The Coalition of Theatres of Color saluted its members, the historic Negro Ensemble Company's 45th anniversary and the acclaimed Audelco Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre's 40th anniversary, with "Award-Winning Journeys in Black Theatre," a special press event hosted by award-winning actors Lillias White and Ralph Carter on June 25 at the Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem.
Lillias White is the renowned Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critic’s Circle, Obie, Emmy and Audelco award-winning actress and singer (Cats, Dreamgirls, The Life, How to Succeed in Businessand TV’s Sesame Street)
The world famous Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) has alumni encompassing today's superstars in television and film. There are Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Lou Gossett, Jr and Oscar nominees Adolph Caesar, Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson. There are NEC television alum who created characters that are part of television history, like: Phylicia Rashad "The Cosby Show," John Amos and Esther Rolle, "Good Times;" Roxie Roker and Sherman Helmsley, "The Jeffersons;" Garrett Morris, "Saturday Night Live;"Antonio Fargas, "Starsky and Hutch and Jackee Harry, "227."
Charles Weldon, artistic director, Negro Ensemble Company, has been an NEC member since 1970 and performed in over 40 NEC productions, like classics "A Soldier's Play," "The Great McDaddy," "The Brownsville Raid" and "The River Niger." "For awhile almost every black actor on the big screen and small came out of the NEC program--from Lou Gossett to Denzel Washington, spanning a whole generation," Weldon recalled.
NEC's theatrical productions include masterpiece works like Joseph Walker's "The River Niger," which won the Tony Award for Best Play and Charles Fuller's "A Soldier's Play," winner of the Pulitzer. Other acclaimed NEC's dramas include: Lonnie Elder's "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men," Charles Fuller's" Zooman and the Sign", Samm-Art Williams' "Home" and Leslie Lee's "First Breeze of Summer."
The co-hosts were Audelco Award winning performers Lillias White and Ralph Carter. White is an award-winning Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critic's Circle, Obie, and Emmy actress and singer with credits like "Cats," "Dreamgirls," "The Life," "How to Succeed in Business" and TV's "Sesame Street." Carter, who gained national fame on the hit sitcom “Good Times,” has appeared in several Broadway shows and earned a Tony nomination for "Raisin" and a Drama Desk Award for "Dude."
"Our actors are deserving of being acknowledged," pointed out Grace L. Jones, executive director, Audelco Awards. "Audelco respects and acknowledge actors that others ignore." Audelco has been influential in giving Black theatre companies, who did not produce shows on Broadway or even Off Broadway, the opportunity to be honored for their craft. The "Viv Awards" are the only formally established awards presented to the New York Black theatre community. In addition, Audelco conducts theatre groups, young audience development, Black Arts Festival, Black theatre archives and addresses awareness of the contributions of Black theatre.
Both the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) and Audelco are members of the Coalition of Theatres of Color (CTC), an alliance of veteran multi-cultural theatre arts organizations in New York City and New York State. "It is important that the Coalition of Theatres of Color recognize and salute the Negro Ensemble Company and Audelco for a combined 85 years of contributions to the cultural life of New York," said Woodie King, Jr., chairman of the Coalition of Theatres of Color.
The program included proclamations to both organizations from Rep. Charles Rangel's Harlem office and exhibit of vintage NEC photos featuring Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Phylicia Rashad. Also in attendance was NEC alum actress and director Barbara Montgomery, who appeared in “The First Breeze of Summer” and “Tap Dance Kid” on Broadway and TV’s “Amen.”
Coalition of Theatres of Color (CTC) is a non-profit community of renowned multi-cultural theatre arts organizations in New York City and New York State. Each institution brings over 25 years of artistic achievement with critically acclaimed and award-winning work. These institutions have joined forces to ensure sustainability and longevity of theatres of color in multicultural communities. Collectively CTC members brings over 350 years of artistic achievement with critically acclaimed and award-winning presentations. New York City members are AUDELCO, (Manhattan) Black Spectrum Theatre (Queens), Billie Holiday Theatre (Brooklyn), H.A.D.L.E.Y Players (Manhattan), Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center (Bronx), National Black Theatre (Manhattan), Negro Ensemble Company (Manhattan), New Federal Theatre (Manhattan), New Heritage Theatre Group (Manhattan), Pan Asian Repertory Theatre (Manhattan), Paul Robeson Theater (Brooklyn), and The Afrikan Poetry Theatre (Queens).
CTC is supported through grants from the New York City Council Committee, chaired by James Van Bramer, The New York Community Trust, New York State Council on the Arts and The Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Photo credit: Leon Pinkney