Telling the stories of African American people in their own words and voices has been the lifelong journey of Janet Mitchell, Founder and CEO of AGM Theater
Company, Inc. in Harlem, New York. The aim of AGM is to provide a professional African American theater experience to an underserved audience as well as offering mentorship and rare opportunities particularly to women, in non-acting roles such as directing, production and theater management.
Their main home is New Basement of Dreams in Harlem where they perform smaller productions, interviews, and readings. For larger productions, they use Theater 71 located on 71st Street between Broadway and Columbus Ave.
It all started however at the tender age of 12 when Janet Mitchell’s parents took her to see The Sty of the Blind Pig, produced by the Negro Ensemble Company at the St Mark’s Theater in the Village. They arrived as the theater lights were going down and the audience was settling down. As the play started, Mitchell was instantly transported by the magic of theater. At that moment she knew, she “needed to be in Show Business!”
Scouring the New York Amsterdam News, sometime later, she came across an advertisement for a play in the Little Theater at the Harlem YMCA. Encouraged by her parents she went to director Franklin Thomas to see if she could get a part. He did not have an acting role for her on this occasion (she was only 14 years of age), but he offered her the job as the prop person which she eagerly accepted. That led her to be in the right place for the next play, which was Anna Lucasta, in which she played the role of Katie. From then on, Mitchell was befriended and mentored by Thomas and the other members of the theater group. They took her to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, taught her the craft and business of theater, further “igniting” her desire for this life.
Her first production at the precocious age of 19, was not theater but a film of Gertrude Greenridge’s The Gift from Saturday. Her first Executive Producers were her parents, Clarence and Adrian Mitchell.
In the following years, Mitchell acted, directed, produced, and wrote plays. She joined the Hadley Players (Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You) where she appeared in several productions. She began to realize though that producing interested her more than the acting. She served in several officer roles ending up as the CEO. In 2014, She founded Mitchell Entertainment Group and went on to produce many plays and events.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this was already a full life, but Mitchell simultaneously went to college and then started her own company providing investigation services for insurance companies and other corporations. Mitchell was a Private Investigator for 13 years!
9-11 brought changes to her industry and she decided to go to graduate school and reimagined herself in a new career as a social worker. This passion for helping people and listening to people’s stories, spills out into her theater work.
In 2017, Mitchell started the AGM Theater Company as a non-profit organization with friends Ka’Ran Bridges and Pearl Williams. The company is named after Mitchell’s mother (Adrian Graham Mitchell). Her mother had attended not only every production that Mitchell was ever involved in, but every showing. She taught her that there was nothing that she could not achieve. It is an appropriate honor for a woman who worked hard to support and encourage her daughter who has in turn had such an impact on the lives of so many people. Cynthia Kitt, AGM’s Production Manager and, Marketing & Media Coordinator, says of Mitchell “I admire her integrity, follow through, passion for the theater and sincerity.” Joining AGM was like becoming “family.” It is an atmosphere that Mitchell consciously cultivates.
Small organizations such as AGM are critical, especially when they have strong connections to their local communities. However, at times like this when the economy is hurting, they must work extra hard to find funding and grants. Mitchell says a positive outlook is imperative. Productions may have to be reduced in the meantime, but the one thing that she is adamant about is that AGM will always produce professional theater, with an integrity that ensures experienced professionals are paid, safety is not compromised and the highest quality of production is created and offered to their audience.
Mitchell and AGM tell us the African American story in their own unique words and voices. Their next production will be Election 2020!! which screens simultaneously on Zoom and Facebook on August 21th. The event is free. Please join them and consider supporting their worthwhile work.
For more information please see: agmtheatercompany.org