Get Ready, Ain't Misbehavin' and several productions of Black Nativity. He has performed locally with the Guthrie Theater, Illusion Theater, Minnesota Opera, Ordway Music Theatre, and Mixed Blood Theatre. He has also performed at Carnegie Hall with the Minnesota Orchestra and throughout Canada, Europe, Africa and Brazil. Television credits include Endeavor, I Led Two Lives and the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue. Film credits include Mighty Ducks, Crossing the Bridge, Grumpy Old Men, The Cure, Equinox, Wooly Boys and Justice. Recent honors include singing the National Anthem for President Obama during his recent Twin Cities' visit, and receiving a 2008 regional Emmy Award.

SANFORD MOORE (Musical Director & Keyboard) has served as musical director for many Penumbra Productions including The Piano Lesson, Get Ready, Blue, Black Nativity – A Homecoming and Ain't Misbehavin'. Other select musical direction credits also include Crowns, Dream on Monkey Mountain, Triumph of Love, and As You Like It at the Guthrie Theater and Two Queens, One Castle at Mixed Blood Theatre. Sanford is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota School of Music, and Minister of Music for Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.

URI SANDS (Choreographer) is the co-founder and co-artistic director of TU Dance Company. A principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for five years, he also danced with Minnesota Dance Theatre and James Sewell Ballet, as a guest artist with Complexions under the direction of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, and as a principal dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre. He has choreographed for Zenon Dance, North Carolina Dance Theater, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He was awarded a 2004 McKnight Artist Fellowship and a 2005 Princess Grace Award in choreography. Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands received the 2005 Sage Cowles Best Performance Award, and were named 2005 Artists of the Year by the Star Tribune.

MARY K. WINCHELL (Stage Manager) is in her 23rd season with Penumbra Theatre. Most recently, she stage managed Radio Golf at Penumbra and Gem of the Ocean, Penumbra's production staged at the Guthrie. Other Penumbra credits include The Piano Lesson, Get Ready, Black Nativity: Twenty Years of Holiday Cheer!, Seven Guitars, Jitney, Two Trains Running, King Hedley II and Dinah Was. She has stage managed at the Orpheum Theatre, State Theatre, Pantages Theatre, Children's Theatre Company, Jungle Theater and the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami. She has lent her talents to Macy's Glamorama and served as production stage manager for Dorothy Hamill's Nutcracker on Ice, Aveda's 20th Anniversary Celebration at Radio City Music Hall, and Super Bowl xxvi Winter Magic.

GINGER COMMODORE (Daughter) has been a member of the Twin Cities music scene for many years and was recently inducted into the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame. During the summer, Ginger appeared as a featured soloist in Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC with the Lincoln High School Choir of Thief River Falls, MN. She is currently a teaching artist with the VocalEssence Witness School Program. Through this program students of all ages in Minnesota schools have the opportunity to interact with nationally renowned African American artists, writers, storytellers, musicians, and dancers.

IMAN FEARS (Granddaughter) is a 2008 graduate of Penumbra's Summer Institute. An ardent supporter of Penumbra Theater's message of "art for social change" she directed and produced "The Laptop Project," a documentary exposing the negative effects of the digital divide on local school children. "The Laptop Project" won the "Best Emerging Filmmaker" title at the Quiet on The Set Awards in July 2009. Iman is also an honors student, musical theater major and founder and president of The Laptop project at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists where she is a junior in high school. Iman recently played MinniJean Brown in Youth Performance Company's IVEY award winning production of Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957. Iman also studies voice and viola at the Machphail School for Music.

NICOLE FOSTER (First Angel) is excited to make her Penumbra debut in Black Nativity: A Season for Change. Nicole has garnered much of her musical experience through her long-time membership at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. She serves as director of the Promise Choir for children and the Young Disciples for Christ youth choir. She also sings with the Spirit of David adult choir.

DeMARCUS T. GREEN (Second Angel) has been a member of the band James Grear and Company for 13 years. The band has played on several movie sound tracks including "The Fighting Temptations", "Prince of Egypt", and "The Emperor's New Grove." DeMarcus has appeared with James Grear and Company on NBC's "Today Show" performing back up for Mariah Carey. DeMarcus has also performed as an actor in the play Zoe at Pantages Theatre.

Jackson Hurst (Grandson) was most recently seen on stage in Caroline or Change at the Guthrie TheateR. Jackson has always had a strong love for music and the arts. He has written and recorded lyrics to underground tracks Keep Steppin' and He's So Good, performed live for the legendary Smokey and has performed several times with national recording artist James Grear & Company. Jackson has also performed several times with Love Works Academy, danced for Dominion Dance Studio in Annie and performed in The Night That Christ was Born with HPMDC. Outside of acting and singing, Jackson plays football, drums and takes guitar lessons. He is a 9th Grade student at Hopkins West Jr High School.

ALANNA MORRIS (Mary) is a graduate of Juilliard School and a company member of TU Dance. She has studied modern, jazz and ballet at Creative Outlet Dance Theater (Brooklyn, NY), Phillipa Schuyler Middle School, Ballet Hispanico, The Ailey School and La Guardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts. In 2003 she was awarded a Level One A.R.T.S award from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. When she is not dancing, Alanna is collaborating with local artists and pursuing her passion for youth and community development, spending time with children of all ages.

Greta Oglesby (Grandma Walker) is a Penumbra company member. Select Penumbra credits include The Piano Lesson, Dinah Was, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, A Love Song for Miss Lydia, and several productions of Black Nativity. Most recently, she starred as Caroline in Caroline or Change at the Guthrie Theater. Greta has also worked with the Children's Theatre Company, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Mixed Blood Theatre and 10,000 Things Theatre. Honors include the 2009–2010 McKnight Theatre Artist Fellowship Award, Black Theatre Alliance Award (BTAA), the Joseph Jefferson Award and BTAA for her role in Do Lord Remember Me, a BTAA nomination for her portrayal of Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean, and a Joseph Jefferson nomination for her portrayal of Ophelia in Dream of Ophelia.

MARCIANO SILVA DOS SANTOS (Joseph) is a native of Brazil. He studied theater at the Escola de Teatro e Dança FAFI in Vitória, Espirito Santo, Brazil and danced with the Afro-Brazilian dance company, NegraÔ. He has studied ballet, capoeira, modern and contemporary dance and is currently a member of TU Dance. He has also danced with Homem Cia de Dança Contemporâneo, Balé da Ilha and Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater. "He teaches at the University of Minnesota and at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. Marciano was named "Best Dancer 2008" by City Pages. This is his third consecutive year performing in Black Nativity at Penumbra.

DENNIS W. SPEARS (Wanderer) is a Penumbra Theatre Company and has performed in The Piano Lesson, Blue, and Get Ready. This spring, Dennis embarked on a tour in Crowns, a co-production of Indiana Repertory Theatre and Syracuse Stage. No stranger to jazz, Spears has performed nationally and internationally and is an original vocalist with Moore by Four. He has three solo recordings to his credit. As Creative Artistic Director for the Capri Theater, Dennis produces a very exciting Legends music series.

JENNIFER WHITLOCK (Third Angel) is celebrating her 18th performance in Black Nativity.. Other Penumbra credits include Purlie, Tambourines to Glory, Ain't Misbehavin', Selma, Bubblin' Brown Sugar and A Soldiers Play. She is a member of the Grammy award-winning Sounds of Blackness. She directed and performed in the 2003–2005 production of The Night before Christmas a Musical Fantasy, and performed vocals on "Unity," "Soul Symphony," "Reconciliation," "Time for Healing," "Africa to America," "The Night Before Christmas," and "The Evolution of Gospel." She has provided vocal support on recordings for the Crusadors, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder to name a few. Motion picture soundtracks include Batman, Mo' Money, Posse, Panther, Rabbit Ears Project and John Henry.

ERICK BALLARD (Percussion) has played for various artists, events and venues throughout the Midwest. Since 2008, he has toured with blues giant Bernard Allison across the United States and Europe. Erick has also has worked with G.B. Leighton, Catch Penny, Standard Thompson, The R Factor, Boogie Wonderland, The New Congress, Alex Rossi & Root City, and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church Choir.

David Hurst (Keyboard) is a songwriter, musician, and actor. He is a member of the 2002 Stellar Award-winning and 2003 Grammy-nominated Excelsior Choir, and the Grammy award-winning Sounds of Blackness. David made a guest appearance on James Grear and Company's "Celebrate," and performed at President Clinton's New Year's Celebration at the White House along with Will Smith, Luther Vandross, Usher, Patti Austin, BeBe Winans, and Tom Jones. He has worked with many gospel artists including R. Kelly, Brian McKnight and Mary J. Blige, and has performed with The Clark Sisters, Kirk Franklin, John P. Kee, and Kim Burrell.

JAY A. YOUNG III (Bass) studied with C. Scott Hood of Indiana State University and at the School of Music at the Naval Academy. He is a freelance performer, music educator, founder and president of Cartouche Records, and founding member of jazz ensemble Moore by Four. He has performed at the Ordway Center, Guthrie Theater, Children's Theatre, Walker Art Center, and the Kool Jazz Festival. He has performed internationally in numerous concerts and in several local and national television and radio commercials. He has received recognition and awards from the Minnesota Black Music Awards and the Minnesota Jazz Music Awards.

JASON ALLYN-SCHWERIN (Scenic Designer) is in his 8th season as Technical Director for Penumbra Theatre. He has served as Scenic Designer for several productions and helped coordinate Penumbra's national tour of Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers during the 2005–06 season. Jason received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative and Performing Arts from Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa, studied at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and received his Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Jason has worked with Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Theater Latté Da, Mixed Blood Theatre, SteppingStone Theatre, Actor's Theater Company of Minnesota, as well as Texas Scenic Company of San Antonio and VEE Corporation in Minneapolis.

MARTIN GWINUP (Sound & Video Designer) is an associate professor in the Theatre Arts and Dance Department at the University of Minnesota. He teaches audio and video technology, design and production. He has also worked in the Twin Cities area as a freelance sound and video designer and technician for 18 years. Martin has worked for the Frank Theatre, History Theatre, Children's Theatre Company, Cricket Theatre and Eye of the Storm. Select design credits at Penumbra include REDSHIRTS, Get Ready, Blue, Black Nativity – A Celebration of Family, A Celebration for the Soul…Testify! and Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers.

KATHY MAXWELL (Lighting Designer) was the designer for Penumbra's Black Nativity: Hear Again the Christmas Story! and the assistant lighting designer for Penumbra's A Raisin in the Sun and Gem of the Ocean. Other select design credits include Self the Remix, Cooking con Karimi, Cipher, The Island, and the international tour of Farid Mercury by Kaotic Good Produtions. Kathy has a B.A. in Theater and Dance from the University of Texas-Austin and is the Master Electrician for Penumbra Theatre.

AMELIA CHEEVER (Costume Designer) has designed costumes at Penumbra for Louis and Ophelia, Riffs, Black Nativity and The Trial of One Short Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise & Safreeta Mae. She has designed costumes for over 50 productions at the Jungle Theater including Seafarer, The Gin Game, Syringa Tree, Shining City, Bus Stop and House of Blue Leaves. At Mixed Blood, Sweet 15 and Yellowman. The Guthrie Theater, 9 Parts of Desire, Pericles, In the Blood and Side Man. Theater Latté Da, Old Wicked Songs. Actors Theater of Louisville, Art. Other theaters include, History Theatre, Park Square Theatre, Ordway Theater, Minnesota Orchestra and Mary Worth Theater. Amelia has a M.F.A. in costume design from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a B.A. from the College of St. Benedict.

Related Articles View More Minneapolis / St. Paul Stories   Shows

More Hot Stories For You

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram instagram