The daily press conference on Wednesday, August 6, was dubbed the Women's Press Conference. Eleven women and one man sat on the dais. The man was Woodie King Jr., president of the New Federal Theatre and the ladies included: Stephanie Mills, Theresa Merritt, Hattie Winston, Anna Maria Horsford, Joan Pringle, Barbara Ann Tier, RaeVen Larrymore Kelly and a few members of the media.
Winston opened by saying, "I'm a Black woman, an African American woman. I have been acting for over 30 years...And, what I want to know is this. What are we going to do as woman of African American descent, to prepare ourselves for the next millennium?"
Winston introduced Woodie King, Jr., who was named an "honorary woman" for his assistance in many careers, whether it was for an actress or playwright. King praised several of the panelists. "I've worked with many of these ladies. I remember working with Langston Hughes and being introduced to Theresa Merritt. Hattie Winston was 16 years old (Winston chimed in -- 14 years old), at the time. This was two years before Langston died...I'm glad to be here on the dais with Barbara Ann Tier, having worked with her and the National Black Theater for years."
He continued, "When Stephanie did the song "Home" in The Wiz (our "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"), she made it ours. That is a piece of work that will live with me forever. Shange proved you can take 23 poems and have an evening of theater."
"I really have to thank the women who I have watched and have just helped me grow. Lastly, he added, "There's an evolution of businessperson/actress -- Anna Maria Horsford is the perfect example of that."
Horsford thanked King for her first acting job in New York and shared, "In a play called, Black Quartet, I was beaten up by four men and I had no lines." The entire room burst into laughter.
She continued, "Over the years, I've worked with a lot of good Black men. In 1969, at WNET, I did Soul -- the only show with Black people. I went from WNET to work full-time in the theater. Then I got a job in Hollywood, on a show called, Amen, and I thank you all for bringing it into your homes."
Reflecting on the new generation of actors, Horsford said, "A lot of the young people coming up don't have the training, they just think about making it...They are selling something and they don't know what they're selling. I was trained at the New Federal Theater. Back then, we were honing our craft."
Horsford, commenting on what's most important in this field stated, "It's sharing whatever opportunity you have. If I'm on a show this week, there's nothing wrong with throwing a theater party or producing my friends. You have to share it. Therefore, I will continue to have book parties and produce them friends." "But," she added, "don't ask me when I'm not working."
After hearing from a few more panelists, the floor was opened for a Q&A. During the Q&A, a plea was issued by a man in the audience. "To Stephanie Mills and Theresa Merritt. What's the chance of you'll coming back to do The Wiz?
Mills replied, "I'm 40 years old. The Wiz has been a gift to me. If people would come out and see a 40 year old Dorothy -- I'd do it."
Merritt added, "I think that could happen, especially with the way things are going. Now, you have Cinderella with Whoopi Goldberg and Brandy." Mills also shared, "When I left The Wiz, I came back and sat in the audience and watched the reactions of the parents and their kids. There was always an excitement there. That's how you know a show can remain a hit." Winston quickly added, "We always hear about the classics and one of our classics is The Wiz. A classic lasts through all time, because generation after generation is moved. We need to recognized and preserve our classics."
Everyone left the press conference acknowledging its positive messages.
--By Linda Armstrong