Black theatre celebrates 40 yrs

Melvin Van Peebles will be honored by the Black Spectrum Theatre during their 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration with the 40th Anniversary Actor’s Award on Dec. 11.

Black Spectrum Theatre is celebrating 40 glorious years of creating, presenting and preserving the African American Legacy in theater and film.

The Dec. 11 event will be held at the Black Spectrum Theatre in Roy Wilkins Park, Baisley Blvd. & 177th St., St. Albans starting at 7:00 p.m. Among those who will be honored is the godfather of independent film and modern Black cinema, Melvin Van Peebles, who will receive the Black Spectrum’s 40th Anniversary Actor’s Award.

Jazz musician Onaje Allan Gumbs, a St. Albans native, and actor Anthony Chisholm, from the cast of the popular TV dramas, “The Wire” and “OZ,” and winner of the Drama Desk and Obie Awards for his performance in August Wilson’s “Jitney,” are among the celebrities who will be in the house to commemorate the mile-stone with founder and executive director Carl Clay.

The evening will reach a climax with the bestowing of awards to the heroes of the organization: Dr. Gerald Dees, Mary Jackson, Harlem Week; Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Harlem Chamber of Commerce; Poor Freddy Jr., and Chris Roberts from The Door Restaurant.

Black Spectrum Theatre has an illustrious history of having launched many show business careers. Grammy award-winning songstress Alicia Keys, who graced the Queens stage before anyone knew her name, has made a generous donation to the event.

Black Spectrum has produced over 30 musical concerts and special appearances featuring such artists as Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Roberta Flack, rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J., Freddy Hubbard, Noel Pointer, Angela Bofill, and blues legend Bobby Blue Bland.

This year, comic Paul Mooney, musician Roy Ayers, social satirist Dick Gregory and the one and only Melba Moore have performed as part of the year-long 40th anniversary celebration. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis have been supporters of the theater since it’s inception in 1970.

Black Spectrum Theatre Company was founded in the basement of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Southeast Queens and is the oldest and only professional African-American Theatre in Queens.

Not many non-profits, let alone community theaters, are able to survive for 40 years, and Black Spectrum has presented more than 250 productions with more than 3,000 performances, and enjoys 20,000 visitors every year. They have trained more than 2,000 actors and 3,000 theater students in their training programs.

They have won over 10 AUDELCO AWARDS since 1979 for excellence in African American Theatre, and produced more than 20 films dealing with issues affecting urban youth, including the landmark films “Babies Making Babies,” “Justice is Done” (about handgun violence), and “The Follower and Urban Encounter.” Their 1991 feature film “Let’s Get Bizzie” launched the career of Lisa-Nicole Carson.

In 1988, the theater produced one of the first AIDS Awareness Theatre programs in the country with support from the NYC Health Department. They started the city’s first Summer Theatre Camp in 1994, which serves 100 children and teens each summer for six weeks. They also operate the only outdoor mobile theatre stage in New York. And for the past eight years they have brought an immensely popular, star-studded St. Alban’s Jazz Festival to the community, an incomparable annual event showcasing the biggest names in jazz.

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