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Stage & Studio: ‘Black Nativity’ and Jerry Foster

Dmae Lo Roberts talks in her new podcast with Jerry Foster, leader of the Black theater company PassinArt, about staging Langston Hughes' gospel musical version of the Nativity story.


Cast members of Langston Hughes' "Black Nativity," playing at Portland'5. Photo courtesy PassinArt.
Cast members of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity,” playing at Portland’5. Photo courtesy PassinArt.

Black Nativity is back at PassinArt: A Theatre Company, the oldest Black theater company in Portland. The show is a retelling of the Nativity as a celebration of gospel music, first created by famed poet Langston Hughes in 1961. It’s been an almost yearly show at PassinArt, which has been producing shows in Portland since 1982. After an in-person post-pandemic return of their Pacific NW Multicultural Festival last summer, PassinArt resumed with determination and a full season of three productions.

Dmae Lo Roberts  talked with Jerry Foster, PassinArt’s longtime artistic director, about Black Nativity and an update on their company.

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Hear a song from an earlier season, plus Foster’s thoughts on …

Returning to a season after the pandemic:

“We face the same challenges as any other theater company, here or throughout the country. A lot of folks are not returning back to the seats. A lot of folks don’t know the history of Black theater companies, and Black theater period, which actually started in 1823 in New York. And can you imagine the amount of obstacles that they faced? But they did it and, and as they go down through the years, through the’ 20s, ’30s, the ’40s, the ’50s, even the ’60s, you know, Black theater has been on the forefront and continues to do works for us, but written by us, and with actors to have some work in which to do what they need to do. So, you know, there’s always going to be those challenges.”

Opportunities at the Albina Arts Center:


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“A lot of the things that we do from the community we’re going to offer there also. We do our play reading Mondays at the Albina Arts Center, and so that’s one of our biggest things that we’re doing over there. Also we started working with young people out of New Columbia, and so the kids out in that area, eventually we want to be able to bring them into the Center so that they can continue to expand their horizons in in different facets of the arts. There are people here who would much rather go to see a reading, go sit and listen to a reading as opposed to going to see a full production. And so we decided to, let’s offer this for those who want to do that. And plus it gives us an opportunity to utilize a lot of those plays that are there that doesn’t usually make it to the main stage.”


Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity which runs through Dec. 10 in the Brunish Theatre of Portland’5 Center for the Arts in downtown Portland, tells the story of the Nativity from an African-American perspective through a combination of scripture, poetry, dance, and song with griot-style narration. Directed by Jerry Foster.

For tickets, visit Full price: $40. Groups of 5-plus: $38. Seniors 55-plus: $35. Students with ID: $27. Run time: Approximately 90 minutes, no intermission. Masks are not required, but are highly recommended.


Jerry Foster, artistic director of PassinArt and director of "Black Nativity."
Jerry Foster, artistic director of PassinArt and director of “Black Nativity.”

Jerry Foster is an actor and director actively involved in the arts within the Portland metropolitan area for 30 years. Jerry co-founded the Inner City Youth program in 1992. In 1995 he became PassinArt’s artistic director, and currently also serves as board president.


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His stage credits and performances include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, A Soldiers’ Play, Deceptive Love, The Pews, Pill Hill, A Sunbeam, Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun, Driving Miss Daisy, Big River, and Two Trains Running.

Directing credits include Black Nativity, Juneteenth & Kwanza Celebration for the North Portland library, and the Peace Festival for Black Women for Peace. Jerry has worked in news media for more than 28 years. In 2019, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Zeta Sigma Omega Chapter presented Jerry with the prestigious Emerald Award for the Arts, honoring African American Men for community contributions and leadership.

More Info: PassinArt: A Theatre Company is an African American producing theater company whose mission is to entertain, educate, and inspire artists and audiences while addressing critical issues facing our community; and to celebrate our history and culture.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody winning radio producer, writer and theatre artist. Her work is often autobiographical and cross-cultural and informed by her biracial identity. Her Peabody award-winning documentary Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII. She adapted this radio documentary into a film. She won a second Peabody-award for her eight-hour Crossing East documentary, the first Asian American history series on public radio. She received the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Civil Rights and Social Justice award from the Asian American Journalists Association and was selected as a United States Artists (USA) Fellow. Her stage plays and essays have been published in numerous publications. She published her memoir The Letting Go Trilogies: Stories of a Mixed-Race Family in 2016. As a theatre artist, she has won two Drammys, one for her acting and one for her play Picasso In The Back Seat which also won the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been produced in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC and Florida. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit multicultural production organization and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, an Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit theatre that started as a project of MediaRites. She created the Crossing East Archive of more than 200 hours of broadcast-quality, pan-AAPI interviews and oral histories. For 23 years, Roberts volunteered to host and produce Stage & Studio live on KBOO radio. In 2009, she started the podcast on, which continues at ArtsWatch.


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