Department of Africana Studies

About the Theatre

Rites and Reason is one of the oldest continuously producing Black theatres in the nation.

Rites and Reason Theatre’s mission is to develop new creative works which analyze and articulate the phenomenal and universal odyssey of the African Diaspora. Through this commitment, Rites and Reason develops creative works that explore the experiences and expressions of peoples and cultures from across the world.

A production still from Tripping Over Roots.

The Department’s unique forum for arts and ideas, Rites and Reason Theatre, brings together artists and scholars to collaborate in communicating new and innovative thought forms and creative expressions. Since 1970 Rites and Reason has developed and produced over 100 plays and a wide range of artistic projects that have uniquely explored the breadth and depth of the histories, experiences, and ideas of the cultures of Africa and the African diaspora as well as other cultures from around the world.

Rites and Reason is a space for artists, writers, and scholars to explore and engage Africana intellectual and cultural traditions together, translating them into innovative theatrical and expressive forms. Alongside the academic department, Rites and Reason provides a critical, scholarly space to explore the essential creative practices of the Diaspora, while training students to utilize and interpret the performing arts rooted in the cultural traditions and expressions of African descended people around the globe.

Rites and Reason Theatre: Art as Knowledge

An image of actress Sylvia Ann Soares reading the script for the 1999 production of Heart to Heart.

Before RRT’s official founding in 1970, the first cohorts of Black students at Brown University and Pembroke College, the women’s college attached to Brown, began to matriculate, immersing themselves in the Black Arts Movement and Black art as a way to ease their transition onto the campus. Aided by faculty in the Theatre and Performance Studies department, and inspired by Brown’s new open curriculum, James Borders and Sheryl Brissett-Chapman ’71 and Ramona Kolobe and Zylpha Pryor-Bell ’72, played significant roles in the founding of Rites and Reason Theatre through their producing Black plays and organizing Black Arts Festivals on campus, and eventually interviewing and hiring the late George Houston Bass in 1970. Once he accepted the position, Bass- personal secretary to Langston Hughes and executor of his literary estate—became the founding Artistic Director for Rites and Reason Theatre.

Rites and Reason Theatre was established in 1970 by the late Professor George Houston Bass—personal secretary to Langston Hughes and executor of his literary estate—Brown students, and Rhode Island community members as a direct result of the Black Arts Movement and the Black Student Walkout at Brown University in December 1968.

Professor Bass worked with Professor Rhett S. Jones, Rites and Reason's Research Director, to create a space to express the cultural, social, and ideological concerns of the African Diaspora. Together with Producer and Managing Director Karen Allen Baxter, the group codified new methods for play development.

Developing New Creative Works

A production still from Heart to Heart.

One of the oldest continuously-running Black Theatres in the nation, Rites and Reason Theatre remains a steadfast cultural organization within the arts and culture ecosystem in Providence, RI. Following the path carved out by students, under the direction of George Houson Bass, early productions and festivals traveled throughout public spaces, city parks, and centers and offered a unique space on Brown’s campus to surrounding Black community members and arts practitioners. Bass chose Elmo Terry-Morgan’74 to became Artistic Director in 1991 and remained  until 2023. During his tenure, Morgan pioneered courses and archival collections organized around the scholarship of Black Queer theatre artists. He worked alongside long time Senior Managing Director Karen Allen Baxter to continue the tradition and ensure plays produced by Rites and Reason Theatre incorporated students, faculty, and community practitioners as playwrights and theatre artists on the stage and behind the scenes. 


Rites and Reason Theatre is now in an exciting stage with growing plans to experiment across disciplines and artistic modalities while building an archive in the John Hay Library.


50 Years of Rites and Reason


Artistic Director Elmo Terry-Morgan '74 and Senior Managing Director Karen Allen Baxter talk Rites and Reason History in an Archival Project clip.