Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts, a cultural hub in the West Philadelphia community, presents its Sixteenth Anniversary Walk of Fame recognizing African Americans of stage, screen and television. This year’s honorees are Sonia Sanchez, a celebrated poet, playwright and professor, and legendary actor Vinie Burrows, who will leave their handprints on the Walk of Fame in front of the theater. A plaque will honor acclaimed actor Dick Anthony Williams and Tony Award winner Gregory Hines, who are being recognized posthumously.
“I think the biggest thing is [that] in the past we wanted to honor Sonia [Sanchez], because Sonia is an excellent playwright. So it’s not her poetry that day, it’s her as a playwright,” said Bushfire Artistic Director Al Simpkins. Original plays by Sanchez, who is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University, include “Black Cats and Uneasy Landings,” “The Bronx is Next,” “Dirty Hearts,” “Uh, Uh; But How Do It Free Us?” and “Malcolm Man Don’t Live Here No Mo.”
Simpkins stated that the ceremony will take place on the birthday of the late Muslim minister and human rights activist, Malcolm X. “It’s no coincidence that it’s the same day,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that we wanted to do, and why Sonia was so very important, because of her activities back in the ’60s and ’70s.
“Vinie Burrows, she’s really an international actress. She’s toured the world, and she’s a quiet kind of thunder in New York,” Simpkins said. “She does a lot of one-woman shows, but she’s done Broadway, she’s done Off-Broadway, and she’s one of the older actresses that has basically inspired a number of actors as well as writers, I know, in New York, and I would imagine wherever she goes. She’s that kind of person.”
Once again, the street will be closed to traffic during the Walk of Fame induction, which will begin at 4:30 p.m. with a Meet & Greet Reception attended by Sanchez and Burrows. The Induction Ceremony takes place at 5:00 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:00. At 7:30 p.m., Bushfire Theatre will present the world premiere of P.J. Gibson’s “The Ancestor Series: A Trilogy of One Act Plays,” directed by Simpkins.
As Simpkins continues Bushfire’s legacy of training fine actors and making the arts accessible to the community, he said proudly, “We’ve achieved 35 years of doing continuous world premiere and Philadelphia premiere productions.”
On Oct. 17 at the Temple Performing Arts Center, 1837 N. Broad St., Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts will celebrate its 35th anniversary with “An Evening with Bill Cosby.” The event starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 ($30 for students), and proceeds from the performance benefit the Bushfire Theatre’s ongoing programs.
Al Simpkins, Bushfire’s founder and artistic director, recently explained how Cosby, a five-time Emmy Award winner and one of Philadelphia’s favorite sons, became involved in the company’s ongoing fundraising effort.
“I’ve been knowing him for some time, and we had a conversation about a new paradigm of giving,” Simpkins said. “There’s obviously, a lot of funding that has been going down across the board with all arts organizations, but principally, African-American organizations have really been hit hard across the country, and we surely see it here. Right now, you have Philadanco and you have Bushfire in terms of professional groups. We’ve been professional since ‘83, and Joan (Myers Brown) surely much longer. We’re the only producing professional groups currently in the city, and we’ve been affected by funding. That’s tragic, because you have a number of arts groups in the city — even visual arts groups, that have surely been affected.
“So the thought was possibly to create some idea of giving — that it’s important for not only the general community, but particularly the African-American community, because these arts organizations will not survive if a source of funding is not developed and maintained, and let’s hope that this event will at least bring this out. Cosby bought into it. He thought it was a good idea, and he recognized that a funding decrease has occurred in the African-American community. If this can in any way project the idea that giving is very important … and it’s just not a donation. It’s just the general support in terms of the arts.”
In the 2013-14 season, Bushfire Theatre will present “Broke-ology” by Nathan Louis Jackson (Sept.19-29, 2013); “Blues for an Alabama Sky” by Pearl Cleage (Oct. 13 - Nov. 3, 2013); “Phantom of the 87th Street Playground” (A musical with performances by Bushfire’s Adult and Children’s Ensemble) (March 18-30, 2014) and “A Shift in Gravity” by Kathleen McGhee Anderson (May 13-25, 2014). Simpkins is hopeful that Cosby’s participation will generate the interest and funding that is needed to mount this ambitious and imaginative season.
“It’s a wonderful thing that he’s doing for the theater, and we hope that it becomes a statement of support,” Simpkins said.
Tickets are on sale now at templeperformingartscenter.org and by phone at 1 (800) 298-4200.