The Dashiki Project Theatre was founded in 1968 and was initially funded by a grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity. The primary goal of the theatre was to present “an accurate portrayal of the black experience for the black community.” The Artistic director for the company was Dr. Ted Gilliam, who is also the Director of the Drama department at Dillard University. The majority of the Actors and Actresses came from Dillard University’s Players’ Guild. The group’s First production was “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” in 1968 and its debut was at St. Francis de Sales gymnasium. The group’s second production was “A hand on the Gate” and it was performed at the Young Adult Coffee House as part of their Black Heritage Festival. The Theatre’s third production was a controversial play titled “The Blacks” and it performed at the St. Francis de Sales auditorium in 1969. The opening weekend of the performance was well received, as the Louisiana Weekly noted “the theater found enthusiastic and generous response in attendance and donations from the community.”
In 1972 the Dashiki Project Theatre hit its stride with a production of Derek Walcott’s “Dream on Monkey Mountain.” The play tells the tale of a coal salesman named Makak and the dreams of grandeur he has while locked in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct. The Times Picayune said the theatre group had produced its “most complex, polished, and rewarding production to date.” A local reviewer raved “the combination of an interesting and important play, impressive performances from a large cast, and creative and exciting staging make Dream on Monkey Mountain a stunning event.”
That stride continued on into the 1980s with the group’s ambitious production of a Broadway play titled “Home.” Home follows the story of Cephus Miles and his journey from adolescence to adulthood. Along the way, Miles ends up in prison for draft evasion, and upon release he moves to a big city in the North before realizing he belongs at his home in the South. A Reviewer commented that “Home” was a “rarely acted play with superior direction by Gilliam and an impressive set by Warren Kenner. Do see it.”
The Dashiki Project Theatre also hosted an annual fashion show at Dillard University to help raise funds for their theatrical productions. The fashion shows were African inspired and the clothes were designed and sewn by members of the theatre.
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