Signature Plans Private Readings of Negro Ensemble Plays

News   Signature Plans Private Readings of Negro Ensemble Plays Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company continues its 2008-09 celebration of the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) with special presentations of three more plays from the NEC repertoire.

Curated by NEC founder Douglas Turner Ward, Signature associate artist Ruben Santiago-Hudson and the Signature Theatre Company staff, these plays will be read on stage at the Peter Norton Space, 555 W. 42nd Street, on select evenings throughout the season. The readings are by invitation only.

"These classic works give greater insight into the history of this vital and groundbreaking company," according to Signature.

The reading series includes:

  • The River Niger by Joseph A. Walker, directed by Seret Scott, Dec. 15. The cast (subject to change) includes Francois Battiste, Nicole Behaire, Amari Cheatom, Erin Cherry, Chuck Cooper, Brandon Dirden, Harriett D. Foy, Brian Tyree Henry, Nikiya Mathis, Chivas Michael, Lizan Mitchell and Chuck Patterson.

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    "Joseph A. Walker’s landmark Tony Award-winning drama is a story of family love and sacrifice set amidst the revolutionary 1970s. John Williams is a poet whose dreams have been deferred by work and obligation. His hope lies in his son Jeff, who is trying to make a life for himself separate from his family and society's expectations, even as friends from Jeff's past attempt to force him back into a life of danger and violence."

  • Day of Absence written and directed by Douglas Turner Ward, Feb. 1-2, 2009. "A special staged reading of NEC Founder Douglas Turner Ward's seminal 1965 play that inspired the founding of the NEC. Ward's play is an Obie Award-winning satire in which a town is thrown into turmoil after the sudden disappearance of its black residents."
  • A Season to Unravel by Alexis De Veaux, directed by Douglas Turner Ward, April 20, 2009. "Alexis De Veaux's surreal memory play is a phantasmagorical journey into the zoo-like mind of Erzula, a gifted psychologist, as she confronts her inner demons and contemplates her complicated relationship with her late father." Lead sponsorship for Signature Theatre is provided by Time Warner Inc. Support for the Negro Ensemble Company Season is provided by American Express. Major support for the Negro Ensemble Company Season is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

    Now playing at Signature is Home by Samm-Art Williams, directed by Ron OJ Parson, extended through Jan. 11, 2009.

    Coming in 2009 is Zooman and the Sign by Charles Fuller, directed by Stephen McKinley Henderson, March 3-April 26, 2009.

    For more information, visit www.signaturetheatre.org.

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    Here's NEC's history at a glance, provided by Signature:

    "In 1966, Douglas Turner Ward, Robert Hooks, and Gerald Krone sat down in a Greenwich Village restaurant to try and bring a dream to life: a permanent home in which black theatre artists could oversee, control and promote their own artistic destinies. The success of their Off Broadway productions of Douglas Turner Ward's plays Day of Absence and Happy Ending attracted the attention of the Ford Foundation, who gave the company a $1 million grant to start it off on its journey through history.

    "The NEC's record of success is amply documented with a Pulitzer Prize,Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, more than a dozen Obie Awards, and critical recognition world wide. Over the years the company has produced more than two hundred new plays, working with writers such as Stephen Carter, Lonnie Elder, Charles Fuller, Leslie Lee, Joseph Walker and Samm-Art Williams. They have established an extensive theatre training program, and provided a home for many artists, including Angela Bassett, Roscoe Lee Brown, Adolph Caesar, Antonio Fargas, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Esther Rolle, and Denzel Washington.

    "Today the NEC continues to achieve its mission by presenting theatre by and about black people to a culturally diverse, but under served audience and offers a unique place for black voices to sing in both harmony and discord and to conflict and debate. The NEC's repertoire includes new plays by black writers, original musicals, revivals of NEC classics, and New York premieres."