||African American Cultural Center founder Malcolm Erni believed that knowledge and celebration of the theatre arts could help the community he loved to better understand and embrace its own culture. For the first ten years of its existence, the Center upheld that vision with periodic stage plays and theatre workshops. When Celes Tisdale followed Edward Lawrence as executive director, he named the theatre after the multi-talented Harlem Renaissance actor, singer and scholar Paul Busti Robeson.
Today the Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center is the oldest African American theatre in Western New York. Launched initially to nurture the artistic talents of African American playwrights, producers, directors, actors and stage technicians in Buffalo and he surrounding region, it serves as a training ground and showcase in keeping with its founding mission.
During its earliest years, theatre artists of every caliber helped to shape its destiny: the illustrious Ossie Davis was an early consultant. PRT alumni include directors, playwrights, actors and producers Woodie King Jr., Reuben Santiago Hudson, Margaret Ford-Taylor, Phyllicia Allen Rashad, Richard Gant, Ron Stacker Thomas, P. J. Gibson, J.E. Franklin and Robert Earl Jones. The PRT itself has captured numerous awards throughout the years. Among these is the Governor's Arts Award and an early Artvoice Artie (the Buffalo equivalent of the Broadway Tony award) nod for "using the medium of theatre to promote social change, especially through their work with young children."
The PRT often commissions out-of-town directors or collaborates with other local companies. These include, among others, Irish Classical Theater, Ujima Theatre, Shea's Performing Arts Theatre, Studio Arena Theatre and Musical Fare Theatre. The 130-seat physical theatre is housed inside the African American Cultural Center, and the season runs generally from September to June, with an average of four productions that focus on the African American experience. Subscriptions and group rates are available.
In addition to its stage component, the PRT consists of the Paul Robeson Adult and Children's Drama Workshop, and the Paul Robeson Technical Theatre Workshop. PRT Artistic Director Paulette D. Harris also teaches a Video Production class through the AACC Cultural Enrichment Program.