Pookrum, actor/producer, artistic
director of the African Renaissance Theater of Detroit. After leaving
Detroit to pursue a career in Los Angeles, where he appeared in numerous
commercials, the actor returned to his home town to found the A.R.T.,
whose first production "Jesus
Hopped the 'A' Train" opened in March at the Hastings Street
Ballroom to critical acclaim. The production featured a number of Cass
Tech alums, and was directed by Pookrum's high school theater instructor,
Marilyn Green McCormick.
Because it's my home. It's my home and I love
it: I love the people here and the people here need good art in their
community. It's the same reason people give money to the theater, instead
of Microsoft - because we need it! (Laughs)
Obviously if New York was my home, I might consider
doing theater somewhere else, like Cincinnati or Detroit, because I
think it's important to do theater where it's needed - not for any other
I started doing theater when I was six years
old at Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit, and once a year they do
a school play. And from that I just started to really enjoy it. What
I learned is that theater is a classroom, the grandest classroom, that
there is, maybe, unless it's music.
From there I went to Cass Tech, which has an
intensive acting program - that's where I got skills and exposure to
theater. You know a lot of skill is about confidence. I walk into theaters
all over the country and I feel comfortable and calm and able to learn
from what I see there, which comes from my experiences at Talibah and
Cass Tech. I guess I felt like I didn't have any other choice. It's
what I do.
Theater is special because you have to have so
many skills to do it, you have to know so many, and be able to do so
many things to direct it, let alone produce it and start a theater company.
It's everything in one - it's music, it's design, it's journalism in
its own way, it's writing, dance. Theater encompasses all the arts -
virtually everything else is missing something.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE FUTURE OF A.R.T.?
We really want to revolutionize the next generation
of theater people in general - the perception, the expectations of what
theater is. People always treat theater
like - "Oh great, when are you gong to do film and television?"
- as if film and television are a step up . But once you see a play
like ("Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train), people clearly see that film
and television - artistically - isn't a step up from theater.
Eminem, as talented as he is, is not going to
get up stage and play ("Train's" main character) Angel Cruz.
He just couldn't do it. But he can be a movie star. Of course, he makes
a lot more doing "8 Mile" than he would doing "Jesus
Hopped the 'A' Train," but the point is, he would never get cast
in "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train." So theater is really the
highest art form for actors - the highest art form for designers. You
can shoot a scene in front of a courthouse in a film, but in a play
you have to build the courthouse, you know? So in every way, it is the
actor's art form, the designer's art form. And if people really understood
that, they wouldn't ask why theater instead of film and television.
We're going to announce our (first full season)
this summer. We're going to have a lot fun. We're going to have a press
conference - I don't know who does that. We're going to have a show
every spring, and a show in the fall, and a children's show in the middle,
and in between we'll do play readings.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF
I feel it's on its way. We have great leadership
with our mayor. We have great leadership with the city. Though you know
they're cutting money - they're cutting the budget of the library, they're
thinking about taking all the money away from the public library. But
we have a lot of people with a lot of ideas.
And I really think a presence like ours in the
city can do so many things. I really want people to come to our plays
and say "You know what, I've been thinking about starting my business,
and guess what, I'm going to do it." Because we want to inspire
each other. So I think it's only going to get better. I don't very seriously
think that it's going to get worse, you know? (laughs).
Theater of Detroit