Community Works’ “harlem is…THEATER” exhibit, a multimedia celebration of nearly 200 years of Black theater in Harlem and New York, opened Tuesday at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, honoring more than a dozen leaders of Black theater.
Community Works, celebrating its 25th year, debuted this expanded, comprehensive exhibit with a welcoming reception that drew more than 200 guests, a standing-room-only crowd, as it highlighted the collaborations that resulted in the staging of works by anti-Apartheid South African casts and playwrights at Lincoln Center Theater in the 1980s, including the wildly popular musical “Sarafina!”
A diverse and illustrious crowd of supporters included theater luminaries, collaborators, artists, school principals, representatives of major citywide institutions and sponsors. In attendance were Lloyd Williams, CEO and president, Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce; Council Member Helen Rosenthal; Linda Walton, executive director, Harlem Arts Alliance; Faith Hope Consolo, chair, the Retail Group, Douglas Elliman Real Estate; Eugenia C. Foxworth, Foxworth Realty; and Pat Stevenson, editor, Harlem News Group.
“harlem is…THEATER” pioneers who attended were Woodie King Jr., New Federal Theatre; Sade Lythcott and Jonathan McCrory, National Black Theatre; Ray Gaspard, Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center; Vy Higginsen, Mama Foundation for the Arts; Voza Rivers and Jamal Joseph, New Heritage Theatre Group; Debra Ann Byrd, Take Wing & Soar; Ty Jones, Classical Theatre of Harlem; and Stephanie Berry, Blackberry Productions.
Also in attendance were officials from the American Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center Education, Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, City College of New York, the Apollo Theater, the Interchurch Center, Jazzmobile and the New-York Historical Society.
Funders present included Con Edison, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Council on the Humanities.
The opening featured a performance by Thuli Dumakude, the award-winning, South African-born actress, singer and choreographer who led her renowned female vocal group, Thokoza, in songs from the anti-Apartheid plays being saluted.
Speakers included Gregory Mosher, former artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater; Voza Rivers, executive producer of New Heritage Theatre Group; and Barbara Horowitz, founder and president of Community Works.
“ ‘Sarafina!’ was a big fat hit in the normal show-biz sense, but it was more, especially for Lincoln Center Theater,” said Mosher. “It linked us to the front page of the paper, not just the cultural section. And crucially, the South African plays connected us with the magnificent Harlem theater community.”
He added, “ ‘Sarafina!’ crystallized a moment in the world’s history, as plays sometimes do. … But they caught the moment.”
The exhibit was created with community members and students in 10 schools in Harlem researching and learning this important history. Through memorabilia, photos and film, it provides a quick and deep look at the theaters that bloomed and survived, the people who were driven to keep them vital and the explosion of Black theater productions that marked the 1960s and continue to this day.
Lee Daniels, noted author and member of Community Works’ board of directors, concluded the program by saying: “You have seen, firsthand, the power of celebrating and connecting community through the arts, part of the important work we have been doing. As we start our next 25 years, we will focus on creating a permanent archive for the over 25 important exhibitions we have created over time. This effort will require real support, and we hope you’ll join us on the journey.”
The exhibit will spend three months at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Exhibition tours will be offered for the community and schools, Mondays through Saturdays. The exhibition then tour citywide.
Also planned are performances, conversations and symposia at the library and at partner sites, including the Apollo Theater and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
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or call 212-459-1854.