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Penumbra’s Lou Bellamy on the role theater can play in its community

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Lou Bellamy
Penumbra Theatre Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus Lou Bellamy.
Photo by Ann Marsden

Minnesota theater icon Lou Bellamy has long championed the role theater has in its community.

Bellamy, who founded St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre in 1976, said in a 2012 Minnesota Daily article that the company is a “professional theater inside of a community.”

“What we want to do is stay inside the community and make that work inside the community, for the community, about the community and near them,” Bellamy, who is now the theater’s artistic director emeritus, said.

He joins MPR News host Angela Davis in the studio on Wednesday to talk about his path to theater, picking thought-provoking plays, and the company’s newest production -- “Pipeline,” a 2017 drama by Dominique Morisseau about the school-to-prison track.

“Pipeline” showings and more information

According to the news release, ‘Pipeline’ is a searing story of a mother trying to protect her young son from a world that can’t see the little boy she loves.”

Although modeled after New York City, the storyline rings true for many in Minnesota.

Related: Minnesota continues to grapple with disciplinary discrepancies

Students of color are only 31 percent of the student population in the state, yet they account for 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Students who are expelled or suspended are more likely to drop out; students who drop out are more likely to be arrested. This cycle, known as the school-to-prison pipeline, disproportionately affects black male students.

At the end of 2015, about 9 percent of young black men (ages 20 to 34) were incarcerated, a rate more than five times higher than that for young white men, according to data from the educational nonprofit The Hechinger Report.

To learn more about Lou Bellamy and Penumbra Theatre, use the audio player above.

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