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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday May 23rd 2024

Something I Said: Terry Bellamy – A Singular Presence


Terry Bellamy, who passed in January, was, to say the least, a singular presence. I met him in 1993 at the Playwrights Center for some sort of town hall meeting. He got up and raised three different kinds of hell, calling the organization out for being whites only. We chatted afterward but for the life of me I can’t remember a word either of us said. I do recall within weeks the Center had a black playwrights workshop led by the regrettably late actor Byrd Wilkins (Doctor Who, Running Scared). I joined.

Next time I saw Bellamy was in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at Penumbra Theatre Company. It wasn’t the last as that presence fueled several powerhouse performances at the Twin Cities answer to NYC’s fabled Negro Ensemble Company. The man was, hands down, an amazing actor who appeared all over America in productions at prestigious venues.

He was not, however, like many actors, in the profession for the sake of ego, and helped local performance artist David Daniels develop Malcolm X Meet Peter Tosh. It had well received runs at Cedar Cultural Center, Minnesota Fringe Festival, Colorado State University in Denver at the Bug Theater.
He was committed to black culture and odds are he wanted Penumbra to use its mainstream success to empower a nationalist bent that harked to the Black Arts Movement that thrived from 1965 to 1975. There’s reason to believe this led to his highly successful career being scuttled as he and artistic director Lou Bellamy did not always see eye to eye. A production of Wilson’s hallmark drama Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was, at one point, a train wreck. Terry Bellamy, playing the lead, “Levee,” tossed in a line, “I’m sick of this bullshit.” which wasn’t in the script, and next performance he simply wasn’t there when the stage manager called “Places!” The production shut down for three days while Lou Bellamy arranged to fly in a replacement from Houston. Terry Bellamy then vanished from Penumbra and area theatre for years. He eventually resurfaced here and there but never regained his premier stature.

Which is too bad, because there’s no telling what Terry Bellamy would’ve accomplished had things not gone awry. Still, he remains an historic figure in Twin Cities theatre.

Dwight Hobbes is a long-time Twin Cities journalist and essayist.

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