Acting Black

Part spoken word, part stand-up comedy, part Ted Talk complete with PowerPoint presentation and inspired by the styles and traditions of the likes of Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and the outrageous Lord Buckley, Acting Black riffs on the roots of American racism and its consequences for all of us. You will laugh out loud while being hit where you live, in the gut. Acting Black explores the appropriation of the African American narrative through performance and traces the birth of its’ beginning from a single individual on a specific night in Louisville, Kentucky in 1828, to the racial conflicts we still endure to this day.

Bring Acting Black to your group or organization for a provocative, live performance and discussion.

Acting Black is available to be performed for individual groups and public, private and nonprofit organizations and institutions. Each performance is followed by a facilitated discussion to get the audience talking openly and honestly about race and diversity.

“Coming out of the Philando Castile moment here in the Twin Cities, we thought: Look we need to figure out a forum to have a community conversation around this. And so it came to Carlyle Brown and Acting Black and we thought: this will be great.  This is a way to have this playwright-artist-thinker in the room with us, and a piece of art is made and shared and a community conversation (happens) around it.”
—Joe Haj, Artistic Director of the Guthrie Theater, quoted in The Journal

For questions or booking inquiries: Email carlylebrown[at]aol[dot]com

Upcoming Performances:

May 18 – 20, 2017
Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 pm

at Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Avenue (8th Floor)Minneapolis, MN

Tickets: Pay What You Can
Buy tickets online or call 612-339-4944.

Audience Advisory: Recommended for Mature Audiences (16+) due to content and language.
Performance run time: 60 minutes. No intermission.

Written and performed by Carlyle Brown

Directed by Noel Raymond


Lighting design by Mike Wangen

first presented at the Southern Theater in 2015

The Truth Behind Acting Black

by Becki Iverson, Compendium, Aug 8, 2016

This stunning performance perfectly depicts the heart of our race problems in America
I’ve often heard people question why art matters. When we have small budgets for necessities such as paving roads or education or clean water, why should we make room to fund the arts as well?
It’s always hard to answer that question well (even though I powerfully believe supporting the arts means supporting the essence of humanity), but now I know: all I need to do is point such naysayers to Carlyle Brown and particularly his work Acting Black.Acting Black just completed a brief two-day run at the Guthrie in which all the performances were free and sold out. Held by the Guthrie in response to the Philando Castille shooting and larger Black Lives Matter movement, Acting Black was perfectly poised to spark a necessary, hard conversation about racism in Minnesota. As Artistic Director Joseph Haj said:“In light of recent local and national events, we gathered as a staff to discuss how we might be most useful to our community in these uncertain times. Carlyle’s performance quickly rose to the surface of that discussion. The combination of local artists and the material seemed fitting and appropriate for this moment in our world. We are proud to present this powerful theater piece, and hope it will serve as a springboard to conversation and community building.”And what a springboard it was.

Carlyle Brown masterfully delivered the presentation in a one man performance that quietly seeped through the audience’s psyche. He combined an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject with Morgan Freeman’s friendly, authoritative demeanor to deliver a powerful history of racist stereotypes and their full perversion of representing minorities in every aspect of society, from advertising to books to television to movies and beyond.

Acting Black combines the best traditions of monologue, historical research, PBS specials and the wisdom of folklore into a densely packed one-hour long performance. As Carlyle said it’s really intended to educate a white audience, but also engaged many of the people of color in the room. The focus is mostly on representations of African Americans in media but also spreads to include other minorities such as Native Americans, Latinx, Asian immigrants and more.

The most striking finding of Acting Black is how specifically we can trace the origins of America’s racist past. Specific damaging stereotypes such as blackface and the Jim Crow dance go straight to 1829; if we had a time machine we could prevent them from being invented at all. It is incredible to see how these powerful, negative stereotypes were able to spread so widely in an age before internet or even telephones could spread the news. That these stereotypes continue to exist to this day is a shameful reality that we must all work to fix.

And where do we start? That was the focus of the after-performance discussion, which pushed a group of normally shy Minnesotans to reveal some deep fears about our current state. The frank questions and answers were a necessary push to encourage those of us with privilege – who are white, straight, middle or upper class, have higher education – to leverage our privilege to a useful benefit. What do we, who are so well positioned in society, really have to lose by supporting change? Many solutions were offered, the most powerful being to stop the polite “Minnesota Nice” reaction to racist conversation. We must hold each other to a higher standard, and we must start with ourselves and those around us: our families and friends. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but until the bodies of our brown brothers and sisters are safe, we cannot stop. In the immortal words of Viktor Frankl:

You may of course ask whether we really need to refer  to “saints.” Wouldn’t it suffice just to refer to decent people? It is true that they form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.
So, let us be alert – alert in a twofold sense:
Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.

Acting Black was a perfectly poised exposition of the importance of using art to explain difficult concepts. It provided an educational platform to spark meaningful progress on some devastating issues facing us today, and I can only hope the Guthrie offers this show again and continues their community gatherings series as planned. Acting Black was a magnificent offering in the wake of Philando Castille’s shooting; thank you, Guthrie, for offering that up.

Acting Black was first presented at the Southern Theater, June 1 & 8, 2015.

Subsequent performances include:

  • Dreamland Arts – March 10-26, 2016
  • Central State University – April 1, 2016
  • The Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theatre – August 5 & 6, 2016  (part of the Singular Voices/Plural Perspectives series)*
  • Great River Shakespeare – August 9, 2016
  • Minnesota Theatre Alliance Statewide Conference – August 10, 2016
  • The Music Hall, Portsmouth, NH – October 1, 2016
  • The Illusion Theater – October 17, 2016

Update: Thank you!

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We have reached our goal! THANK YOU!!! Thank you for your donations, your support, for spreading the word, for sharing on Facebook, and for giving me your encouraging words. You have given us all we need to create a work that we hope will make you proud.

Now I must warn you, Acting Black is about RACE, so it’s going to be a little angry, a bit uncomfortable, and just a touch ugly. Still, I believe somewhere in myself that WE CAN GET THROUGH THIS! We have to. What other choice do we have? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just hold our bellies and give it all a good laugh?

Well, I’m off to work. See you at the Southern Theater, June 1st and June 8th.


 $5000 needed to produce ACTING BLACK

Dear Friends,

In my past solo works such as Sea Never Dry, the story of a sailor alone in a small boat on a foggy day on a stormy sea and his dialogue with the wind; The Fula From America: An African Journey, an autobiographical story about my journey to West Africa searching for an African identity in 1981 only to discover how American I am, and Therapy and Resistance a story of the Viet Nam War draft resistance movement and the attempts of one draftee to gain a deferment as a manic-depressive schizophrenic with paranoid tendencies; I always performed in the context of a story with a strong narrative underneath me. There was always a journey to be taken and I played myself, the central character and the various people I encounter along the way. With the session of each work I make a conscious effort to strip the performance down to its barest essentials and focus on the immediateness and intimacy of the relationship between performer and audience. With Acting Black there is no narrative or journey for me to hide behind, no character to portray, only thoughts, ideas, a body and a voice.

Acting Black will be performed at the beautiful Southern Theater in the four corners area in downtown Minneapolis for two performances June 1st and 8th, directed by Noel Raymond with lighting design by Mike Wangen. The process is underway. I need your support.

The minimum USA crowdfunding goal of $3,500 will go to compensating participating artists for their time and their talents. The maximum goal of $5,000 will allow us to create the power-point image projections at the quality we desire. Please join the adventure. Make a donation now.

Thank you so much for your support,

Acting Black – Carlyle Brown & Co. Video Appeal. Video by Kevin Obsatz.

Donate to Acting Now’s Hatchfund campaign »