Houston Cinema Arts Society Celebrates The Ensemble Theatre With Free Virtual Program for Women’s History Month
Houston Cinema Arts Society (HCAS) is partnering with The Ensemble Theatre to present Celebrating 45 Years of The Ensemble Theatre: A Women’s History Month Special, a free virtual program on Sunday, March 28th at 6pm CST with a live panel discussion, stage readings, and a Q&A. The program is free with donations encouraged.
The birth of a new Black theatre movement came out of the Civil Rights/Black Power activism of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, as well as intersectional feminism. Leading figures, institutions and events of a movement that transformed the American stage first and foremost include George Hawkins who founded The Ensemble Theatre in 1976 in Houston, Texas. His legacy is now carried forth by Eileen J. Morris, Ensemble’s Artistic Director, who collaborated and worked closely with Hawkins before his death in 1990, and the entire Ensemble team. The Ensemble is one of the few professional theatres in the region dedicated to the production of works portraying the African American experience, the oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, and holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s largest African American theatres owning and operating its facility and producing in-house.
This multimedia virtual tribute will celebrate the legacy of The Ensemble, as well as how much this legacy intersects with our current era of racial and post Me Too reckoning, as well as how Black theatre in America has always reflected and intersected with social history and justice. In honor of Women’s History Month readings of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Nambi Kelley’s Dead of Night…The Execution of… monologue from the Hands Up project will be part of the celebration, as well as rare ephemera and memorabilia from Ensemble’s storied history and a live panel discussion with an audience Q&A.
Readings include: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun with Bebe Wilson playing Mama, Aisha Ussery playing Ruth, and Steven Scot playing Walter Lee, Will Power’s Fetch Clay, Make Man with Derrick Brent playing Muhammed Ali and Jason E. Carmichael playing Stephin’ Fetchit, amd Nambi Kelly’s Dead of Night… The Execution of… From Hands Up with Bianca Laverne Jones reading the monologue. The panel discussion will include Eileen J. Morris, Woodie King, Jr., Nambi Kelley, and Linda Lorrell, moderated by Jessica Green.
“We at HCAS are so honored to be able to collaborate with Houston’s venerable Ensemble Theatre in the calendar year of their 45th anniversary,” says HCAS Artistic Director Jessica Green. “The Ensemble, one of the largest Black owned, operated and led theatres in the US, is a beacon and an emblem of what is possible, and in occupying the space it does — the space of possibilities — it reflects back the promise of African American theatre. It is such a gift at this inflection point in American history to be in conversation with Ensemble’s history and its incredible Artistic Director Eileen Morris, as well as leaders of the Black Theatre Movement Woody King Jr and Nambi Kelley.”
Woodie King Jr. founded the New Federal Theatre (NFT) in 1970 in New York City. Several early successes brought NFT to national prominence: Black Girl by J.e. Franklin, won a Drama Desk Award, The Taking of Miss Janie by Ed Bullins moved from NFT to Lincoln Center, and won the Drama Critics Circle Award; For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange performed on Broadway for 10 months and was nominated for the Tony Award before embarking on a three-year national tour. Linda Lorelle is an Emmy and Gracie award-winning broadcast journalist who anchored the evening news on Houston’s NBC affiliate, KPRC-TV for more than 16 years and is now CEO and Executive Producer of Lorelle Media, her multimedia production and communications consulting firm, based in Houston. Nambi Kelley is an award winning actress/playwright, who has performed across the country, including many shows at the Goodman Theatre & Steppenwolf Theatre, and across TV. Nambi is a writer on Showtime’s The Chi, and is in development with several other film and TV projects. Eileen J. Morris, is a director, actress, educator, and the current Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre. She worked closely with the founder of The Ensemble Theatre, George W. Hawkins, from 1982 until his death in 1990.
With many thanks this project is funded in part by the City of Houston, City Initiative Grant through the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Houston Arts Alliance.
For more information and to reserve free tickets, visit cinemahtx.org.
About The Ensemble Theatre
The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain and enrich a diverse community. Decades later, the theatre has evolved from a touring company operating from the trunk of Mr. Hawkins’ car to being one of Houston’s finest historical cultural institutions. The Ensemble is one of the only professional theatres in the region dedicated to the production of works portraying the African American experience, the oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, and holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s largest African American theatres owning and operating its facility and producing in-house. The Ensemble Theatre has fulfilled and surpassed the vision of its founder, and continues to expand and create innovative programs to bring African American theatre to a myriad of audiences.
The programs and operations of The Ensemble Theatre benefit a multicultural audience that is diverse in age, income, ethnicity, and culture. Its core audience is African American (90%). The Ensemble produces a Mainstage Season of six contemporary and classical works devoted to the portrayal of the African American experience by local and national playwrights and artists. The Ensemble’s Performing Arts Education program provides educational workshops, artist-in-residence experiences, and live performances for students both off-site and at the theatre, and the Young Performers Program offers intensive spring and summer training for youth ages 6 to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts. Through its varied programs, The Ensemble reaches over 65,000 people annually.
ABOUT HOUSTON CINEMA ARTS SOCIETY (HCAS)
Houston Cinema Arts Society (HCAS) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting unique and innovative film programs, multimedia installations and performances, and educational opportunities to engage, enrich, and empower Houston’s diverse communities and cultures. HCAS flagship programs include the Houston Cinema Arts Festival held annually in November, the Cinespace short film competition (a collaboration with NASA challenging filmmakers to create films from the NASA archives), Borders | No Borders (a short film competition for filmmakers with meaningful ties to Texas, the states it borders, and Mexico), and the Black Media Story Summit (a collaboration with Black Public Media, the Austin Film Society, and the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation). HCAS is dedicated to serving Houston filmmakers and film lovers and engaging in meaningful partnerships with creative individuals and organizations at the intersection of cinema with the visual arts, music, theatre, literature, dance, culture, science, and the humanities. HCAS is generously supported by HEB, National Endowment for the Arts, Brown Foundation, Kinder Foundation, Houston First Corporation, Franci Neely Foundation, Petrello Family Foundation, Cabrina & Steven Owsley, Carrin Patman & Jim Derrick, Catherine Asher Morgan, Sara and Bill Morgan, Louisa Stude Sarofim, Nina & Michael Zilkha, Mark Wawro, Amegy Bank, Texas Film Commission, Houston Film Commission, Texas Commission for the Arts, Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation, Six Foot, and Houston Arts Alliance. The 2020 Houston Cinema Arts Festival took place November 12-22 at Drive-Ins around Houston and on the virtual Eventive platform.