Negro Ensemble Company
The Negro Ensemble Company is a New York City-based theater company. Established in 1967 by playwright Douglas Turner Ward, producer/actor Robert Hooks, and theater manager Gerald S. Krone, the company focuses on themes in "black life".
In 2005, the ensemble was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The NEC has its genesis in the 1965 production by the Group Theatre Workshop of two one-act plays by Douglas Turner Ward, Happy Ending and Day of Absence, that ran for 15 months Off-Broadway and were popular and critical successes. Robert Hooks was the producer, Gerald S. Krone the producer/manager, and Philip Meister the director. Ward won an Obie Award for acting and a Drama Desk Award for writing. The company's combination professional theater group and training program, located at St. Mark's Place, started (with funds from the Ford Foundation) on May 14, 1967, when Hooks knocked down the walls of his village apartment to teach young actors such as Hattie Winston. The NEC's first production was at St. Mark's Playhouse in New York's Greenwich Village. It was produced by the Group Theatre Workshop, founded by Robert Hooks, in the summer of 1964 and again in November 1965 through January 1967.
Invited by New York Times to write an article in 1966 on the condition of black artists in American theater, Ward explained: "...that until there was a Black-oriented theatre of some permanence, the vagaries of the commercial and non-commercial White theatre would not allow our participation on a regular basis -- and that the least of what was needed was Black autonomy, a theatre where Black artists could decide and promote and oversee their own destiny in the theatre. Out of this came the plan of The Negro Ensemble Company."
He further wrote:
- "If any hope, outside of chance individual fortune, exists for Negro playwrights as a group - or, for that matter, Negro actors and other theater craftsmen - the most immediate, pressing, practical absolutely minimally essential active first step is the development of a permanent Negro company of at least off-Broadway size and dimension. Not in the future, but now.
- "A theater evolving not out of negative need, but positive potential; better equipped to employ existing talents and spur the development of future ones. A theater whose justification is not the gap it fills, but the achievement it aspires toward - no less high than any other comparable theater company of present of past world fame.
- "A theater concentrating primarily on themes of Negro life, but also resilient enough to incorporate and interpret the best of world drama - whatever the source. A theater of permanence, continuity, providing the necessary home-base for the Negro artist to launch a campaign to win his ignored brothers and sisters as constant witnesses to his endeavors...so might the Negro, a most potential agent of vitality infuse life into the moribund corpus of American theater."
This cutting-edge, Black theater showing a variety of experiences from a Black point of view that was the NEC was located downtown and competitive with other downtown NYC theatres. Original members of the Resident Company in 1968 were: Frances Foster, Rosalind Cash, Moses Gunn, William Jay Marshall, Arthur French, Esther Rolle, Clarice Taylor, Allie Woods, Hattie Winston, Anita Wilson, Mari Toussaint, Samuel Blue, Jr, Damon Brazwell, Norman Bush and Julius Harris; production stage manager, Edmund Cambridge and stage manager, James S. Lucas. Original Training Program Faculty were: John Blair, Lonne Elder, Margaret Harris, Luther James, Louis Johnson, Kristin Linklater, Ron Mack, Paul Mann, Lloyd Richards, Michael A. Schultz, Charles Vincent; Assistants: steve carter, Robbie McCauley, Cleo Quitman, Gloria Schultz.
By 1969, the company had won the Drama Desk Award, Vernon Rice Award, Lambda Kappa Mu Citation, Brandeis University Creative Arts Award and the Tony Award. Since then the Theater moved to Theatre 4 on 55th St between 9th and 10 Avenues in NYC with many acclaimed alumni, including Angela Bassett, Keith David, Adolph Caesar, Graham Brown, Samuel L. Jackson, Delroy Lindo, Carol Maillard, Michelle Shay, L. Scott Caldwell, Phylicia Rashad, Barbara Montgomery, Ching Valdez, Robert Aberdeen, Count Stovall, Charles Weldon, Malik Yoba, Laurence Fishburne, Lou Gossett, Jr., designers: Judy Dearing, Myrna Collie Lee, Charles McClennahan, Shirley Pendergast, Marie McKinney-Poncé, Stephanie S. Hughley, Ves Weaver, Lisa Watson.
The "NEC Monthly Meet" was launched in 2009 (by Marie McKinney)at The Riverside Church, in an effort to empower professional actors, writers, directors, and technical professionals to meet, partner, create and perform on an ongoing basis. Participants in the NEC Monthly Meets receive free training in arts business and management, arts skills and career development on teams and meet with key artist service organization staff.
NEC's award-winning instructors Leslie Lee, Erik Kilpatrick, Marie McKinney-Poncé, Laurence Holder and other experts provide training in acting, play writing, traditional arts and culture, and business skills. Techniques based on Michael Chekhov, Bea Richards, Cicely Berry, Stella Adler, Stanislavsky methods are used to expand the professional actor's abilities in character development, voice production and articulation, dramaturgy, period work, dialects, classic world literature, and improvisation. Like the original NEC training program, current workshops and labs explore basic elements of African, Native and Latin Dance and music, martial arts. NEC Training Program participants are encouraged to do weekly field research exploring the African's role in world history through field trips to collect samples of dialects and living culture in action, also fact-finding at research libraries and museums. Their finds are shared with the group to give the actors a variety of tools to powerfully express their unique voice.
The NEC Classic Play Readings come from original works by emerging playwrights in both the NEC Training Program's Play Writing and Acting Workshops and the NEC archives. The NEC Archives feature writers including: Paul Carter Harrison, Alice Childress, Derek Walcott, Ed Bullins, Gail Davis, Charles Fuller, Pearl Cleage, Douglas Turner Ward, Leslie Lee, Maggie Lee Hunkins, Ali Walduo, Joseph A Walker, Lennox Brown, Steve Carter, Hal DeWindt, Ron Milner, Loften Mitchell, Peter Weiss, Yvette Evans, Trevor Rhone. Plays from the NE Archives and Emerging Actor's and Playwrights from the NEC Training Program are presented regularly.
NEC's Arts-in-Education program founded by O. L. Duke, Robert Whaley and Marie McKinney-Poncé features classic shows and residencies facilitated by professional performers for elementary, middle and high school students in the NYC public school system. 10-20 week residencies are custom designed to augment the school's curriculum, through hands-on participation in artistic, literary and technical skills. Students created TV productions including original music, writing and choreography were aired on MNN cable network, live performances, newsletters and middle school students were included in on-the job training.
- The New York Times
- "Negro Ensemble Company, The (1967- )", BlackPast.org.
- "Negro Ensemble Co. - About the Negro Ensemble Co.", American Masters, August 18, 2004.
- Douglas Turner Ward, "American Theatre: For Whites Only?", New York Times, August 14, 1966.