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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

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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

1$2

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.