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Pemon Rami

Arts administrator and theater director Pemon Rami was born on August 9, 1950 in Chicago, Illinois to Mary Foster and Harold Ray.
At the age of fourteen Rami started his first theatre company with the support and encouragement of Okoro Harold Johnson. At eighteen, Rami became the associate director of the Southside Center for the Performing Arts formerly the Joe Louis Theatre under the direction of Theodore Ward. The following year, Rami took over Val Gray Ward’s role as director of the Kuumba Theater, one of Chicago’s first African-American independent theaters. In 1973, Rami founded the Lamont Zeno Theater where he served as the artistic and managing director with the Better Boys Foundation. There, Rami directed numerous productions including: The Black Fairy and Young John Henry, written by Chicago-based poet, Useni Eugene Perkins.

The first African American film casting director in Chicago, Rami provided talent for the classic feature films and television movies; Blues Brothers, Mahogany, Cooley High, The Spook Who Sat by The Door, and Uptown Saturday Night. As an actor Rami appeared in the PBS weekly series Bird of the Iron Feather.

After relocating to Los Angeles for over twenty years, in 2004, Rami returned to Chicago and produced Stories from the Soul a TV series for the Black Family Channel and the feature film Of Boys and Men, starring Angela Bassett and Robert Townsend.

Pemon co-founded Productions to Change Lives (P2CL) a training and production model, which focused on integrating art and media through the eyes of teens, in an effort to effect community involvement and positive change. Through the P2CL Teen Talk Radio apprenticeship program implemented at high schools in Chicago, Rami and his wife Masequa Myers mentored over 300 teens and indirectly impacted thousands through live performances and weekly radio broadcasts.

In 2011, Pemon became director of educational services and public programs at The DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. After five years with DuSable, Rami returned to filmmaking and produced the feature film 93 Days in Lagos, Nigeria starring Danny Glover for which he was nominated for an African Academy Award and received the Visionary Award in 2016 at the Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival.

Rami served on the Joseph Jefferson Awards committee from 2016 to 2018. He was selected one of the Chicago Defender’s “50 Men of Excellence,” as well as to the Wendell Phillips High School Hall of Fame. Rami has also been recognized with awards from numerous organizations including: Deloris Jordan Award for Excellence in. Community Leadership at the Black Harvest Film Festival, American Advertising Federation, International Television Association, the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP (Best Theatre Director Award), Proclamation from the Los Angeles City Council, Key to the City of Detroit and the Life Time Achievement Award from the Chicago African American Arts Alliance.

Pemon Rami was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 13, 2018.

Accession Number

A2018.141

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/13/2018

Last Name

Rami

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
First Name

Pemon

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

RAM03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Tobago

Favorite Quote

Greatness Shouldn't Be Determined By Name Recognition But By The Lives That We Touch And The People That We Share With.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

8/9/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States of America

Favorite Food

Catfish, Spaghetti

Short Description

Arts administrator and theater director Pemon Rami (1950 - ) director of educational services and public programs at The DuSable Museum of African American History and produced Of Boys and Men, Nineteen and A Day: The Life and Times of D-Jef, and 93 Days.

Favorite Color

Brown

Voza Rivers

Theatre director Voza Rivers was born on December 27, 1942 in Harlem, New York City. After graduating from George Washington High School in 1959, Rivers received his A.S. degree in police science from the College of Police Science at the City University of New York and worked as an undercover officer with the New York City Police Department. He later received his M.A. degree in communication arts from the New York Institute of Technology.

In 1964, Rivers joined Roger Furman’s New Heritage Theatre, and became New Heritage Theatre Group’s executive producer in 1983. Under his leadership, New Heritage Theatre Group produced a series of South African plays and collaborated with black South African playwright Mbongeni Ngema in the 1980s. Their first play, Woza Albert!, heralded for its satirical take on the South African Apartheid, won over twenty awards worldwide. The second collaboration, Asinamali!, went to Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award. Rivers received acclaim for the introduction and presentation of the third collaboration with Lincoln Center Theatre, Sarafina!, the South African musical by Ngema, depicting students involved in the Soweto Riots in opposition to apartheid. The Tony and Grammy nominated Sarafina! premiered on Broadway in 1988 at the Cort Theatre, and following 597 performances and eleven previews, closed in 1989.

Rivers has produced award-winning works Off-Broadway as well as productions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Manhattan School of Music, Carnegie Hall and the world famous Apollo Theater. He has worked with artists including Nina Simone, James Brown, Ray Charles, the Count Basie Orchestra, Tony Bennett, Max Roach, and Celia Cruz. Rivers has also produced more than 1500 events featuring world-renowned artists in the United States, South Africa and Japan, and has produced for artists such as: Ruby Dee, Luther Vandross, Ashford and Simpson, George Benson, Tito Puente, Lionel Hampton, Isaac Hayes, Little Jimmy Scott, Miriam Makeba, and Chaka Khan. Films executive produced by Rivers include: Hughes Dream Harlem (Langston Hughes), Sutton: A Man for All Seasons (Percy Sutton), A-Alike (2003 Oscar nominated student film), Lifted (2007) and The Savoy King: Chick Webb & the Music That Changed America (2012).

In 1997, together with playwright, author, director and educator Jamal Joseph, Rivers co-founded the youth group IMPACT Repertory Theatre, which was later nominated for an Oscar and Grammy for Best Song for the film August Rush in 2008. Rivers has served as chairman of the Harlem Arts Alliance since 2001. From 2015, he has served also as the executive producer of Harlem’s Gertrude Jeannette's The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players theatre. He was the first vice president of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and the executive producer and vice chairman of HARLEM WEEK.

Voza Rivers was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 29, 2018.

Accession Number

A2018.094

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/29/2018 |and| 10/24/2018

Last Name

Rivers

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

P.S. 68

George Washington High School

First Name

Voza

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

RIV03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cuba

Favorite Quote

Let My Work Speak For Itself.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/27/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Favorite Food

Broccoli

Short Description

Theatre director Voza Rivers (1942- ) produced the Broadway musical Sarafina! and served as president and executive director of the New Heritage Theatre Group.

Employment

New Heritage Theater

New York Police Department

Greenlight Films

New York Entertainment and Sports Advisors

Favorite Color

Gold

Clinton Turner Davis

Theatrical director Clinton Turner Davis was born on April 9, 1949 in Washington, D.C. to Josephine Davis and Clinton Davis. Davis attended McKinley Technical High School, where he performed in plays and was president of the thespian club. He briefly attended Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana, but received his B.F.A. degree in theater from Howard University in 1972.

After being cast in Slaughterhouse Play at the Public Theatre in New York City, Davis began his career with the Negro Ensemble Company in 1972 as the production stage manager for The Great Macdaddy at St. Mark’s Playhouse. Throughout the 1970s, Davis served as the stage manager for a succession of Negro Ensemble Company productions, including Eden, Nevis Mountain Dew, Old Phantoms: A Play in Two Acts, The Sixteenth Round, Zooman and the Sign, Weep Not for Me and Home. In 1982, Davis made his directorial debut with Abercrombie Apocalypse: An American Tragedy at Westside Arts Theatre in New York City. Produced by Negro Ensemble Company and written by playwright Paul Carter Harrison, the off-Broadway drama starred Graham Brown, Timothy B. Lynch, and Barbara Montgomery. Davis would go on to direct Pearl Cleage’s first play, Puppetplay, at Theatre Four in New York City in 1982, and serve as the stage manager for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music in 1983. Additional Negro Ensemble Company productions directed by Davis in the 1980s included Two Can Play, House of Shadows and That Serious He-Man Ball. In 1986, Davis co-founded the Non-Traditional Casting Project. He then directed his first August Wilson play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, at Theatreworks in Palo Alto, California in 1989. At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1993, Davis directed Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, which was the festival’s first produced work by an African American playwright. In 2013, he directed Charles Fuller’s One Night.... Davis was an associate professor of drama at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Davis served as a director for the American Young Playwrights Festival in New York City. He was a guest lecturer at Yale University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, The Ohio State University, and Howard University; and directed theatrical productions at The Juilliard School, Brandeis University, and Colorado College. Davis received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Howard University, in addition to Dallas Theatre, Bay Area, and Drama-logue Critics’ Awards. In 2015, Davis received the Lloyd Richards Directors Award from the National Black Arts Festival.

Clinton Turner Davis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 25, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.045

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/25/2016

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

Turner

Schools

Charles E. Young Elementary School

Barnard Elementary School

Keene Elementary School

MacFarland Middle School

LaSalle-Backus Education Center

McKinley Technology High School

Hanover College

Hunter College

Howard University

First Name

Clinton

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

DAV38

Favorite Season

Spring

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

North Carolina

Favorite Quote

And there you have it. -- It speaks for itself.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

4/9/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Theatrical director Clinton Turner Davis (1950- ) began his career with Negro Ensemble Company in 1972. He has directed numerous off-Broadway productions, including works by Pearl Cleage, Paul Carter Harrison and August Wilson.

Employment

Colorado College

University of Colorado - Colorado Springs

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of California, Berkeley

Yale University

Ohio State University

Howard University

Apollo Theater

Colorado Festival of World Theatre/Market Theatre Tre

Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games

Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Artists Residency

Anna Deavere Smith Project

First National Symposium on Non-Traditional Casting

Favorite Color

Green, orange, black

Charles "Chuck" Smith

Theatrical director Chuck Smith was born Charles Norman Smith on March 7, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois to Charles P. and Amanda Smith. Smith attended Kozminski Elementary School and at age twelve, saw his aunt in a production of The Monkey’s Paw staged by the black Skyloft Players. Smith graduated from Parker High School in 1956 and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After his service in the Marines, Smith took a job with the United States Post Office, and in 1963, he won a role in the Dramatic Arts Guild’s production of McAdam and Eve. In 1970, he landed his first paying role in the Goodman Theatre’s production of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Smith studied theatre at Loop College, then Governor’s State University, while working as a computer programmer for the Illinois Department of Public Aid. He earned his B.A. degree in theatre in 1984.

Influenced by veteran Chicago playwright Ted Ward, Smith became involved with the Experimental Black Actors Guild or X-BAG, Kuumba Theatre, eta Creative Arts Foundation and other independent black theatres in the 1960s. In 1982, he was awarded the Paul Robeson Award by the Black Theatre Alliance of Chicago. Smith began teaching at Columbia College in 1983, and in 1984, he co-founded the Chicago Theatre Company with Douglas Alan Mann as an Actors Equity company. In 1991, Smith received a grant from Arts Midwest to study larger venues and touring, and since 1992, he has been a Goodman Theatre Artistic Associate. Smith’s directorial credits include The Gift Horse, The Amen Corner, A Raisin in the Sun, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and A Christmas Carol for the Goodman Theatre. He has also directed Master Harold and the Boys, Home, and Dame Lorraine for Victory Gardens Theatre. Smith directed Playboy of the West Indies for Congo Square Theatre, The Temple for eta and The Last Season for Robey Theatre. After directing The Meeting, Smith with actors Harry Lennix and Gregory Alan-Williams formed the touring company, Legacy Productions.

Smith won a Chicago Emmy Award for NBC’s Crime of Innocence. He also won an Emmy for his theatrical direction of Fast Break to Glory. In 1997, he received the Award of Merit from the Black Theatre Alliance. Smith, a long time board member of the African American Arts Alliance, spends time offering career advice and workshops to aspiring actors and directors.

Smith lives on Chicago’s South Side and has one daughter, Michele.

Accession Number

A2005.167

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/18/2005

Last Name

Smith

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

N.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Paul Robeson High School

Charles Kozminski Elementary Community Academy

Hyde Park Academy High School

University of Illinois at Navy Pier

Governor's State University

Harold Washington College

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

First Name

Charles "Chuck"

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

SMI09

Favorite Season

Fall

Sponsor

Mesirow Financial

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Canada

Favorite Quote

Cool.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

3/7/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Catfish

Short Description

Theater director Charles "Chuck" Smith (1938 - ) co-founded the Chicago Theatre Company. His productions include The Amen Corner, A Raisin In the Sun, & The Meeting. Smith won a Chicago Emmy Award for NBC's Crime of Innocence and for his theatrical direction of Fast Break to Glory.

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Brown

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles "Chuck" Smith's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his mother's family and growing up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers his childhood in the Ida B. Wells Homes in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his parents' separation and his relationship with his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith shares his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers moving from the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois to Hyde Park while in seventh grade

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers transferring from Hyde Park High School to Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers seeing his aunt in a production of "The Monkey's Paw" performed by the Skyloft Players

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his experiences in the a cappella choir at Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his experiences living in Japan and his leaving the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his beginning involvement in theatre with the Dramatic Art Guild in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his first acting role and studying drama at Loop College in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his experiences as a computer programmer with the Cook County Department of Public Aid

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls joining X-BAG, the Experimental Black Actors Guild, in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls meeting Chicago playwright Theodore Ward

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith shares the philosophy of theater of playwright Theodore Ward

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the time commitment required in the theater

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about some of his productions with X-BAG, the Experimental Black Actors Guild

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about Chicago's black theaters in the early 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the professional quality of X-BAG, the Experimental Black Actors Guild

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about environment for black theater in Chicago, Illinois during the 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes receiving his degree from Governors State University in University Park, Illinois in 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith comments on his directing career after leaving X-BAG Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about Chicago's Off-Loop theater scene in the 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his first paid theater job

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his professional theater career

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the difference between union and non-union theater companies in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the strength of the theater scene in Chicago, Illinois, particularly for African American theater

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the opportunities available for actors in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls that start of his teaching at Columbia College Chicago in Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls leaving the Illinois Department of Public Aid to work in theater full-time

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes transitioning from acting to directing

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his relationship with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his relationship with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the three Tony-winning theater companies in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the history of performing August Wilson plays at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his current projects to promote African American theater in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the supportive theater community in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his philosophy of directing, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his philosophy of directing, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith reflects upon his regrets and the need for a black commercial theater venue

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his family's pride in his career

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Charles "Chuck" Smith reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his daughter's support of his career

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the African American Arts Alliance in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his first acting role and studying drama at Loop College in Chicago, Illinois
Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his professional theater career
Transcript
So anyway, I learned, I learned, I learned the part, went on, and went on stage, had a performance, and they were laughing at me. And I say, you know, I feel, feeling inside said, "This is not gonna work. These people are laughing. I'm really, really, bad," you know. So, intermission, I said, "Yeah, this is not working. I'll finish this, but this is the last time I'm gonna do this. 'Cause, you know, these people are laughing at me." They says, "Naw Chuck, they're not laughing at you. They're laughing at your character, you know. I had, I mean, I didn't, I didn't get any of this stuff, you know. I said, "Yeah, yeah, right. Yeah, Okay." So, the show was over and we go out for curtain call, everybody--they go out, take their little bows, then somebody else come they take the--but then, I went out there, didn't everybody--a huge roar, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, and then that was it. I was, I was gone after that, you know, so.$$Hooked (simultaneously).$$It's all over. Yeah, it was all over.$$That's what actors want.$$Yeah.$$Applause (laughter).$$(Laughter). Yeah, see I've been--See, I didn't even realize that I was an actor, you know. But, you know.$$So, what kinda role, what was it?$$It was a role of a wa--the play was called "McAdam and Eve." And, I played the part of a wayward reverend. A female skirt chasing reverend.$$Now, that's really a stretch to play a reverend like that, isn't it?$$Yeah. Yeah. (Laughter) You know, yeah. And, this is the first time I had been on stage, and it worked, you know, it worked. I did, I mean, I realized that it was just--and, over the course of the--I stayed with the Dramatic Art Guild for quite some time. And, over those years I, you know, I realized I just had a natural thing for it, you know, you know. I had never studied acting or anything like that. Again, the closest thing--the voice, the voice thing I had was, you know, in high school [Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois] with Mr. [Eugene] Pence. So, I was able to project. When they talk about projecting your voice, I know exactly how to do that. So, that helped. But, everything else was natural ability. And then, while at Dramatic Art Guild I said, "You know, this might be something, why don't you learn this. Go to school and learn this stuff," you know. And, so that's what I did. I went and studied at Loop College [now Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago, Illinois]. Studied drama, along with some other things that I was dealing with at the time, like Data Processing. I was a computer programmer.$$Yeah. That's a little bit--now, did you have any idea in those days, that you could earn a living as you--$$No. Naw, naw, that was, that wasn't even on the radar screen, you know.$$So, it's avocational kinda thing?$$Yeah. Yeah. But, I just knew that there was more to it than what they were doing down there. And, that if I wanted to move any, you know, go further, that I would have to learn more, you know. And, so that's exactly what I did, you know.$You were gonna tell an Ira Rogers story.$$Yeah, Ira Rogers. Yeah. "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail," Christopher Walken playing the lead, Ira Rogers playing the runaway slave, the play being--the play was directed by Patrick Henry, founder of the Free Street Theater, okay. Great. And, the play was written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. [Edwin] Lee; same people who wrote "Inherit the Wind," okay.$$Wow.$$And, in the play, this runaway slave makes it up north, runs into [Henry David] Thoreau at Walden Pond and is so impressed with Thoreau he says, "I'll be your salve," okay. Ira Rogers went to the writers and said, "Look, there ain't no way a brother gonna escape slavery, make it up the free--make it up North and then give his, his freedom away, just give it away." The writers heard this. They heard it and changed the text. That impressed me with Ira Rogers right there, you know. 'Cause he--he says, "Now, this is not good. This wouldn't happen." But, then they listened to him, you know. And, they changed it. I said, "Woah," you know. Now, I'm a novice. I mean, this is 19--, this is the winter of 1970. I've just been in this business, you know, first time at something like on this level at the Goodman [Theatre in Chicago, Illinois], you know, never, you know, been in, in this environment at all, you know. I'm just used to Loop College [now Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago, Illinois] at the time and also--this even before X-BAG [Experimental Black Actors Guild], I'm used to Dramatic Art Guild, you know. So, when this happened, I just, I fell in love with Ira Rogers, you know. Because, he knew, you know, and, you know, I agree with him. I said, "Yeah," I be--but, I wasn't gonna say nothing. I'm not gonna lose this job. That's what I'm thinking. But anyway,--$$Now, that's a good story, that's a good story, 'cause Ira, yeah, he's a character (simultaneously).$$Yeah (laughter), yeah. But, Ira, Ira hated the role, he hated the role. So, I went on a lot. But, that was, that was my first paid professional job, "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" at the Goodman. And, right after the Goodman, I heard about Kingston Mines [Theater Company in Chicago, Illinois] so I sent them my, my stuff and the Kingston Mines asked me to come over and be in their next show. Which is the show that was gonna follow "Grease." And, that's when I became involved in that and that whole Lincoln Avenue environment, you know. And, Andre De Shields, I mean, he was, he was dynamite then, you know. He's, you know, he's a regular Broadway actor now. Everybody knows--he originated the role of the "Wiz." But, and many other roles, Broadway roles. But, back then, he was just a, he was a, he was an actor with the Organic Theater [Company in Chicago, Illinois]. But, that was the sort of the genesis of what, one of the genesis of what we know now as the Off-Loop Theater Movement, you know. I went back, went back to Dramatic Art Guild, got hooked up with X-BAG, the [James Theodore] Ted Ward, the Ted Ward situation. And, then went back in the '70s [1970s], went back to school. And then, and after, after directing the pieces at Governors State University [in University Park, Illinois], and at Loop College, got the job at, at Victory Gardens [Theater], the director's job at Victory Gardens. "Eden" was nominated. My production of "Eden" at Victory Gardens was nominated for four [Joseph] Jefferson Awards. The Jefferson are the Chicago Tony's. Best Production, Best Director, and two nom--and two of my actors were nominated, okay. And, we didn't win anything. But, it was, it was an impressive beginning, you know, if I say so myself. I was impressed. I hadn't--it took me years to get another nomination. But, you know, I still think back on those days, you know, our first time out in professional theater. When I say professional, I mean, Union, Equity Theater. I used, there were union actors in my production. And, that was my beginning.

Woodie King, Jr.

Award winning theater director Woodie King, Jr., was born on July 27, 1937, in Baldwin Springs, Alabama, to parents Ruby and Woodie King, Sr. Attending high school in Detroit, King graduated in 1956; he then went on to attend Leman College in New York, and later earned his M.F.A. degree from Brooklyn College.

Following his high school graduation in 1956, King worked for Ford Motor Company as an arc welder for the three years. In 1959, King went to work for the city of Detroit as a draftsman. In 1965, King joined Mobilization for Youth, where he spent the next five years working as the cultural director.

In 1970, King founded the New Federal Theatre and the National Black Touring Circuit in New York City, where he remained as producing director throughout his career. King produced shows both on and off Broadway, and directed performances across the country in venues such as the New York Shakespeare Festival; the Cleveland Playhouse; Center Stage of Baltimore; and the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. King's work earned him numerous nominations and awards over the years, including a 1988 NAACP Image Award for his direction of Checkmates, and 1993 Audelco Awards for Best Director and Best Play for his production of Robert Johnson: Trick The Devil; he also received an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement. King was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Wayne State University, and a doctorate of fine arts from the College of Wooster.

In addition to his directing and producing of theater, King wrote extensively about the theater industry; he contributed to numerous magazines, such as Black World, Variety, and The Tulane Drama Review, as well as authoring a number of books.

Accession Number

A2003.083

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/18/2003

Last Name

King

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Bright Meyer Elementary School

Smith School

Barbour Magnet Middle School

Cass Technical High School

Smith Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Woodie

Birth City, State, Country

Bladwin Springs

HM ID

KIN03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

London, England

Favorite Quote

Because you're in a hurry, it doesn't mean I'm in a hurry.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/27/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken Brazalia, Spicy Chinese Shrimp

Short Description

Stage director and theater director Woodie King, Jr. (1937 - ) is an award-winning theater director who founded the New Federal Theatre and the National Black Touring Circuit in New York City. King also writes theater critiques for several magazines.

Employment

Ford Motor Company

City of Detroit

Mobilization for Youth

New Federal Theatre

National Black Touring Circuit

Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Woodie King, Jr. interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Woodie King, Jr.'s favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses his family origins

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Woodie King, Jr. remembers his father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Woodie King, Jr. remembers his mother and male mentors

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses the Detroit, Michigan of his youth

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses his school life in Detroit

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses his gang involvement in 1950s Detroit

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Woodie King, Jr. describes his early interests

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses his occupational choices

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Woodie King, Jr. recalls his foray into the theater arts

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about his drama school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses his first theater company in Detroit and the plays they performed

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about his acting roles in New York and starting a theater company in Harlem

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Woodie King, Jr. describes the beginnings of his New Federal Theatre Project

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Woodie King, Jr. details his other theater-related projects and movies

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about his international network of theater colleagues

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about how plays by black Americans are received internationally

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses black theater and the founders of other theater companies in the U.S.

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about fundraising and his business strategy for a successful theater

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Woodie King, Jr. details more of his business strategy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about financing theater productions and gives his views on community theater

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Woodie King, Jr. shares his greatest challenges as a theater producer

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about the success of the play 'Checkmates'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses his concerns for the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Woodie King, Jr. gives a brief commentary on the people with whom he's worked in the theater community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Woodie King, Jr. describes two of his most important productions

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Woodie King, Jr. talks about his upcoming projects

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Woodie King, Jr. discusses his legacy and how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. and Gertrude Jeannette, founder of the HADLEY Players, ca. 1990s

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with Clinton Turner Davis, Rashida Ismaili Abubakr and Elizabeth Van Dyke, ca. 1990s

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Photo - Candid photo of Woodie King, Jr., ca. 1990s

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with Kojo Ade and Adger Cowans, New York, New York, ca. late 1990s

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with actors Charles Weldon and Rony Clanton, New York, New York, ca. mid-1990s

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. and National Black Theatre founder, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with Sonia Sanchez and other actors at the Black Theater Festival, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with Adam Wade, Leslie Uggams and other actors at New Federal Theatre's cast party for 'Black Girl', New York, New York, ca. 1995-1996

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with others at the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers' Conference, Chicago, Illinois, ca. early 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with others at the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers' Conference, Chicago, Illinois, ca. late 1980s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Photo - Gwendolyn Brooks and others at the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers' Conference at Chicago State University, Chicago, Illinois, 1992

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. receives the Higgs Award from the Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York, ca. 1986-1987

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with scenic designer Eldon Elder at a luncheon at The Players Club, ca. late 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with others at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, New York, New York, ca. mid-1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Candid of Woodie King, Jr., Rochester, New York, 1994

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. and Percy Littleton at a theater conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. receives an award from Margaret Burroughs

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with others at an opening at the New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, ca. 1993

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. and others at an opening at the Lincoln Center Theater Company, New York, New York, ca. 1987

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with Sidney Poitier, William Greaves and others at the 30th anniversary of the New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with his son and playwright Laurence Holder at the 30th anniversary of New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. and Kim Sullivan at the Abrons Arts Center at Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 17 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. receives a replica of Lorenzo Pace's art installation plan created in honor of Manhattan's African Burial Ground, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 18 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. introduces his son to actors at the 30th anniversary of the New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 19 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with producer and playwright, Philip Rose, an honoree at the 30th anniversary of New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 20 - Photo - Haki Madhubuti and Amiri Baraka at the 30th anniversary of New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 21 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. listens to Susan Taylor at the 30th anniversary of New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 22 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. and others at the 30th anniversary celebration of New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 23 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. and actor Nick Searcy at the 30th anniversary celebration of New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 24 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr., Shaita Miusi and an unidentified at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 1995

Tape: 5 Story: 25 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. speaking at the Arts Merits Award at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 1995

Tape: 5 Story: 26 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. receives an Arts Merits Award at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 1995

Tape: 5 Story: 27 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr., Ken Preston and Amiri Baraka at the 30th anniversary of New Federal Theatre, New York, New York, 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 28 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with others at the Abrons Arts Center at Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York, 1992

Tape: 5 Story: 29 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr.'s high school yearbook picture from Cass Technical High School, Detroit, Michigan, 1956

Tape: 5 Story: 30 - Photo - Woodie King, Jr. with New Federal Theatre's Coordinator, Mamie Mitchum in front of their space on East Third Street, New York, New York, ca. 1971-1973

Tape: 5 Story: 31 - Photo - Portrait of Woodie King, Jr. from his book 'Black Theatre Present Condition', 1981

DASession

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DATape

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DAStory

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DATitle
Woodie King, Jr. discusses his occupational choices
Woodie King, Jr. describes the beginnings of his New Federal Theatre Project
Transcript
I graduated [high school] June, 1956, July, I was at Ford [Motor Company]. They came, and they recruited, give you these jobs, you know, really--I was a arc welder and a checker, you know, where all you do is, like, you know, go around and put white chalks on these frames that these old black men welded. And they teach you how to be cruel to old people, you know. You know, you know, it's not--this is not right; do it again, you know. And you watch these old people get laid off. They were worried about getting laid off, and the six of us, man, I guess--from 1956 to 1959, we could work anytime we wanted to. We could work ten hours, twelve hours. I mean can you imagine, like, at that time, making four or five hundred dollars a week, you know.$$That was considered a good job, for somebody black to be able to make--(unclear) (simultaneously)--.$$Oh, yeah, yeah, you know.$$You were doing (unclear) if you were--(simultaneously).$$Yeah, and I worked midnight to--first, I worked from four to midnight. Then I worked from midnight to 8:00 a.m. because then I wanted to go to school. And I went through all kind of hell to get in drama schools and all that cause I, I was enamored, you know. So I would come from work, go direct to the library. And I would stay in the library, go to sleep in the library; wake up and read some more. I had discovered theater, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Fred O'Neill and all the people in Detroit [Michigan] who had migrated from New York. So it was about finding them and touching base with them. It was like a unbelievable discovery, that right there in my midst that people like Elmer Forrest Parks and Len Powell Lindsey, who had left New York, you know. And you see their picture, you know. And early works by Ralph Ellison, you discovered, you know, Richard Wright. You know, one thing leads to another. So, I guess my leaving Ford Motor was, was timely. It was a major explosion, and a lot of people were killed. And, and it was right in the plant, maybe a block from where I was, right, where these frames had gone through this paint. And this paint had chemicals in it while the welding was still hot, and they blew up, killed a couple people. One of them was my friend, you know. And you start saying, wait a minute, is this what I want? Is this what I want at twenty-one years old? No way, man, you know.$Tell us briefly about the old Federal Theatre Project. I think that was like significant to (unclear) (simultaneously)?$$Okay, under the Work Progress Administration (WPA), [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt, they tried to find ways to put blacks on the government payroll. And one way they did was have theater. And that, the unit that, that, what the blacks, would call it 'Negro [Theatre] Unit'. However, the 'Negro Unit' was run by [caucasians] Orson Welles and John Houseman. They had a huge hit in New York, 'The Voodoo Macbeth', but they did a lot of other things in different cities. I think [James] Theodore Ward out of Chicago [Illinois] was a member of it. Certainly, Leonard Depaw (ph.), you know, was a member the run, 'Run Children', Hughes Allison, 'The Trial of Dr. Beck', plays like that, you know. So it was free. All you got to do is go and see it. And people got paid a little amount of money for being in it. So I thought artists should be paid expenses at least, and be on a payroll and supported by the government. I felt that, should have a open-door policy, and that the public should not have to pay to come in. So for the first three years, that's what we did. Again, that had never been done in the theater. So it really jolted the New York establishment and, and they were really open arms for what we were about. So our first play that was a hit was a play called 'Black Girl' by J. E. Franklin, and later made into a movie and brought an unbelievable amount of national attention to the New Federal Theatre. We followed that up with--that was in '70 [1970]--'71 [1971], '72 [1972], '73 [1973] we had a hit with a play called 'The Taking of Ms. Janie' by Ed Bullins, which won the Drama Critics Circle Award. And I think it's the first time a community kind of theater had won a Drama Critics Circle Award. Then our next play was so huge, it went all over the United States for two or three years, a play by Ron Milner called 'What the Wine-Sellers Buy', that we had been nurturing, and Fran from Detroit [Michigan]. And I mean it really worked. And we went everywhere. And the black community across America just embraced us, so in Chicago--.$$(Simultaneously) You're right. It was a big deal and whenever--it came to Columbus, Ohio--Cincinnati [Ohio]. It was all over the place.$$Yeah, yeah, and so the New Federal Theatre's name just spread, spread, you know. So what we thought was, my God, this could be our forever, you know, this could--we could just reach everybody. It was the beginning, and it didn't have, it didn't have anything but positive connotations around it, very positive. And then the next year, we had 'for colored girls [who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf'], which was a hit for three or four years, you know, all over the world. So the New Federal Theatre in reaching out to women writers and those who had not had an opportunity before, started getting scripts from everywhere, all over the world, scripts from London [England], Australia, Canada, in addition to across the United States. So we started getting great scripts in, you know. And we started doing Asian writers, David Henry Hwang, 'The Dance and the Railroad'. We think we were the first to produce him, you know. Don Evans, you know, plays that went on to other things. So, you know, so, so for, for a while, until the white theater world discovered this is the way to do it, by using us as role models, you know. It's like, somebody said, "It's almost like Little Richard singing 'Tutti Frutti' and [singer] Pat Boone coming along after." I said, "Oh, is that all you have to do?", you know. (laughs) So we made mold, and they just came along and said, "Oh, that's all you have to do? We'll do that." And that's how that thing sort of shifted. We're for--we're always reinventing and in, and inventing. And so each time I went out after that, I had to discover a new way to do it.$$Well, why did you have to discover a new way to doing these things?$$Because, you know, the '[What The] Wine-Sellers [Buy]' and 'for colored girls' did so well, the theater owners wasn't gonna let us come to their theater again unless they owned it, you know. It's like if you go to a theater, I mean in those days you could go to a theater, the Studebaker [Theater, Somerville, Massachusetts], and rent it. Not any--you can't go to the Studebaker and rent that theater. You can't rent the Shubert Theater in Chicago [Illinois] anymore. They said, "No, no, no. We'll take a percentage of the gross, and if you fall below a certain amount, you got to give us this amount," which is like, maybe thirty thousand dollars or thirty percent of the gross. So if you gross 400,000 dollars, and they're getting thirty percent of it, you know what I mean. (laughs) So, and you say, "Wait a minute, if they getting thirty percent of this, I got to do everything else out of my seventy [percent]," you know. You can't do that. You can't do it anymore. That's why the so called urban-circuit plays, you know, it's like, I, I sit back and laugh. I know the, the guy's--who put it together, he's the writer, he's the director, he's the lead actor, you know. He's trying to get them churches in there. The play will gross six or seven hundred thousand dollars. He ain't making that. Whoever owns the theater is making that, you know. He may make his hundred, but he's got to rip off everybody he got in the company and pay them nothing if he wants to get in something. You can't, you know, it's very sad, man, it's very sad, you know, what it's come to.

Okoro Harold Johnson

Okoro Harold Johnson, actor, director, and playwright was born May 25, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Forestville Elementary and DuSable High School, but graduated from Eureka High School in Meridian, Mississippi. He briefly attended Tougaloo College, but ended up working as a waiter on the Grand Trunk Railroad. Later at Roosevelt University, Johnson became involved at the ground floor of the Chicago Black Arts Movement. Johnson earned a B. A. in Theater from Roosevelt University and an M.A. in Theater from Governor's State University.

Johnson is known for his down to earth approach with both acting and directing. He has exposed people from all walks of life to the magic of the theatre through his productions. Some of his plays include: S. C. L. C: Second Coming, Last Chance, The Regal Theater, Kintu and the Law of Love, and Strange Fruit. Johnson directed among other plays: A Candle in the Wind (featuring William Marshall), A Change is Gon' Come by Joe Turner, Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis, Fats Waller: His Life and Times by Runako Jahi and Jazz Set by Ron Milner. Johnson produced a now legendary black soap opera, written by Richard Durham for public television called Bird Of An Iron Feather for Chicago's WTTW. His acting skills were featured on Broadway in Ron Milner's Checkmates, in a role that he created. Film credits include: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, The Wedding and A Raisin In The Sun.

Johnson served as Artistic Director at ETA Creative Arts Foundation for 17 years and was director of South Shore Cultural Center. Johnson has taught theatre at the college and community level. He is the recipient of the Paul Robeson Award from the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago.

Okoro Harold Johnson passed away on April 3, 2012.

Accession Number

A2002.041

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/31/2002

Last Name

Johnson

Maker Category
Middle Name

Harold

Organizations
Schools

Eureka High School

Forrestville Elementary School

Du Sable Leadership Academy

Tougaloo College

Roosevelt University

DePaul University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Okoro

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

JOH03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

West Africa

Favorite Quote

You Can't Take It With You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/25/1925

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Death Date

4/3/2012

Short Description

Playwright, stage actor, and theater director Okoro Harold Johnson (1925 - 2012 ) was known for his down-to-earth approach with both acting and directing. He produced a legendary black soap opera, written by Richard Durham for public television called Bird Of An Iron Feather. Johnson served as artistic director at ETA Creative Arts Foundation for seventeen years and was director of South Shore Cultural Center.

Employment

ETA Creative Arts Foundation

South Shore Cultural Center

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Okoro Harold Johnson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his parents' home

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about living with his grandmother as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his high school experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes how his grandmother valued a college education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his college years at Tougaloo College where he starred in his first play

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Okoro Harold Johnson remembers working on the railroad as a waiter while a student at Roosevelt College

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his service in the U.S. Army

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his growing interest in theater while in law school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about learning to act at Drama Incorporated

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about black theater groups

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes the beginning of ETA, which he formed with HistoryMaker Abena Joan Brown

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson continues to talk about the nascency of ETA

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about Stateway Gardens where he worked as a drama instructor and acted in plays

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes how he became the first black director at Theater on the Lake

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about ETA's early productions and the Regal Theater's revival, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about ETA's early productions and the Regal Theater's revival, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his experience at WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about directing "Bird of the Iron Feather"

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes racism on the set of "Bird of the Iron Feather"

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about "Bird of the Iron Feather"'s success

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes forcing radio and television stations in Chicago, Illinois to hire black personnel

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his return to theater and ETA's production of "A Candle in the Wind"

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about "Kintu and the Law of Love", his adaptation of an African folk tale

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his experience on Broadway in the play "Checkmates"

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about working at Chicago State University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Okoro Harold Johnson explains why he cast non-actors like Moms Mabley, LaDonna Tittle, Sherry Scott, and Light Henry Huff in the productions of "A Change is Gon' Come" and "Jazz-Set"

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about the production of "A Change is Gon' Come"

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about tensions with Bobby Womack during ETA's run of "A Change is Gon' Come"

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about directing a musical revue for Harold Washington's mayoral campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his play "S.C.L.C.: Second Coming Last Chance" and performs the prologue

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson recites two of his poems, "The First Blues", and "Chicago"

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson reflects on his parents' attitude towards his accomplisments

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about The HistoryMakers project

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about the contemporary black arts scene in Chicago

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Okoro Johnson narrates his photographs, pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Okoro Johnson narrates his photographs, pt.2

DASession

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DAStory

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DATitle
Okoro Harold Johnson explains why he cast non-actors like Moms Mabley, LaDonna Tittle, Sherry Scott, and Light Henry Huff in the productions of "A Change is Gon' Come" and "Jazz-Set"
Okoro Harold Johnson talks about directing "Bird of the Iron Feather"
Transcript
Okay. We were discussing some of your casting choices and the fact that some of your shows that you use a lot of non-actors?$$Well, that was something that I really got into and I found it to be very, very rewarding. Starting with the Regal Theater, I brought people in, a number of people in, who had never done theater before, but they were either singers or they were performers and I did 'em, brought 'em, Moms Mabley in--but they--it worked out perfectly well. The Regal, did the same thing with Sam Cooke, Alambus(ph.) Dean, who had never done theater. He came in and did Sam Cooke in "[A] Change is Gon' Come", fantastic job. LaDonna Tittle was in "[A] Change is Gon' Come". She had never done a full-length play before. I did "Jazz-Set" which was written by Ron Milner, fantastic play, incidentally. But it was a spiritual--of a spiritual nature. And I said, this is not an actor, this is not something for an actor to do, because an actor would come off phony. I need someone who is deeply rooted in the spiritual aspects. So Sherry Scott, who was with Earth Wind and Fire and Light Henry Huff, who was a musician in the city, and I asked Light to do that and I asked Sherry to do it. And it worked out so beautifully. Light Henry Huff was, I mean, he brought that spirituality to it and it was just whoo, just powerful, it just boom, blew up on the stage. And I never will forget that performance that Light Henry Huff did with "Jazz-Set". "Jazz-Set" was a very interesting concept. Ron Milner wanted to do a play like jazz musicians would perform like they're doing solos and they're doing fours and doing eights and they--back and forth and I didn't understand it when I first read it, I didn't know what he was about. So I went to Detroit [Michigan] and spent four days with him at his house and he went over the play with me and over--and his--were notes and so forth. Then when I cast it he came to Chicago [Illinois] and was assisting me with the casting. And then he explained to the cast, directly to the cast what the play was all about. That's why I asked him to come so he could interpret it directly to the cast so they would understand exactly what he was after. And this spirituality was one of the things that--that was so strong, the leader was a very spiritual person and he was a saxophone player. The other thing about this play is they were all musicians, but nobody had real horns. They had horns made of wire. All the drums, the piano, the saxophone, the trumpet and the bass fiddle was made of wire. And we found a young man, talented person, who made these instruments, I mean, life-sized bass, life-sized piano, all made of wire, fantastic. And the music was--Vince Willis wrote the score behind it. So when they were speaking--if the trumpet for instance was speaking then the trumpet music was playing behind it while he was speaking. And that was his rap, was his solo, his you know, and it was done like a jazz set, and that was the name of it, beautiful. But I was--getting back to Light Henry Huff. Light had never done a play at all, and Sherry, I think, Sherry had done the Regal Theater and maybe a couple of other plays, but Sherry Scott was fantastic in it. The same thing happened with "Billie Holiday". I just did a--Billie Holiday and Lester, in "The Life of Billie Holiday and Lester Young". And I got a young lady, Nuombia(ph.), to played Billie Holiday. I met her out to Chicago State [University, Chicago, Illinois], and she was in a singing group. And then I heard--was at the other place and I saw Bruce Robinson, saxophone player, so I put these two people together as Lester Young and Billie Holiday, turned out fantastic. The whole thing for me has been that you find out when you use artists, all these people had been artists in one form or another, but artists can be artists in many different forms, and it always worked out, it always worked. It never went sour on me, not once, that I put a person into a play that had not done theater before, and it worked out, so.$Okay. "Bird of the Iron Feather", the first black television soap opera in Chicago [Illinois]?$$Yes. And we have to understand that there were no black people in television at this time. This was 1967. There were no black people in television anywhere. I'm talking about directors, behind the scene persons, in lighting, there were no on-camera persons, black persons. The one on-camera black person was Jim Tillman, who did a show called "Our People" at WTTW around the same time. But it was directed by a white person. So they wanted to have their white directors to direct "Bird of the Iron Feather" and we said no. And so, in order to enforce--they were insisting, we were insisting, so we went to a community organization called the Coalition for United Community Action, and this was '60s [1960s] remember. And they got into dialog with WTTW about this show. And we start putting demands on WTTW in terms of--their idea was to do a hundred television shows for $6,000 each and using student writers and using unpaid tele--actors, and so we said, no, you can't do that. If you're gonna do a black television show in Chicago, the first black television show that ever been in Chicago, you gon' do it right, and you gonna do it with quality. So now--so this idea of a black--of the student writers has to go. There we have professional writers, and Dick Durham, Richard Durham, was as we said at the time, he was editor of Muhammad Speaks, but he had written for the black--for the white soap operas. He'd written for the "Long Ranger" all under assumed name of course, I mean, they would not allow his name, but he's ghost writing. And we said, so we've got people who can write, you know, we've got people who can direct and--so I told them, I said, well I've been to GBH [WGBH Boston], which is your sister station, and I've learned--I've taken directing, so I'm ready to direct. I have fifteen years of directing in the theater, and so putting that together with television, I'm ready to direct television. No, no, no, it takes five years, you gotta have five years of directing training. I said look, I've taken this course in Boston [Massachusetts] and they--I have a certificate that says I am qualified. And so, I'm insisting that. They wanted to hire me as a drama coach to teach, I mean, to coach the actors for the white directors. I said, I'm not gon' do that. I'm a director and that's what I want to be. So they said, well, no. And so then the Coalition got the Black Stone Rangers together and put 'em on a bus and went out to WTTW and took over the station. We had eleven demands. And on the top demand was that Harold Johnson would become a director. The other was that in every capacity where there--in every capacity of the production, if you don't have--we want a black person in every capacity, if you don't have one, you train one. So that was one of the eleven demands. And so finally they agreed under this pressure.

Lloyd Richards

Influential actor and director Lloyd Richards was born on June 29, 1919, in Toronto, Canada. His father, a Jamaican “Garveyite” master carpenter, moved the family to Detroit in search of a job at Henry Ford’s automobile plant. However, misfortune struck early when his father died unexpectedly and Richards and his older brother took odd jobs to keep the family afloat.

After high school, Richards enrolled in pre-law at Wayne State University. However, he found that his real interest was in acting and radio programming. After fighting in World War II, he returned to Detroit and remained active in local theater and broadcasting. In fact, he became part of a local theater troupe and was hired on air as a radio announcer. In the 1950s, Richards moved to New York City hoping to make his mark. He supported himself by working several jobs, doing plays and television spots, and eventually worked as an acting coach. In the late 1950s, friend Sidney Poitier asked Richards to direct a play, A Raisin in the Sun, by a then-unknown black playwright, Lorraine Hansberry. It was Broadway’s first play by a black woman and he was its director.

Always committed to teaching, in the wake of Raisin, Richards began as a drama instructor at New York University School of the Arts and Hunter College. Later, he became director of the National Playwrights’ Conference at the O’Neill Theater and the dean of the prestigious Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre. It was in these capacities that Richards influenced the careers of many playwrights and actors, including Athol Fugard, August Wilson and James Earl Jones. With Wilson he developed a lasting partnership as Richards went on to direct and produce the first seven of Wilson’s plays to reach Broadway. Richards won a Tony in 1986 for his direction of Wilson’s play, Fences.

Richards was a professor emeritus at the Yale School of Drama and served on several artistic and theatrical boards, including the National Endowment for the Arts. Richards received numerous awards, including several honorary degrees, and was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Richards died on his birthday on Thursday, June 29, 2006. He was 87 years old.

Accession Number

A2001.064

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/11/2001

Last Name

Richards

Maker Category
Middle Name

G.

Organizations
Schools

Sampson Elementary School

McMichael Intermediate School

Northwestern High School

Wayne State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Lloyd

Birth City, State, Country

Toronto

HM ID

RIC03

Favorite Season

Fall

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

6/29/1919

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Canada

Favorite Food

Lobster, Ribs

Death Date

6/29/2006

Short Description

Stage actor, academic administrator, and theater director Lloyd Richards (1919 - 2006 ) directed A Raisin in the Sun, Broadway's first play by an African American woman. Richards later became director of the National Playwrights' Conference at the O'Neill Theater and the dean of the prestigious Yale School of Drama as well as artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre. Richards died on his birthday on Thursday, June 29, 2006.

Employment

National Playwrights Conference

Yale University

Favorite Color

Blue, Forest Green

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lloyd Richards interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lloyd Richards's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lloyd Richards remembers his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lloyd Richards recounts his family's move from Toronto, Canada to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lloyd Richards reflects upon his West Indian heritage

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lloyd Richards recalls the sights, smells and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lloyd Richards remembers an influential aunt

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lloyd Richards gives an overview of his schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lloyd Richards recalls his childhood activities

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lloyd Richards recounts his budding interest in theater arts

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lloyd Richards describes race relations in 1930s Detroit

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lloyd Richards remembers his college prospects

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lloyd Richards explains his family situation

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lloyd Richards recounts his pursuits as a college student

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Lloyd Richards recalls his stint in the U.S. military

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Lloyd Richards discusses his employment as a social worker

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Lloyd Richards remembers his Detroit theater group, the Actors Company

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lloyd Richards discusses his early radio and theater performances

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lloyd Richards reviews his roles with the Actors Company, Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lloyd Richards explains his decision to move to New York

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lloyd Richards recounts lessons learned on the New York theater circuit

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lloyd Richards discusses his pursuit of the theater arts in New York, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lloyd Richards details his early employment opportunities in New York

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lloyd Richards reflects upon his Broadway debut

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lloyd Richards recalls his partnership with Sidney Poitier

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lloyd Richards remembers fellow actors, New York, New York, 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lloyd Richards remembers the team behind the Broadway production of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lloyd Richards recalls support for the production of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lloyd Richards discusses the casting of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lloyd Richards recounts the tour of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lloyd Richards explains the collaborations behind 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lloyd Richards reflects upon reviews of 'A Raisin the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lloyd Richards evaluates the appeal of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Lloyd Richards remembers Lorraine Hansberry and Philip Rose

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Lloyd Richards remembers performances from his career in theater

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Lloyd Richards recalls his introduction to playwright August Wilson

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Lloyd Richards recounts his partnership with playwright August Wilson

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Lloyd Richards discusses his involvement with the National Playwrights Conference

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Lloyd Richards discusses his role with the Yale Repertory Theatre

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Lloyd Richards reflects on the course of his career

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Lloyd Richards considers his legacy