It was another “Great Day in Harlem” recently when nearly 50 African-American playwrights, performers and other people affiliated with the theater assembled at Marcus Garvey Park for a photo shoot. In 1958, photographer Art Kane summoned 57 jazz musicians to Harlem for his famous photo that originally appeared in Esquire magazine.
African Voices was the publication this time, and publisher Carolyn A. Butts and editor Maitefa Angaza were unstinting in their efforts to gather a representative slice of playwrights, technicians, producers, actors and directors, including the renowned Douglas Turner Ward; Amiri Baraka; Laurence Holder; Woodie King, Jr.; Melvin Van Peebles; Count Stoval; Arthur French III; June Terry; Nikki Williams; Faye Anderson; Anthony Jones; Daniel Beaty; Rome Neal; and Roscoe Orman.
“Woodie King and Douglas Turner Ward are responsible for helping shape the careers of such screen actors as Denzel Washington and Samuel Jackson. These actors’ first stage experiences were before audiences in community theaters like the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn, New Federal Theatre in lower Manhattan or the National Black Theatre in Harlem,” said Butts, adding, “It’s vital that we document the people who dedicated their lives to preserving the tradition of theater for families in our communities.”
The Great Day in Theater photo will be released in the summer 2010 issue of African Voices in July. Copies of a special two-part issue documenting Black theater will be available at bookstores and can be ordered online at www.africanvoices.com. The Amsterdam News was given exclusive photos from the shoot as a preview. The photos were shot by veteran photographer Mel Wright.
“This was an important, very historical moment,” said Baraka, “and it would have been nice to have had Ed Bullins, Marvin X and Toni Morrison here, too.”
One of the highlights for those in attendance was seeing people they hadn’t seen in years or those they were meeting for the first time. “It was a nice mix of the old and young,” said June Terry, “and it was certainly a pleasure to see a lot of new faces.”
She could have been talking about Obie Award-winner Daniel Beaty, whose one-man show at Riverside Church, “Through the Night,” is quite the current rave.
“There were, indeed, some people here I haven’t seen in years,” said Douglas Turner Ward. An established icon in Black theater, Ward said he was just taking it easy lately, which means he’s probably shaping something to drop on us in a minute.
The Negro Ensemble Company’s project manager, Anthony Jones, said, “It was so delightful to be a part of this moment, particularly to be in the company of Douglas and Woodie.”
King, along with the versatile musician Sonny Fortune, this reporter and Betty Dopson will be saluted with Ellie Charles Artist awards on Friday, June 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the Con Ed Auditorium near Union Square. Call (212) 865-2982 for ticket prices and more information.