Hayes Winner Nelson Will Exit DC's African Continuum

News   Hayes Winner Nelson Will Exit DC's African Continuum
Jennifer L. Nelson will step down as producing artistic director of African Continuum Theatre Company in Washington, DC, at the end of the 2006-2007 season.

Nelson was chosen as the first artistic director when its predecessor, the African Continuum Theatre Coalition, a membership organization, transitioned into a producing theatre company.

"For the last 10 years African Continuum has been my life's work," stated Nelson. "Like any parent, I have wept over its shortcomings and rejoiced over its successes. I have lost sleep over its obstacles and celebrated its accomplishments. Now I can stand back with pride and see that it is ready to go to the prom with somebody else. Although I will continue to be a close friend and mentor if needed, it is time for me to explore other possibilities."

Over the years, the company grew from producing one show per season to four. In its ten seasons, African Continuum Theatre has produced over 30 productions, more than half directed or written by Nelson. She also supported emerging artists and created collaborations with local and national playwrights, bringing their talents to the African Continuum Theatre stage.

At times serving as artistic director and managing director, Nelson helped the company find a permanent home after years of performing throughout the Washington, DC area, including at the H Street Playhouse and the Kennedy Center. In 2005 the African Continuum Theatre Company became the resident theatre of the Atlas Performing Arts Center in the H Street Corridor.

"I don't believe that people realize the scope of Jennifer's dedication to the African Continuum Theatre," stated managing director Melvin D. Gerald, Jr. "She has almost single-handedly kept this theatre alive for the last ten years in the midst of multiple challenges." Helen Hayes executive director Linda Levy Grossman stated, "Blending her great artistry and her commitment to tell extraordinary stories with her innate maternal sensibilities, Jennifer raised African Continuum Theatre Company from a fledgling group to a professional company of regional and national significance. She has made an indelible mark on the landscape of Washington theatre."

A 33-year veteran of theatre, Nelson has worked as an actress, administrator, playwright, producer, director and educator. For 17 seasons, she worked with the Living Stage Theatre Company at Arena Stage where she served as an actress and associate artistic director. Her directing credits for African Continuum include A Raisin in the Sun, Kingdom, Two Trains Running, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, As You Like It, Wedding Dance, Blood Knot, Personal Headlines, Gris Gris, Waiting to be Invited and Torn From the Headlines. Locally she has directed at Everyman Theatre, Rep Stage, Theatre for the First Amendment and most recently, directed The Piano Lesson at the University of Maryland. Regionally, she is known for her work in New York, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

She produced the first Hip Hop theatre festival in Washington, DC and directed one of the first hip hop theatre plays, The Hip Hop Nightmares of Jujube Brown.

During Nelson's tenure, African Continuum Theatre has been nominated for 13 Helen Hayes awards. Career accomplishments include receiving the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play, for her play Torn from the Headlines, and the Mayor's Arts Award for Excellence in an Artistic Discipline. The DC Commission on the Arts has three times awarded Nelson the Larry Neal Writer's Award and Individual Artist Program grant for those who have made significant contributions to the arts in the metro area.

Underlining the company's mission of theatre from the African-American perspective, Nelson pushed for support for writers of color in the arts. Fresh Flavas, a new play development project sponsored by the Ford Foundation, fosters relationships with playwrights and develops their new works for future production. Since its inception, four new works have been staged, and the program continues to provide a training ground for emerging artists.

Nelson has also been active in the DC arts community as president of the League of Washington Theatres for four years, as an adjunct professor at George Washington University, American University and George Mason University. She has also served as a Helen Hayes Theatre Awards nominator and judge.

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