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Adleane Hunter: A Stage Is Her Platform

Adleane Hunter reached a turning point when she saw the play, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” a call to blacks to use their talents.

Having moved to Santa Ana from Florida at age 11, Hunter discovered here that “you were the invisible person. Teachers ignored you. It was institutionalized, insidious discrimination.”

That’s why the play, a collection of writings by playwright Lorraine Hansberry, struck hard.

“It validated me as a black American,” said Hunter, 42, who is today the founder and director of the Orange County Black Actors Theater. “I realized I was in fact a significant, important person . . . and that theater was a place you could tell your story and share what you experienced. “

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So after marrying and starting a home, she returned to college at Cal State Fullerton to study theater. But the school offered few theatrical opportunities for blacks, she said, so she left to join a small black touring troupe.

Hunter soon began to rue the time away from home and her three children. So in 1982, she decided to form a more stable company of her own.

“I saw (blacks and whites) in this county not dealing with each other except on a very polite, superficial level,” she said. “I wanted to establish something that would bring them together and to create an artistic outlet for blacks here.”

Starting on a $4,000 shoestring, Hunter’s troupe has a projected annual budget of about $300,000 this year, about 90% of it from box office sales, she said. With a $50,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation, the company was able to hire its first professional fund-raiser last year.

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In the past five years, the company has staged such well-known works as “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” “Eubie!” a tribute to composer Eubie Blake, and “Ain’t Misbehavin,’ ” a revue of Fats Waller tunes, for which it won two NAACP theater awards in 1989.

But for the past several years, the troupe has managed to present only two full productions a year. Its core group of 12 actors must hold full-time jobs, fund-raising remains an uphill battle, and the troupe has never had a theater of its own.

Hunter admits that she has been ready to give up more than once. But the feeling never lasts, she said.

“I get such a good feeling when I talk to the people who discover us. White people discover that a lot of their perceptions and fears about black people are unfounded. And black people feel the same affirmation I experienced” after seeing Hansberry’s play. “It’s so totally validating to me that what happened for me can and has happened for hundreds, probably thousands by now.”

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Even the county’s small black population doesn’t deter Hunter. On the contrary.

“It’s more important to stay in a community where there are small numbers of any minority to share their experiences with people who have no contact with them at all. The theater can shape perceptions. We have a tremendous impact on people.”


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