The best thing that happened to me besides the, the things I've already talked about as far as education, two things: I became, my drama interest got sparked, once again, for the wrong, for, for, for, for wrong reasons. I really got involved with drama because, once again, I needed to find something to do because I couldn't play ball because I had gotten injured in, in running track in high school [Xavier University Preparatory School, New Orleans, Louisiana] and my knee hadn't heal, healed sufficiently enough to try out for the team. So I needed some extracurricular activity to do, especially I'm stuck out there in the cornfield, (laughter) you know, with, with not much to do. And I found out that the girls in the, in the drama group could stay out later than, than the curfew. At that time, the freshmen had to be in by 6:00. The, the, the, even the juniors and seniors had to be in by nine or ten or something. I said no, so me and a buddy of mine in, in my dormitory (laughter), we said man, like, let's find, you know, a place here. I said if we find out the girls in the drama group had, you know, could stay out long as they, they, they, they, they, they wanted to, and the drama group was very well situated at Wilberforce [University, Wilberforce, Ohio], interestingly enough, because the sponsor behind the drama group and a fanatic theater person was guess, was guess what, the head of the athletic department, Mack [M.] Greene. Mack Greene was I mean famous. It was, it, this odd thing that here was the, the head of the whole athletic department and, and everything else was a fanatic theater person. And he had been responsible for creating the Wilberforce Players. They didn't have a, you know, a, a formal theater program. So the Wilberforce Players was, was, was it as far as the theater activity, and Mack Greene was behind it. So I mean they, you know, and Mack Greene was very powerful figure there. And at that time when I was there, Leontyne Price was, was, was there. In fact, the year I was there, I was in two productions. In that year they didn't do any musicals, so I remember Lee- Leontyne to sew costumes 'cause there, there was nothing for her to do that particular year 'cause they weren't doing any musical ex--. She used to sing that in, in, in the, you know, the school assemblies and all of that, but there was nothing for the theater group there, 'cause we, we did two plays. And I was--and for some reason they, they, they, they cast me in both of the plays they were doing. And I'm there because of the women. I wasn't (laughter) going there for, for theater purposes.$$Now what plays did they do?$$One was--well, what was the, it was a play that originally had been done in, in, in England? What, what was, what was the, the name of it? Had a lighthouse, it took place in a lighthouse. It'll might, it'll occur to me before I, I finish. And the other one was, was some, a play that had, had originally been a thriller movie, '[A] Shot in the Dark' or something, something like that. I forgot the, the name of it. 'Thunder Rock,' 'Thunder Rock,' 'Thunder Rock Island,' [sic. 'Thunder Rock'] I think, was the name of the, the first play. And, and right away, I'm the youngest. No, nobody knew it, but I was the youngest member of the company. All of--let me see--yes, still, by the time I did that first play, yeah, I still, I'm still sixteen years old, 'cause I went, went to school when I was sixteen. And I'm playing the oldest character in the play, (laughter) I mean 'Thunder Rock Island.' And I'm playing the oldest man in the play. And the next play, the thriller, I, I played my, I play my own age, at least, but (laughter) the other I'm playing the father. I said well, didn't know it at the time that I set my course for being the, the resident old man of black theater (laughter) eventually, always playing characters older than myself. But that was, that was, that was one of the main benefits of being there. And, and, and you know, I loved performing in the plays. I still hadn't committed myself to any, any, any theater career. I still was following my original ambition, that I wanted to become a sportswriter, you know, basically.$So how did that, I mean the 1965 opening, St. Mark's Place [St. Mark's Playhouse, New York, New York], you said led, led to the, the NEC [Negro Ensemble Company]--$$Oh, the, the, the whole, the whole, all of the, the, the, the factors, all of the factors that went into 'Happy Ending' and 'Day of Absence' [Douglas Turner Ward]--$$Which were?$$--turned out to be the germs, the germ, the full-fledged germ of what became the NEC every, every element of it: a black-produced play, [HistoryMaker] Robert Hooks, a black producer, a black writer who's written about the black experience to say, addressed to a black audience, and a company, a 99 percent black company, which includes the veteran actors, 'cause I hired, you know, I had Frances Foster, you know, Moses Gunn, Robert, of course, was, was, was in it 'cause Robert played Junie in the orig- original production and also everybody was, of course, the four of us in, in, in, in 'Happy Ending' were all in, in, in 'Day of Absence,' 'cause 'Day of Absence' had about thirteen people I think, and, but Bobby's group, Bobby's workshop group [Group Theater Workshop], the kids who had trained, the ones I said that originally did 'Happy Ending' in that, in that graduation ceremony. They were also, so I got the generations, all of the, the veterans, the younger generation who were developing, who had also been, been part of a training program. So all of these things became the model. By putting together, in putting together NEC, eventually it didn't take--we, we sat down at the, at, at Orquidea [New York, New York], the, the bar right on the corner from the theater, at that time on 9th [Street] 9th and 2nd Avenue. When we found that we were, we were invited to make a proposal, a full-scale proposal, we sat down, and on a napkin (laughter), I mean on a, on a theater cloth, the white cloth in, over the, over the table, sat down and, and, and almost quickly outlined the ingredients for the NEC, the training program, the professional company, the, you know, the theater, the ambition for the productions, and as I said, the training program, which, which was, was thorough, or, and, and, and, and, and, and my insistence that all of this had to be free. See, all of, all of the NEC, all of the training that the NEC did was tuition-free. Nobody paid us a dime for, for, for the--it was a full-scale training because, hey, we, you know. I, I, just to show the training program, Paul Mann was, was, was--I brought Paul Mann in to train the theater company for, for a compressed intensive period of time before they, before they did the first production at a three-month paid, just like actors being paid, paid on a regular basis. Once I selected the company, they started a training program, and they were being paid full-scale salaries, you know, to come in every day. Paul trained them.