This month, the Africana, Asian American, Chicano and Native American Studies Center at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library is home to a special exhibit, featuring costumes, programs, photographs and mementos from the Tabia African-American Theatre Ensemble. Founded in 1985 by artistic director Viera Whye, ’04 MA Theatre Arts, along with Ann Johnson, Robert Parker, Rudy Morris, Arlene Sagun and Adaku Davis, Tabia has presented work by Black and African-American artists in San Jose and with its traveling troupe. The library exhibit was curated by SJSU Associate Professor of Journalism Duane “Michael” Cheers, who worked closely with Theatre Arts Professor Buddy Butler, resident director of the company, and Professor Emerita Ethel Walker, both of whom have dedicated decades to supporting African-American theater in San Jose and beyond.
“It’s important that we have an expression of multicultural theater in San Jose, specifically African-American theater,” said Whye. “Black history is also American history and it is important to have our voices authentically displayed.”
Over its 35-year history, Tabia has produced stage productions and performed as a traveling troupe, taking its touring Black History Show to schools, festivals, corporations, churches and conferences throughout the state. The traveling show presents historical figures, poetry, song and dance that conveys the contributions and culture of African-Americans. The theater company is under the umbrella of the San Jose Multicultural Arts Guild (SJMAG).
“Tabia/SJMAG’s mission is to unite and serve communities by conducting cross-cultural arts programming reflective of the experiences of African-Americans, women and Chicanos and Latinos,” writes Whye in a tribute essay printed in the exhibit. “Culturally specific theater, especially ‘Black Theater’ in San Jose (where the percentage of blacks has fluctuated from two percent to six percent over many years), has been at times a daunting and challenging task. But we have managed to sustain our presence and do high-quality work. I am so proud and appreciative of all who have served in this endeavor.”
“This exhibit is a wonderful exhibit showcasing Viera Whye and Tabia,” said Cheers. “Her African-American ensemble deserves so much credit in what they have achieved over the past 35 years. However, the story doesn’t end there.”
In an essay Cheers printed for the exhibit, he expresses a desire for SJSU to recruit more African-American theater professors, which will encourage more black and African-American students to pursue careers in the field. Cheers writes that representation matters, which is one of the reasons he hopes SJSU students and members of the public visit the library exhibit.
“The exhibit celebrates what Tabia has achieved and what it has given to San Jose State,” said Butler, who Cheers photographed for the exhibit. “It has provided several opportunities for young and upcoming black artists.”
On display on King Library’s fifth floor through February 29, the exhibit includes playbills, photographs, slideshows and props. The Tabia Ensemble’s next production is Eve of Jackie, a one-night performance by Broadway actor and singer Chester Gregory, on Friday, February 7.