Celebrating 45 Years of The Ensemble Theatre: A Women’s History Month Special
Co-Presented with The Ensemble Theatre
with Eileen J. Morris, Woodie King Jr., Nambi Kelley, and Linda Lorelle, moderated by Jessica Green
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.
This program is free but donations are encouraged.
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun
Mama- Bebe Wilson
Ruth- Aisha Ussery
Walter Lee- Steve Scott
Will Power’s Fetch Clay, Make Man
Muhammed Ali- Derrick Brent
Stephin' Fetchit- Jason E. Carmichael
Nambi Kelley’s Dead of Night…The Execution of… From Hands Up
Actor-Bianca Laverne Jones
Eileen J. Morris
Woodie King Jr.
Jessica Green (moderator)
The Mission of The Ensemble Theatre is to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain and enrich a diverse community.
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.
Eileen J. Morris
Eileen J. Morris, is a director, actress and educator. She worked closely with the founder of The Ensemble Theatre, George W. Hawkins, from 1982 until his death in 1990. As artistic director, she has produced over 78 productions, which include four world premieres and 57 regional premieres. Under her artistic leadership, The Ensemble Theatre received the 2013 Best Season Theatre Award from the Houston Press. In 2007, The Ensemble Theatre was named Best Theatre by the Houston Press and 2007 Best Showcase for African American Actors by the Ultimate Section of the Houston Chronicle. The Ensemble Theatre also presented two out of the 10 best plays named by the Houston Chronicle as the Best of Houston Theatre 2008. She is a board member, secretary and Cultural Arts Committee Chair of the Midtown Management District and a board member of the national organization, The Black Theatre Network. She is the only woman in the country that has directed eight of the August Wilson Ten Play Cycle.
Woodie King Jr.
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. It has subsequently been performed regionally and around the world, and was revived off-Broadway in 2019. Both plays were co-produced with the late Joseph Papp.
Many performers benefited from early successes on NFT’s stage, including the late Chadwick Boseman, Debbie Allen, Morgan Freeman, Phylicia Rashad, Denzel Washington, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Issa Rae, and many more. Many plays first premiered at NFT have established the reputations of playwrights who have gone one to bigger successes later in their careers. For example, Charles Fuller premiered two plays at NFT, In My Many Names and Days and The Candidate. He was later to win the Pulitzer Prize for A Soldier’s Play, and David Henry Hwang, premiered The Dance And The Railroad at NFT & was later to win the Drama Desk Award for M. Butterfly. Woody King Jr. is also the director of several films including The Torture of Mothers: The Case of the Harlem Six staring Ruby Dee (1980), adapted from Truman Nelson's 1968 book The Torture of Mothers, Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement (1978), and Death of a Prophet (1981).
Nambi Kelley is an award winning actress/playwright, who has performed across the country, including many shows at the Goodman Theatre & Steppenwolf Theatre, has been seen on several television shows, including Elementary, Person of Interest, Madam Secretary, Chicago PD, Chicago Justice, and has toured internationally. Most recently she appeared in Dominique Morisseau's Pipeline in the lead role, Kunstler, and Two Trains Running. Kelley made her directorial debut at TheatreWorks Colorado Springs, the first African-American female to helm a production in their over 40 year history. Also an accomplished playwright, Nambi is currently serving in residence at New Victory Theatre through the LabWorks Program for BIPOC artists in New York City. She is a former playwright-in-residence at the National Black Theatre, the Goodman Theatre, and a former Dramatists Guild Fellow. She is the recipient of the 2020 NNPN annual commission, the Prince Prize 2019, and a Dramatists Guild Foundation Writers Alliance Grant 2018-19. She is currently developing the Broadway-aspiring play about Dr. Maya Angelou. She was chosen by Toni Morrison to adapt Morrison’s Jazz, which premiered at Baltimore Center Stage in 2017. Her adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son has been seen across the country and premiered off Broadway in 2019. Nambi's newly formed production company, First Woman LLC, is currently producing a digital and national tour of Nambi's young audiences' play, Jabari Dreams of Freedom. Nambi is a writer on Showtime’s The Chi, and is in development with several other film and TV projects.
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. The Stanford University and University of Missouri journalism graduate is now CEO and Executive Producer of Lorelle Media, her multimedia production and communications consulting firm, based in Houston. In late 2018, she launched the popular podcast, Our Voices Matter, in response to America’s ever-widening political divide and the deterioration of our civil discourse. Her goal is to share intimate conversations that remind us of our common humanity. Linda is working on her first book, set to launch in late 2021.