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National Black Theatre celebrates 50 years of arts

Actress Liza Jessie Peterson in “The Peculiar Patriot.”
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It’s a milestone year.

The National Black Theatre is going to continue celebrating its 50th anniversary from now until mid-fall. The premier Harlem-based arts organization was founded half a century ago by artist and writer Dr. Barbara Ann Teer on Oct. 24, 1968 — creating a space of originality for black artists and creatives. Now 50 years into its existence, the company hopes to maintain its role in being a go-to place for black art, and its team takes pride in reaching its turning point, said its artistic director.

“This is huge to reach our half century mark, because when we look at the kind of institutes that survive over the years and the legacy they’ve built and manifested — it’s pretty exciting to see the foundation and legacy that we’ve started,” said Jonathan McCrory.

He said the theatre standing tall through the years, and being there to highlight the many cultural shifts happening overtime, was a display of how vital the theatre was for the city and its community, and why it remained a force.

“To still be trailblazing today in a way that allows for a new foundation to be forged and built — it’s a moment,” he said. “Because we’re not only remembering our impact in real time but how we’re reimagining, reinventing, and anchoring the fundamental principle of the National Black Theatre.”

For seven years now McCrory has operated as the director of arts at the theatre. He joined in 2012, spearheading and incorporating several new changes into the organization. One of those changes he is proud of, is helping to create an environment of self-awareness.

“I’ve been able to bring a different perspective around the artistic oversight and rigor of National Black Theatre, allowing us to center a lot of beautiful questions we have,” said McCrory.

Throughout the duration of his leadership, McCrory said actualizing one of the theatre’s beloved slogans: “Welcome to a home away from home,” creates opportunity for other decision-makers at the organization to further conceptualize their role, and give artists the chance to be as candid with their work in every way.

“For seven years I’ve been able to navigate through an enlightening approach by promoting our slogan, and seeing what it looks like,” he said.

Coming up as an artist, McCrory often found himself in a constant search for creative spaces where he felt represented by his peers, and places that made room for error. He said what the theater works to bolster is creating room for learning.

“As a young black artist I was looking for a home that was crafted for me and where people looked like me,” he said. “As an artist you need the resources to dream, the resources to fail, and then from failure — being able to learn from a space of growth, opportunity, and to dream unabashedly.”

For years, National Black Theatre worked to ensure that black artists had a designated institute with their best interest, and McCrory said he continuously kept it alive through planning and satisfactory relationships with all types of creatives.

“I have really brought to the table enlightening that slogan and creating a laboratory of programs and residency programs, to create a framework that speaks to our legacy,” he said. “Every playwright, director, actor, and designer trusts their vision with us, and it has taken a community to make this moment happen.”

To honor those many years of celebration, the group will be organizing educational events and establishing themselves. Several of those programs include partnering with the Schomburg Center to revive their archives, a Harlem tour to look at how the Underground Railroad could operate today, a series of exhibits, and more, according to McCrory.

McCrory added that Dr. Teer would be pleased with the direction of the theatre, and how despite external and internal changes — they focus on maintaining her mission.

“I think that she would so proud that we as an organization have returned back to its initial premise,” he said. “We’ve taken the lessons on what she was able to do and we are bringing that back into the vibration of organization to evolve. We are cementing the legacy she has forged, and she would be prideful, and show excitement and gratitude to the way we’ve invested.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Posted 12:00 am, February 20, 2019
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