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A standing ovation for Voza Rivers

Cyril Josh Barker | 2/27/2014, 10:26 a.m.
Over the years, Rivers has been considered one of the go-to people when it comes to Black theater, not only ...
Voza Rivers

Award-winning producer and filmmaker Voza Rivers serves as chairman and CEO of VOZ Entertainment Group, executive producer and founding member of New Heritage Theatre Group and executive producer of Harlem Week. Rivers is also known as the producer of numerous theater, music and television projects, as well as film festivals and music tributes.

New Heritage Theatre Group is the oldest Black nonprofit theater company in New York City, originating in 1964 under the name New Heritage Repertory Theatre. The mission was to preserve and institutionalize classic works of Black theater.

Over the years, Rivers has been considered one of the go-to people when it comes to Black theater, not only in New York City, but around the world.

Born and raised in Harlem, Rivers wore many hats, often at the same time, before dedicating his life to theater. A former NYPD detective, he also owned a boutique with Harlem Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lloyd Williams.

However, it was his work with New Heritage Theatre Group founder Roger Furman that turned him on to theater, and Furman asked him to work with the group. While not an actor on stage, Rivers said he decided to concentrate his work behind the scenes.

“[Furman] encouraged me to join the theater, and I became a founding member of New Heritage,” Rivers said. “Shortly thereafter, I knew I was not destined to be an actor, but I learned about theater operations and what theater offers in terms of the behind-the-scene operations.”

During his early years at the theater, Rivers took on several jobs ranging from ticket booth agent to building sets. In 1983, after Furman’s death, Rivers was asked to take his place and serve as executive director.

Rivers was key in keeping the theater alive and bringing it to a global platform after Furman’s death. He was able to connect Harlem and South Africa theater to bring New Heritage to a global platform.

Among his repertoire of stage productions, Rivers has done the Tony- and Grammy-nominated Broadway musical “Sarafina!” “Township Fever,” the Obie Award winner “Woza Albert!” “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” “Romeo and Juliet” and the Tony-nominated “Asinamali!”

He served as executive producer of Committed Artists – United States, where he was responsible for managing, marketing and co-producing all of the activities for 100 South African actors and musicians worldwide. As the primary point person for key international events, Rivers has also produced projects in Japan, South Africa and the U.K., as well as local and national events.

Among other celebrities, Rivers has had the privilege of working with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Mary J. Blige, James Brown and Isaac Hayes, just to name a few.

Rivers said art is important to society because of the influence it has on life.

“I believe that art is as necessary as the air we breathe,” he said. “The arts become a reflection of who we are as a people in terms of the visual and spiritual way.”