New Federal Theatre Founder Woodie King, Jr. Continues Mission To Tell Untold Stories

By Karu F. Daniels
21 Feb 2014

Woodie King
Woodie King

Woodie King, Jr., founder and producing director of New Federal Theatre, chats with Playbill.com about his theatrical accomplishments and dedication to presenting diversity onstage while celebrating Black History Month. 

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Woodie King, Jr. is a man on a mission.

It's been more than four decades since he founded New York City's groundbreaking New Federal Theatre, and the maverick is showing no signs of slowing down. With almost 300 productions already under his belt, he just wrapped the world premiere of Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington at the Castillo Theater. Of the Clare Coss-written play, which revolved around a critical time for two founding members of the NAACP, King said he wanted to tell a story that was never told before.

"I've know Clare Coss for 35 years and I've produced or co-produced other plays by this writer. I approached her eight years ago about writing a play about Dr. Du Bois and Mary White Ovington, she thought about it and came up with a draft two years ago," he explained. "I did a reading of the play and then she did more re-writes. I produced a three-day production for the 2013 Black History Month Series and it worked."



Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington starred Timothy Simonson as W.E.B. DuBois and Tony Award nominee Kathleen Chalfant (Angels in America, Wit) as Mary White Ovington.

"I try to select plays that are written with characters deeply rooted in our humanity," King explained, while also mentioning an upcoming revival of another Du Bois-themed production, The Most Dangerous Man In America, underway. "I tend to avoid plays where the black characters are in the play only to humanize the white characters."

King said the upcoming production fulfills his need as an African American producer to explore the life of the legendary civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois. "Amiri Baraka and I worked on this play for many years," he explained. "This will be the third play that I've produced on Du Bois. His contribution to African American life is vast, covering over six decades, ending on his death on the eve of the 1963 March on Washington."

Born in Mobile, Alabama and raised in Detroit, King has been on this trailblazing journey since 1970 when he founded the New Federal Theatre. With a bold mission to integrate people of color and women into mainstream American theatre, the New Federal Theatre (headquartered in New York City's Lower East Side) has provided a platform and opportunity for emerging artists and groundbreaking theatre works.

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