Negro Ensemble Company's 50th anniversary to be celebrated at Emory

Oct. 19, 2017

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Playwright Douglas Turner Ward, one of the three co-founders of the Negro Ensemble Company, is shown here in a screen capture from the Legacy Leaders of Color Video Project, which will be shown Oct. 24 at Emory during a celebration of the company's 50th anniversary.

Emory is one of three sites nationwide for a touring 50th anniversary celebration of the famed classic Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) and its visionary co-founders: producer-actor Robert Hooks, theater manager Gerald Krone and playwright Douglas Turner Ward. 

The celebration event, which is free and open to the public, will be held on the Emory campus from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 24, in White Hall, Room 208. It is hosted by the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library and the Theater Studies Program. 

The program will include a 50th anniversary reunion of NEC alumni who were involved with the NEC during Douglas Turner Ward's artistic leadership, along with:

  • readings from the NEC’s award-winning and critically acclaimed canon of plays;
  • a moderated panel discussion about the innovative legacy and initiation of NEC with the company’s three co-founders, members from the original repertory company and other NEC alumni; and
  • a special screening of the Legacy Leaders of Color Video Project, a production of Theatre Communications Group and Project1VOICE, which chronicles the stories of founding leaders of theatre of color, including Ward.

NEC alumni scheduled to appear in Atlanta include Pearl Cleage and Carlton Molette (Atlanta-based playwrights who have been produced by the NEC); Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Tony winner who stars in "The Quad" which is shooting in Atlanta); Jefferson Byrd (Tony winner for August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”); Oz Scott (currently directing a series in Atlanta); Wynn Thomas (production designer for “Hidden Figures,” “When Mars Attacks” and “A Beautiful Mind”); and Lisa Watson.

“The classic Negro Ensemble — under the firm artistic guidance of co-founder Douglas Turner Ward — nurtured, cultivated and inspired generations of talented professionals from all backgrounds in all aspects of the entertainment industry and beyond,” says Erich McMillan-McCall, CEO/founder of Project1VOICE.

He sees the event as celebrating “the robust future of the American theater by honoring, celebrating and acknowledging its richly diverse past.”

Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group, notes that "our theatre field and broader culture owe an enormous debt to the artistry and activism of these extraordinary leaders. 

“We hope these videos and screening events not only honor these nine leaders, but raise awareness more broadly of the essential role played by theatres of color in our field,” she says.

The Rose Library event represents an ongoing effort to connect the archives more deeply to the community and to engage more artists with the collections. Brent Glenn, artistic director of Theater Emory, calls the collections a “goldmine in our backyard.” 

“The African American collection has given us the tools and materials to build something, and we’re having conversations now about how to engage our faculty and the greater Atlanta community more deeply with these theater resources,” says Glenn. 

This NEC event is partially funded at Emory by the Richard Long Fund in support of African American collections.

Long, who died in 2013, joined the Emory faculty in 1987 as Atticus Haygood Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts. Known for his wide-ranging interests and scholarly pursuits, Long chaired the African American Collections Advisory Board at the Rose Library. He was known for both his erudition and generosity, according to Randall Burkett, research curator for African American Collections at Emory. 

Project1VOICE is a nonprofit performing arts service organization based in New York City. Its mission is to support and promote the American theater, specifically the narrative of and by people of African descent. Theatre Communications Group is a national organization for not-for-profit theatre in the U.S.