“STAGED” bout pits Shakespeare vs. Black Classics

NEGRO ENSEMBLE COMPANY Actors Showcase Provides Actors Exhibition in Battle of Classics

NO JULY 3! next NEC Monthly Meet at Riverside Church Aug 7, Sept4

New York, NY . July 2, 2010 – What defines a classic? The Negro Ensemble Company’s showcase presentation “Black Classics vs. Shakespeare: Round 1” (July 9th at 8pm, Bruce Mitchell Theater, 520 8th Avenue, New York, NY) stages a mock prize fight between scenes from Shakespeare plays and scenes from classic African-American works, including gems from NEC’s archives and original works. “These fine young actors get a chance to explore their cultural connection not only to the African-American theater tradition but also to an unheralded legacy of achievement of African American actors doing Shakespeare,” says Marie McKinney, director of Black Classics vs. Shakespeare: Round 1.

According to McKinney, the purpose of the “bout” is not to pit one against the other but to show the connection that all classic material shares, and highlight the legacy of African-American actors doing Shakespeare, as well as, African-American classics. “Many people are not aware that cultural elements like the lyre and court jester used throughout European literature have West African roots… Black actor, Ira Aldridge, one of Europe’s most renowned and highest paid Shakespearean actors in the 19th century, was an African-American from New York, who literally fought to be on stage here,” says McKinney. “Now we are able to showcase young actors who are connecting to this legacy and showing their proficiency in a wide range of material.”

This showcase continues the forty-three year tradition of The Negro Ensemble Company Training Program.  NEC’s program combines solid groundwork in character technique, script analysis and voice production with ethnic culture.  “We use the time-honored work of masters such as Michael Chekhov, Stanislavsky, Cicely Berry and Stella Adler as a foundation and bring it into an African American cultural context,” says McKinney, who is also the instructor for the actors in this showcase.”  According to Charles Weldon, NEC’s Artistic Director, “We get calls all the times from actors who have graduated from big schools who are hungry for information about their own culture.”

Black Classics vs Shakespeare: Round 1″ boasts scenes from brilliant vintage plays by unknown playwrights, and famed writers like Alice Childress and Derek Walcott, representing a unique portfolio of African American life. The program features pieces from the NEC archives, and it showcases a brilliant group of new actors: Dae Ezinwo, Ashley Awusie, John Elmore, Kaskadé, Soyini Crenshaw, C. Truth, Jeniere Bailey, Malikia Causey, Lela Bryant, Gillian Brooke Todd, Nicholas Newton, Keith Walker, Tavarius Graves, David J. Cork.

About The Negro Ensemble Company: The mission of the Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (NEC) is to present live theatre performances by and about black people to a culturally diverse audience that is often underserved by the theatrical community. In 1967, Playwright Douglas Turner Ward, producer/actor Robert Hooks, and theater manager Gerald Krone came together to make these dreams a reality with the Negro Ensemble Company. Since its founding , the NEC has produced more than two hundred new plays, and has provided a theatrical home for more than four thousand cast and crew members. Among its ranks have been some of the best black actors in television and film, including Louis Gossett Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington and Phylicia Rashad. The NEC is respected worldwide for its commitment to excellence, and has won dozens of honors and awards, including, Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize and Drama Desk. While these accolades point to the larger success of the NEC, it has created something far greater. It has been a constant source and sustenance for black actors, directors, and writers as they have worked to break down walls of racial prejudice.