(Barbara Ann Teer in front of the National Black Theatre (1988). Photo by Dennis Caruso.)
Founded in Harlem in 1968 by visionary artist and entrepreneur, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, the National Black Theatre [NBT] is the oldest Black Theatre in New York City and the first revenue-generating Black arts complex in the country. NBT is a cultural arts institution dedicated to producing transformational theatre & programs that help to shift and raise the consciousness of both artist and audience in its articulation of Black lifestyle. NBT has provided a safe space for artists of color to experience the true complexity and beauty of their genius; not to marginalize their existence, but to help them sit bravely in the center of it. NBT is also an alternative learning environment that uses theatre as a means to educate, enrich, entertain and empower the national conscience around social justice issues impacting our communities today.
As part of NBT’s Landmark 45th Season [2013-2014 Season] entitled Moving the Legacy Forward, we inspired to not only tackle Moving the Legacy forward within out own institution but on a national level. But how do you create the space, a convening, for Black Theatres to come together and tackle the issues surrounding the sustainability of Black Theatre? Creating this space is no small feat and needs a significant amount of resources which is what drove us to the “Think It” grant, a TCG program dedicated to pushing the boundaries and limits of the field.
(from left to right – Ira Kip, Deadria Harrington, Sade Lythcott,Jonathan McCrory, Talvin Wilks, Michael Dinwiddie. Photo by Shelia McNeil)
After a series of meetings with our planning “Think Tank” , the summit, once known as the State of Black Theatre, zoomed into focus and has been retitled Catalyst: Moving the Legacy of Black Theatre Forward. With the help of our “Think Tank”, the National Black Theatre will plan and execute a radical, forward thinking 3-day intensive that explores the forward mobility and sustainability of Black Theatre in America today!
Catalyst is an opportunity to bring the heat of the Black Theatre community together nationally and to have a serious, but transparent conversation about the issues and successes that Black Theatres face today. As a team we agreed to focus the convening on gathering 10 institutions and 10 organizations as without a healthy infrastructure for Black Theatre to be crafted, the work of the Black artist will be difficult to create and sustain. We’ve dared to raise the question, “How are we taking ownership of our own artistic destiny as opposed to being static artistic vessels continually waiting for the validation of “other” institutions to confirm our existence?” Black theatre is and has to be a liberation from the need for validation from “other” institutions and NBT hopes that this convening will highlight how our narrative can be protected for years to come.
The journey of unearthing this project to where it is today began for me a year ago when I left a national advisory committee meeting for Howround.com and felt charged with the question “What is Black Theatre?” With a new perspective and a passion for wanting to better understand, I curated a week on Howlround.com by 13 Black Theatre practitioners from around the country, which resulted in 24,000 people reading the articles online and a publication of all the articles through the yearly journal published by Black Theatre Network. As a result of that research and conversations with Sade Lythcott, CEO of the National Black Theatre, NBT is seizing the opportunity to take this investigation to the next level.
(National Black Theatre today (2013). Photo by Comfort Katchy .)
Black Theatres are on the verge of a critical shift where we have to be willing to understand how our institutions and organizations can learn, grow and collaborate with one another. By doing this we can begin to pool resources and learn from each other to strengthen the growth within our institutions and address the challenges Black Theatres commonly face: the generational gap, a historical lack of funding, and the inconsistency of how institutions of color market and tell their narrative to their constituents.
The planning committee for Catalyst is currently a combination of nine Black theatre practitioners that represent a broad spectrum of those whom currently operate/navigate through the lens of Black theatre. These practitioners are Talvin Wilks, Michael Dinwiddie, Shirley Faison, Sade Lythcott, Deadria Harrington, Ira Kip, Lawrence Evans, Keith Josef Adkins, Sydne Mahone and myself.
This convening will be an opportunity for Black Theatres to bond, for us to share pathology, and lastly, for us to reflect on what will help us have a healthier future. To obtain tangible results from this convening, Catalyst is designed to generate deliverables that will hopefully feed the field. These tools are embodied in the creation of a strategic plan that will be disseminated to the field, the use of social media to connect to a wider audience through live streaming and Twitter, and finally the creation of an article written by a notable scholar to document and reflect on the event.
(from left to right – Michael Dinwiddie, Shirley Faison, and Deadria Harrington. Photo by Jonathan McCrory)
In order to achieve this goal, NBT has realized from the beginning that we will need the community’s support in the form of strategic partnerships, sponsorships and collaborations from outside organizations like TCG & MetLife. Gaining this time of support will allow us to develop a full and rigorous three day convening that speaks to the intention we desire to achieve. To that point, NBT is currently working to secure a matching grant and sponsorships for flights and accommodations.
So let the work begin! Because it will truly take the support of a village to enliven and sustain Black Theatre for year to come . If you want to learn more about the project so that you or your organization can get involved I’d love to hear from you firstname.lastname@example.org. The National Black Theatre is honored to be at the forefront of this conversation and excited to bring together the soul of blackness into our institution. We invite you to join the conversation as we Move the Legacy Forward by keeping soul alive!
Harlem-based Jonathan McCrory is currently the Director of Theatre Arts Program at the National Black Theatre. McCrory has worked professionally for the past seven years as a director, producer and actor throughout the East Coast [New York, Washington, DC, Baltimore, and Winston-Salem, NC]. A Washington, DC native, he attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where he trained in musical theater and theater production. He earned a BFA degree in Acting and Africana Studies from New York University TISCH School of the Arts. In 2010 he became a Hemispheric Institute alumni after going through their Emerge-NYC program. In 2013 he was awarded the Emerging Producer Award by the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem, NC. Jonathan is proud to say that in 2012 he officially became a published journalist through Howlround.com and within that same year he began serving as a member of their National Advisory Committee for Howlround.com. In 2013 he curated a week on The State of Black Theatre on Howlround.com. [Click Here To Learn More]
As a director, Jonathan’s credits include: Blacken the Bubble, Enter Your Sleep, Hope Speaks, Wake, Last Laugh, With Out Trace and Asking For More. Hope Speaks, one of his most notable touring works, is a devised piece he created through The Movement Theatre Company. Hope Speaks chronicles the first hand testimonies surrounding the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. Outside of his own directorial work, he has been able to work as an assistant director under both established and emerging directors such as Talvin Wilks: Anne & Emmet, One Quarter, and Banana Beer Bath; Charles Randolph-Wright: Motown [Workshops] ; and Jesca Prudencio: Black Boy & The War.
During his senior year at NYU, he was one of the founding members of The Movement Theatre Company [TMTC]. Currently in their SIXTH Season, Jonathan remains one of the Producing Artistic Leaders. Through his work with TMTC, he has helped produce all of the company’s events and productions. Most notable were TMTC’s landmark production of the North-American Premiere of Bintou, TMTC Harlem Nights, “Honoring Excellence in Black Theatre”, Go Green Series, and Testament Project with Talvin Wilks. Jonathan is also co-founder in a producer collective called Harlem 9 [H9]. Through this organization, Jonathan helped to develop and produce the sold-out festival 48 Hours in Harlem. He also served on the selection committee and helped to curate the 2011 River to Rivers Festival at Ensemble Studio Theatre under the direction of Elizabeth Van Dyke. And recently curated the lobby of National Black Theatre for their production of Lyrics from Lockdown centered round highlight Juvenile Justice in America with support by the Correctional Association of New York and Center for Nuleadership.
The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-HA! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.