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The Ethiopian Art Theatre, formerly known as the Chicago Folk Theatre and then the Colored Folk Theatre, was an African American theatre group established in Chicago, Illinois. It was also known as The Ethiopian Art Players. During the Harlem Renaissance, the corporation was a powerful, albeit short-lived (1922/1923–1925) organization. There are various opinions on whether the company was started in 1922 or 1923. Though all of its actors were African American, it was founded by Raymond O’Neil, a white theatre director, and its primary backer was Mrs. Sherwood Anderson, also white. The organization was unique and controversial during its time, primarily for being one of the few African American Theatre Companies to perform European theatrical works, but also for producing African American playwrights’ theatrical works for both African American and non-African American audiences, among other things. The Ethiopian Art Theater’s goals, according to The Crisis magazine in 1923, were to develop “dramatic compositions” with “universal appeal” for African Americans as well as other races such as Caucasians and Asians. Second, the group aimed to promote the creation of dramatic literature and theater by African Americans and Whites. Finally, the Ethiopian Art Theater aimed to replicate its success by reaching out to other groups and cities with large African American populations in the goal of developing similar theaters. The Ethiopian Art Theater emerged as a key form of African American self-actualization in response to severe social, legal, and creative restrictions on African Americans in the early twentieth century. Raymond O’Neil’s talents and usage of African American culture made him one of the most successful African American cultural producers of all time. It was one of the earliest African-American dramatic theatrical companies to perform on Broadway. Some even claim that it paved the path for more outstanding African Americans to shine. Furthermore, the theater discovered a technique to bridge the gap between white and black cultural drama.

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