Sade Lythcott is the daughter of Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, founder of the nonprofit, community-based National Black Theatre in Harlem. After Teer’s passing in 2008, Lythcott took over the organization as CEO. What was supposed to be a six-month stint turned into a passion for overseeing one of the nation’s treasured Black arts institutions.
Founded in 1968, NBT has produced more than 300 theatrical works and continues to be a haven for Black thespians. Serving as an ambassador of the theater, Lythcott oversees everything from operations, board relations, partnerships and real estate development.
Growing up as Teer’s daughter, Lythcott had a front row seat to seeing the spectacular world of theater. Among the people she grew up around were actress Phylicia Rashad and poet Maya Angelou. Lythcott said early on, she realized the extent and impact of her mother’s work.
“My mom was single mother and I always said she was really married to her work,” she said. “My mom was my best friend and my life coach. When she was home she was homegirl and when she was in the public she belonged to the world of theater. We shared her with everyone.”
Lythcott graduated from New York University with a degree in history. With theater in her DNA, she’s performed with several off- and off-off-Broadway theater companies, including appearances as Gail in Ron Milner’s “Urban Transition”; “Loose Blossom” at the New Federal Theater directed by Woodie King Jr.; and as Dorothy Dandridge in “Dorothy Dandridge: Before, After & Now” directed by her mother.
When Teer passed away, NBT’s board asked Lythcott to serve as interim CEO of the organization until they could find a replacement. With no interests in staying permanently, she soon realized that her place was to succeed her mother and carry on her legacy.
“When my mother passed away, there was no succession plan,” Lythcott said. “The board asked me to come on board for six months while they found a new CEO and I’ve been here for 11 years. The truth of the matter is I found my life’s work to continue my mom’s legacy. It was never in the card or anything she asked me to do. She wanted me to choose it and it took me many years to choose.”
This year makes the 50th anniversary of the NBT and Lythcott is overseeing several projects to mark the milestone. Under the theme “Liberation: A Journey Beyond Walls,” NBT will present several commissions of plays, dance programs and a musical in traditional theatrical spaces, as well as outdoor sites.
Highlights include partnerships and programming with Carnegie Hall, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the world famous Apollo Theater; the national tour of the critically acclaimed one-woman show “The Peculiar Patriot;” and the ongoing cultural exchange with the international sister institution, the NBT of Sweden, established in Stockholm.
The theater is also poised for a major capital redevelopment project at its current site in Harlem.
“Fifty years later NBT finds itself more committed than ever to Dr. Teer’s vision and the reimagining of what Harlem, America and indeed the world might look like when the healing principle of Black liberation is central,” Lythcott said. “I hope everyone can join us on this journey beyond walls.”