BALTIMORE — Currently appearing at Center Stage straight from Great Britain is Kwame Kwei-Armah. A seasoned playwright and actor, Kwei-Armah, was “cast” in the role of “Artistic Director.” His many credits include serving as artistic director of the historic 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Culture held in Dakar, Senegal. He also played the role of “Finley Newton” in the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) drama “Casualty.”
This may be a theatrical introduction, but Kwei-Armah is indeed a “star” at Center Stage. His leadership as artistic director has garnered rave reviews from entertainment media, and he has been credited with infusing excitement and energy into Center Stage, which is located at 700 N. Calvert Street in the Mt. Vernon area. He has served as Artistic Director since 2011, and moved to the United States to take the position.
“This has been great,” said Kwei-Armah. “This has been a wonderful learning curve. This may sound a little weird, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But, I have had a great time learning. Now I know some of the things I didn’t know, which makes life a little easier.”
Kwei-Armah’s play “Elmina’s Kitchen” initially brought him to Center Stage after the production was invited to be performed there. He talked about some of the challenges he has faced since taking on the role of artistic director.
“Some of the challenges have been working around the taste of Baltimore in terms of our subscription holders and the city itself. It’s painful when people don’t like what they see, and joyous when they leave with a smile on their face. Every town has its idiosyncrasies, and a thing that defines what it is. I had to learn what makes Baltimore tick. It’s not New York or Washington, D.C., and it’s been interesting.”
He added, “Baltimore has bright audiences, but what it doesn’t do is wear its heart on its sleeve. You have to know how to serve it, but I am learning. It runs the gamut. What I have learned is that Baltimoreans want you to give them something interesting, don’t want to be hit over the head with issue after issue. They also want variety and diversity.”
Kwei-Armah’s “performance” at Center Stage has drawn rave reviews.
“I am excited about what we have done here at Center Stage,” he said. “I think it is difficult to analyze one’s self and define it to someone in a way that is coherent to one other than yourself. I feel I was very blessed with the spirit of creativity and I feel honored every day and every hour. I give thanks when I pray every night. I live each day as if it were my last and give it my all.”
He added, “My job at Center Stage has been an exercise in listening. I have to listen to the audience to find out how they respond to a show, and the types of shows they are interested in seeing. I have been complimented on what I have brought to Center Stage, and the shows have gotten great reviews. I am seeing the fruits of my labor, but I am not complacent.”
Kwei-Armah, 46, is also an Associate Artist of the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.
In addition to “Elmina’s Kitchen,” other theatrical works include “Fix Up”, and “Statement of Regret” which premiered at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. “Elmina’s Kitchen” was transferred to London’s West End, making him the first black British playwright to have that honor.
He was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II on her Jubilee honors list for services to Drama, has received Honorary Doctorates from The Open University and the University of East London, and made a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.
Kwei-Armah has been nominated for a “Lawrence Oliver Award,” and has won the “Evening Standard Charles Wintor Award” for Most Promising Playwright, and a “Screen Nation Award” for Favorite TV Actor. Other honors include a “100 Black Men of Britain Public Figure Award”.
Reflecting over his three years at Center Stage, Kwei-Armah discussed his “upcoming performances.”
“Right now, I am only thinking about today and today’s blessing,” he said. “That is where my mind is. Tomorrow is not in the hands of the individual. For the foreseeable future I am dedicated to finishing the job here at Center Stage.”