Barbara Ann Teer, Founder of National Black Theatre, Inc., Dies at 71

Obituaries   Barbara Ann Teer, Founder of National Black Theatre, Inc., Dies at 71
Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, the founder of the National Black Theatre Inc., died at her home July 21. She was 71. No cause was given.
Barbara Ann Teer
Barbara Ann Teer

At a time when many African-American theatre companies were being started in New York City, Ms. Teer went to Harlem in 1968 and founded the National Black Theatre (NBT), running it for 40 years. In 1983, after the theatre's original home burned to the ground, the company purchased a 64,000 sq. ft. building located at 125 Street and Fifth Avenue and converted it into a cultural center.

Barbara Ann Teer was born in East St. Louis, IL, on June 18, 1937. Coming to New York, she found work as a performer in such shows as Where's Daddy? in 1961 and Kwamina in 1966. Off-Broadway, she appeared in Days of Absence and Who's Got His Own, and won a Drama Desk Award for her work in 1965's Home Movies. But she found her work in the commercial theatre unfulfilling. According to Lundeana Marie Thomas' 1997 book "Barbara Ann Teer and the National Black Theatre: Transformational Forces in Harlem," she envisioned a theatre in which Blacks would control and "bring validation to a group suffering from the negative effects of cultural hegemony." Here theatre's intention was to embrace both being African and American by combining the elements of the black Pentecostal church with the ceremonial rites of the Yoruba from Nigeria.

Ms. Teer talked much about raising the consciousness of the African-American community. "You cannot have a theatre without ideology," she said, "without a base from which all of the forms must emanate and call it Black, for it will be the same as Western theatre, conventional theatre, safe theatre."

Productions at the NBT included Ritual, Change! Love Together! Organize! A Revival, A Soul Journey into Truth, The Believers, Softly Comes a Whirlwind, Whispering in Your Ear and Five on the Black Hand Side.

She toured with the National Black Theatre to Haiti, Bermuda, Trinidad, Guyana, South Africa, and Nigeria. In 1973, fueled by a Ford Foundation Fellowship, she visited seven African countries to further her research. She spent four months in Western Nigeria acquainting herself fully with the Yoruba culture and religion. She traveled to Nigeria almost annually after that. She is survived by her children Sade and Michael Lythcott. There will be a viewing at the National Black Theatre on Sunday, July 26, from 2-5 PM.

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