The Ensemble Theatre Cancels Remainder of 2019-2020 Season

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Dear Ensemble Theatre Family,

We hope that you are safe and in good health amidst these uncertain times. As a result of the seemingly daily changes and advice from authorities and for the health and well-being of staff, artists and patrons, the management of The Ensemble Theatre has decided to cancel the remainder of our 2019-2020 season and annual fundraising gala.

We will stay in contact with you to keep you abreast of our plans beyond this season and fully expect to reopen this fall with the The Ensemble Theatre’s content rich programming you have grown accustomed to. The decision to cancel this season comes at some expense to the theatre but the safety of all is our number one priority.

For information about ticket options, email us at: boxoffice@ensemblehouston.com and we will personally contact you. Please no phone calls until April 6, 2020: 713-520-0055.

However, we hope you consider donating the value of your remaining tickets back to the Theatre to assist us in preparing for next season at a time when we have no revenue stream. This will also ensure that The Ensemble Theatre is around for generations to come.

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Over the past 43 years, The Ensemble Theatre has grown from a tiny store front theatre to the premier African American performing arts institution in the Southwestern region of the U.S. with national recognition. We need the arts now more than ever to spread joy, explore the human condition and offer a bit of reprieve to our current anxieties.

Our stories will go on! The Ensemble Theatre is still committed to our mission “to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain and enrich a diverse community.” We are exploring new ways to continue our sense of community and provide you quality artistic engagement. As we move forward, you will see updates via our website, email, and social media platforms.

Creativity lives in the essence of the spirit that binds us and sets the stage as we all play our part in this epic story of life.

On behalf of the artists, staff and board of The Ensemble Theatre, we thank you for your past support and look forward to seeing you at the theatre.

In Arts Way,

Eileen J. Morris, Artistic Director                                    Janette L. Cosley, Executive Director

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The Ensemble Theatre COVID-19 Response

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Dear Ensemble Theatre Family,

Your health and wellness, and that of our artists, volunteers, and staff are of utmost importance. We are following the recommendations of Governor Abbott, Mayor Turner, and health officials to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and will postpone all our activities through March 31, 2020.

As we continue to monitor the status of COVID-19 and its potential impact on Houston and beyond, The Ensemble Theatre is at a critical moment in our history. For 43 years, we have brought high quality African American artistic experience to our audiences during a variety of circumstances.

With growing anxiety and our desire to continue to provide heartfelt theatre experiences, we have a difficult decision to make around remaining open for our audience or temporarily suspending programming until there is more certainty around when it is safe to return to normal operation.

To this end, we have prioritized the health and safety of all those we touch as our highest priority and will thus suspend all including the following activities Now until March 31:

  • Performances of Autumn
  • Young Performers Program Classes
  • Tour Education Performances
  • Meetings and public events

Ticket Donations:
The Ensemble Theatre relies on your generous support to continue the fulfillment of our mission. We invite you to donate your ticket as a charitable contribution. To donate your tickets you may contact us at 713-520-0055 or boxoffice@ensemblehouston.com

Ticket Exchanges:
Please contact our box office to exchange tickets to a later performance: 713-520-0055 or boxoffice@ensemblehouston.com.

Sincerely,

Jesse Tyson, Board President

Janette L. Cosley, Executive Director                       Eileen J. Morris, Artistic Director

 

For information on COVID-19 please visit:

Center for Disease Control (CDC):
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
Texas Department State of Health (DSHS): https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/coronavirus/
Houston Health Department Emergency Response Center:
https://houstonemergency.org/covid19/

“Autumn” Highlights Politics, Power and Passing the Torch

Autumn

The Ensemble Theatre Presents Regional Premiere “Autumn”
A Political Drama by Preeminent Playwright, Screenwriter &
NYU Professor Richard Wesley

 HOUSTON (March 2, 2020) – The Ensemble Theatre presents the regional premiere of Autumn, a political drama by award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and NYU Professor Richard Wesley, and directed by Ensemble Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris; Opening Night and Media Reception, Thursday, March 19, 2020, 6:30 p.m. 3535 Main Street, Houston, TX 77002.

“Autumn explores the current political climate and the role of African American politicians in the wake of President Barak Obama as our first African American president,” says Wesley.

America’s political landscape is ever evolving with each generation. Young politicians prepare to take the stage, and in some cases following a legacy of family public service. In recent years the United States has seen its first African American president, an emergence of some of the youngest to win political office, and social justice movements indicating the desire for progressive change.

“This couldn’t be a more poignant story for our times,” says Morris. “Power, influence, legacy, and accountability resonate throughout the plot, and will hold with audiences long after the show.”

Autumn tells the story of Franklyn Longley, a veteran big city mayor who is line to become the first Black governor of his state. He suddenly finds his place in history threatened when his party decides to throw its nomination behind a dynamic young politician who is also Black and just so happens to be the Mayor’s protégé. This political drama explores the conflicts that arise when aspirations collide across a generational divide marked by sharply different political agendas.

Featured cast members include: Timothy Eric (FRANKLYN LONGLEY); Delali Potakey (MELISSA LONGLEY); Melissa J. Mayo (GOVERNOR); Jason E. Carmichael (ZACK DRAYTON); Derrick Brent II (RONALD DRAYTON); Trevor B. Cone (JEFFREY CALABRESE); and Lakeisha Randle (TRICIA JOHNSON).

 Previews: March 14, 15, and 18
Show Runs: March 19 – April 12, 2020

Performance Days and Times: Thursdays: 7:30 p.m; Fridays: 8:00 p.m;

Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m; and Sundays: 3:00 p.m.

Tickets Available Online: www.EnsembleHouston.com
For Information Call: 713-520-0055

 Ticket Prices: $26- $57
Special Pricing: Group Rates and Weekday Matinees for Schools Available

 Opening Night and Media Reception, Thursday, March 19, 2020, 6:30 p.m.

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT

Playwright and screenwriter Richard Wesley was born on July 11th in Newark, New Jersey. He graduated from East Side High School in 1963 and went on to attend Howard University. He earned his B.F.A. degree in playwriting, dramatic literature, and theatre arts in 1967.

After graduation, Wesley moved to New York City. His connection to actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, whom he had met at Howard University, led him to the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. In 1971, Wesley’s first play, The Black Terror, was presented at the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre. The Mighty Gents, another play by Wesley, premiered on Broadway in 1978. In the mid-1970s, he began writing screenplays. Many of Wesley’s screenplays enjoyed success at the box office. Wesley produced screenplays for Uptown Saturday Night in 1974, Let’s Do It Again in 1975, Fast Forward, and Native Son in 1986. He also wrote a screenplay for a children’s film that premiered on PBS, called The House of Dies Drear. Wesley also wrote teleplays, which include Murder Without Motive in 1991, Mandela and De Klerk in 1997, and Bojangles in 2000. Wesley was involved with the musical The Dream Team at the Goodspeed Opera House, and The Talented Tenth at the Manhattan Theatre Club. In 2013, Wesley was chosen by the Trilogy Opera Company to write the libretto for the opera, Papa Doc. Two years later, Autumn, which was written by Wesley, premiered at the Crossroads Theater Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 2016, the Trilogy Opera Company’s Five, which contained a libretto written by Wesley and was composed about the Central Park Five controversy, opened at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Wesley has served in teaching roles at multiple academic institutions. He has served as an adjunct professor at the Manhattanville College, Wesleyan University, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Rutgers University. Wesley has also been an associate professor in playwriting and screenwriting, as well as the chair of the Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing, at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

In addition to commercial success, Wesley’s works have received awards. The Black Terror, Wesley’s first play, won a Drama Desk Award. The Mighty Gents, which premiered in 1978, received an AUDELCO Award presented at the Apollo Theatre.

ABOUT THE ENSEMBLE THEATRE

The Ensemble Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season is sponsored in part by grants from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. United Airlines is the official airline sponsor for The Ensemble Theatre. Autumn is generously supported by The Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts.

The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain and enrich a diverse community. It is the oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, it also holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s largest African American theatres that owns and operates its facility with an in-house production team.

The Ensemble Theatre produces a main stage season of six contemporary and classic works devoted to the portrayal of the African American experience by local and national playwrights and artists. The theatre’s Performing Arts Education program provides educational workshops, Artist-in-Residence experiences and live performances for students both off-site and at the Theatre. The Young Performers Program offers intensive summer training for children ages 6 to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts.

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“The Green Book” Command Performance Closing

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The Ensemble Theatre’s Black History Month regional premiere of The Green Book, written by award-winning author Calvin Alexander Ramsey and directed by award-winning director Shirley Jo Finney comes to a close with its February 23rd, 7pm command performance.

“I think its important for this generation and future generations to know how people work together,” says Ramsey. “The Green Book would not have been successful if it weren’t for a lot of people working together for the common good.”

Ramsey, an award-winning children’s picture book author, photographer, and painter launched The Green Book as his first work as a playwright. His research on Victor Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book included personal narratives from elderly African Americans recalling their emotions and fear of peril while traveling during the Jim Crow era. They relied on The Green Book for survival in a time where making the wrong stop could be a matter of life or death.

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“I am excited to be part of the telling of this story about the legacy of our resilience as a people,” says Jo Finney. “We witness the joys and fears a family during this critical time in history when people opened their homes and places of business to strangers out of necessity and for survival.”

The story takes place during a weekend when the Davis’ are celebrating the arrival of Dr. W. E. B. DuBois for a lecture. The appearance of a white visitor, who turns out to be a Jewish Holocaust survivor, sets off a chain of events that shows that racism and anti-Semitism cannot be ignored. This play integrates historical context of The Negro Motorist Green Book as it investigates the impact of Civil Rights on contemporary American issues.

Featured cast members included: Timothy Eric (DAN DAVIS); Rachel Hemphill Dickson (BARBARA DAVIS); Christian Simon (NEENA MOLLY DAVIS); Kendrick ‘Kay B’ Brown        (CPT. GEORGE SMITH); Brianna Odo-Boms (JACQUELINE SMITH); Jarred Tettey (KEITH CHENAULT); and John Stevens (JACOB LEVINSKY)

Brief History of Negro Motorist Green Book

The Negro Motorist Green Book was developed by Victor and Alma Green and published 1936-1967. The Green book was a directory of services for African Americans traveling during the Jim Crow era that included lodging, restaurants, medical care, and gas stations. Travelers were able to use the guide to avoid the dangers of violence in the segregated South. The Green Book was distributed nationally and was supported by ExxonMobil predecessor Standard Oil through their chain of Esso retail stations which welcomed African American travelers.

The Ensemble Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season is sponsored in part by grants from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. United Airlines is the official airline sponsor for The Ensemble Theatre. The Green Book is generously supported in part by ExxonMobil and the Anti-Defamation League.

Meet the “More Than Christmas” Phenomenal All-Female Creative Leadership Team

The Ensemble Theatre kicked off the World Premiere of Holiday Musical More Than Christmas, November 14, 2019. The phenomenal female creative leadership team shares their thoughts for developing the show and their hopes for it in the future.

“Our journey developing this exciting world premiere has brought together not only a group of amazing women, but an incredible ensemble of artists, designers, and technicians who are all very proud to share this story with the world,” says Eileen J. Morris, The Ensemble Theatre Artistic Director. “We are humbled and thankful for the generous support of all our funders who helped make this work possible.”

More Than Christmas book and lyrics are by playwright Celeste Bedford Walker, music and lyrics by composer Stephanie Blue, directed by Eileen J. Morris, and stars Broadway Actress Vivian Reed most known for her career igniting performance in the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar.

The Ensemble Theatre was able to commission the development of More Than Christmas under the BOLD Theatre Women’s Leadership Circle Grant funded by the Pussycat Foundation. The Ensemble Theatre was one of five inaugural recipients of this funding initiative geared towards developing women’s leadership in the arts. In addition, the theatre received support from the Texas Commission on the Arts Cultural District Grant to assist in further development of the play.

“My goal in writing this story was to bring forth something relatable and timeless,” says Walker. “The holidays or any gathering with emphasis on family togetherness can heighten emotions, stretch our patience, and expose that which makes us vulnerable to those we rely on to stay grounded in this world.

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Bedford Walker (Playwright)

Celeste Bedford Walker’s award-winning canon includes over forty plays, videos, documentaries and films that have been performed and viewed in major venues across the country. She has received numerous commissions to write dramas, comedies, and musicals for theaters, schools, museums, and organizations. She is honored to be commissioned to write the musical More Than Christmas as part of the BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle grant, under leadership of The Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director, Eileen Morris.

Recognized by the U.S. Congress for her historical contribution as producer and author of works that bring to light lost stories of African American history, Walker has received several honors and awards in theatre which include The Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Image and Theatre Awards for Best Playwright/Best Play for positive portrayal of Blacks in the media; the National Black Theatre Festival’s August Wilson Playwriting Award for significant contributions to Black and American Theatre; Houston Ensemble Theatre’s Salute to Texas Playwrights, New York’s AUDELCO nominations and awards, Memphis Tennessee’s Gyneka Award, finalist in the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Outstanding Work by a Female Playwright; finalist in 38th Annual Samuel French OOB Short Play Festival, and others.

Walker’s work is also featured in the anthology Acting Up and Getting Down, published by the University of Texas Press. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and was inducted into membership of the Texas Institute of Letters, a distinguished honor society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and recognize distinctive literary achievement.

Walker’s eclectic plays are timeless and universal, embracing the sacred and the mundane, the serious and the comic, but what they all have in common is an awesome delight in the wisdom and the witlessness of the human condition.

Stephanie blueStephanie Blue (Composer & Lyricist)

A native Houstonian, Stephanie York Blue is a 1981 graduate of the High School for Performing and Visual Arts and has a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Texas Southern University. She has been teaching in Houston ISD for thirty-three years and is currently the piano instructor at Henry F. MacGregor Elementary School. Stephanie first served as pianist and organist at Bethel Baptist Church for twenty years and then at Windsor Village United Methodist Church for 10 years where she accompanied several choirs. She is currently on the music staff at Jones Memorial UMC and has served as Music Director for the show Motown And More for Bace Productions, and most recently, the Music Director for HSPVA’s Black History Production of Fela!

Stephanie has been involved in the musical theatre community through Theatre Under The Stars for fourteen years. She has toured Canada with blues singer Ruthie Foster and has worked with many gospel recording artists including Kathy Taylor, Lamar Campbell and DeWayne Woods.

She wrote and co-wrote several songs for Sunday, The Musical, which was later made into a BET premiere motion picture entitled Church. Stephanie enjoys sharing her musical talents and gifts with the Houston community, be it Sunday morning worship, or playing the piano with the Conrad Johnson Jazz Orchestra. She has been married to Lee Blue for twenty-six years.

eileen's new headshots- no. 2 (1) Eileen J. Morris (Director)

As Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre, Eileen has produced over 87 productions which include eight world premieres, over 64 regional premieres and directed over 80 productions throughout her career. She is part of the First Cohort of the BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle and was named the 2017 Houston Women Magazine 50 Most Influential Women, Broadway World Houston Awards Best Director for Sassy Mamas and received the 2016 Houston Press Theater Award for Best Director for August Wilson’s Fences. Her most recent Ensemble Theatre directing credits include School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play, Freeda Peoples, Too Heavy For Your Pocket, ‘da kink in my hair, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Eighth Day of the Week, Front Porch Society, Sassy Mamas, Plenty of Time, Detroit ’67, What I Learned in Paris, Women in the Pit, and By the Way Meet Vera Stark to name a few. Under her artistic leadership, The Ensemble Theatre received the 2013 Houston Press Best Season Theater Award and has performed at The Winston Salem- National Black Theatre Festival for the past ten years.

In Pittsburgh, she directs annually with the New Horizon Theater and has ties that include Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theatre, Kuntu Repertory Theatre, and City Theatre. In Houston, her directing credits include the 2016 Houston Grand Opera world premiere of What Wings They Were: The Story of Emeline and the 2010 Alley Theatre’s production of I, Barbara Jordan. In 2017 she received the Black Theatre Network’s Larry Leon Hamlin Award, the BCCM Kim Kupp Award, and was recognized as one of Houston’s Top 50 Black Professionals and Entrepreneurs by D-MARS.com. She is a 2016 recipient of the PACE Foundation Community Award and received the 2016 Houston Community College – Central Campus Unstoppable Leaders Award. Currently, she serves as secretary on the board of the Theatre Communications Group, board member, secretary and Cultural Arts Committee Chair of the Midtown Management District, a board member of the Black Theatre Network and a newly appointed board member of the Houston Cinema Arts Society.

A graduate of Northern Illinois University, Eileen holds the distinct privilege of being the ONLY woman in the country to direct eight plays of the August Wilson Ten Play Cycle.

vivian reed Vivian Reed (Lead Actress)

Vivian Reed is a multi-award-winning Broadway actress including two TONY Award Nominations, A Drama Desk, Mabel Mercer, NAACP, Dance Educators of America, Outer Critics Circle and more. Her tenacity and innovation propelled her into international success in the acclaimed musical Bubbling Brown Sugar, for which she created the role of “Young Irene.”

Her credits include: Tartuffe, Damn Yankees, Show Boat, Marie Christine, Sophisticated Ladies, Blues In The Night, Tintypes, Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd, Bubbling

Brown Sugar, High Rollers, Hallelujah Baby, More than a Song, One For My Baby, Countess of Storyville, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Cookin’ at the Cookery, The Second Tosca, Pork Pie and Invisible Life.

Vivian is also the creator four one-woman shows: An Evening with Vivian Reed, Standards and More, Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne and Little Bit of Soul, Little Bit of Pop. She has performed in major theaters and clubs around the world.  www.vivianreed.com

The Ensemble Theatre Actress Detria Marie Ward Takes Final Bow

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The Ensemble Theatre veteran award-winning actress Detria Marie Ward took her final bow Sunday, November 17, 2019 following her private battle with cancer.

“The Ensemble Theatre family will miss her tenacity, and absolute passion and love for theatre,” says Eileen J. Morris, Artistic Director for The Ensemble Theatre. “She was our jewel; a brilliant actress and teacher embraced by the entire community.”

She was an almuna of Texas Southern University where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree in theatre and went on to direct several plays in the theatre department. She was a proud member of St. Luke the Evangelist Episcopal Church and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. which she acknowledged with the sorority pinky hand gesture during the bow at the closing of every performance.

Detria’s sultry voice was known by many through her work as a former radio talent with KTSU 90.9 FM and announcer for the half-time performances at Texas Southern University football games. She later served as General Manager of Music World Entertainment Management (former home of Beyoncé), and was most currently the Theatre Arts Coordinator at Energized for ESTEM High School.

Her artistic voyage with The Ensemble Theatre began in the mid 1980’s with the play It’s Showdown Time directed by The Ensemble Founder George W. Hawkins, and continued up to her final performance in the theatre’s “The Rhythm of Life’s Journey” 2019-2020 season opener, School Girls: Or; The African Mean Girls Play. She was the recipient of the 2013 Best Actress Houston Press Theatre Awards and many Giorgee Awards, an honor affectionately named after the theatre’s late founder. Her top audience favorite performances on The Ensemble stage include: Sassy Mamas, Fences, What I Learned In Paris, The Old Settler, Knock Me A Kiss, The Nacirema Society, and many more.

“Detria Ward had a gift for telling stories through the eyes of her characters on stage,” says Morris. “She was a vibrant and gracious soul who believed in her colleagues bringing their best and was often seen mentoring or directing through a gentle nod.”

Detria’s other theatre credits include Shaking the Mess Out of Misery at Stages Repertory Theatre, and The Maceba Affairs touring production of the play The Girl Who Chose Abortion. She was represented by the Houston talent agency Pastorini-Bosby and will be seen in the upcoming film Lilian by Molly Vernon. She was a well-known host of Bace Productions’ annual Miller Outdoor Theatre Dancin’ in the Streets… Motown and More Revue for 22 years. She recently returned from The National Black Theatre Festival (2019) held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, performing in The Ensemble’s sold out production of Front Porch Society.

Her loving spirit and multi-talented ability to articulate stories through the various characters she played will be missed. She was humble and generously expressed her love for The Ensemble Theatre.

“I’m so blessed to be a performer!” ~ Detria Marie Ward

Photo Album Courtesy of The Ensemble Theatre: https://photos.app.goo.gl/432BoLb6edsBHDKAA

The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain and enrich a diverse community. It is the oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, it also holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s largest African American theatres that owns and operates its facility with an in-house production team.

The Ensemble Theatre produces a main stage season of six contemporary and classic works devoted to the portrayal of the African American experience by local and national playwrights and artists. The theatre’s Performing Arts Education program provides educational workshops, Artist-in-Residence experiences and live performances for students both off-site and at the Theatre. The Young Performers Program offers intensive summer training for children ages 6 to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts.

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Making of a Musical “More Than Christmas”

 

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The Ensemble Theatre prepares to kick off its world premiere musical More Than Christmas! A powerhouse of talent has come together to develop this new work including an all-female leadership team: Houston Playwright Celeste Bedford Walker, Composer and Lyricist Stephanie Blue, Director Eileen J. Morris, and Broadway Actress Vivian Reed who was invited to help develop the part of (GRANNY) the central character to the story. The cast includes a roster of amazingly talented actors, dancers, vocalists, and youth ready to bring this story to life!

Tickets and Information
Show Run:
November 14-December 29, 2019

Click to See More Photos

More Than Christmas was commissioned by The Ensemble Theatre through the BOLD Theatre Leadership Grant Funded by the Pussycat Foundation, an initiative dedicated towards developing female artistic leaders. The Ensemble was among the first five theatres selected nationwide as a BOLD grant recipient, and has since strengthened its pipeline of female developed new works, hired more female designers and technicians, and selected Rachel Dickson as the BOLD Artistic Associate responsible for managing several of the theatre’s ongoing programs.

In September 2019, additional funds were received that helped further the development of More Than Christmas. The Ensemble Theatre was one of 43 Texas Commission on the Arts Cultural District grant recipients, and award developed to support high-profile arts activities across the state.

The original working title of the play was Dew of Mercy, however following the October 2019 stage reading with feedback from audience members tweaks were made to the script and the title was chanted to More Than Christmas.

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Tribute to ntozake shange; remembering the woman, her works, and the movement

The Ensemble Theatre Tribute to ntozake shange was reverent, emotional, and magical! Awarding-winning playwright, and lecturer Ifa Bayeza, sister of ntozake shange, visited us to share in our tribute on shange’s birthday, a week away from the one-year anniversary of her transition. A community of artists, friends, and colleagues who either knew shange personally or had a personal connection or admiration for her works participated in an evening full of personal stories, vignettes, and indulgence in shange’s affinity for Pepsi and snickers bars.

Beauty’s Only Skin Deep in “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play”

The Ensemble Theatre Leaps into Life’s Rhythm with New Season Opener “School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play”

HOUSTON – The Ensemble Theatre celebrates the start of its 2019-2020 Rhythm of Life’s Journey Season with School Girls, or The African Mean Girls Play by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Eileen J. Morris, Thursday, September 19, 2019, 6:30 p.m. Opening Night & Media Reception, 3535 Main Street, Houston, TX 77002.

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“I love that this play is another universal storyline no matter the culture or geography,” says Morris. “As we socialize our children in this world, we are all too familiar with competitiveness in some circles and those youthful desires to be the queen bee, the alpha male, or leader of the pack.”

The hive is buzzing at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school as Paulina, the reigning queen bee has her sights set on the Miss Universe Pageant. Her glory is threatened when the arrival of Ericka, a new student with undeniable beauty and talent captures the attention of the pageant recruiter – and Paulina’s hive minded friends. This biting comedy explores the universal similarities of teenage girls across the globe who vie for a coveted social position among peers. How far would you go to be queen bee?

Previews:  September 14, 15, and 18
Show Runs: September 19 – October 13, 2019
Performance Days and Times: Thursdays: 7:30 p.m; Fridays: 8:00 p.m; Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m; and Sundays: 3:00 p.m.

Tickets Available Online: www.EnsembleHouston.com
For Information Call: 713-520-0055

Ticket Prices: $26- $57
Special Pricing: Group Rates and Weekday Matinees for Schools Available

Opening Night and Media Reception, Thursday, September 19, 2019, 6:30 p.m.

Featured Cast members include: Chiemeri Osemele (PAULINA SARPONG); Daria Savannah (ERICKA BOAFO); Judith Igwilo (AMA); Sierra Glover (NANA); Chiamaka Ikwuezunma (MERCY); Krystal Marie Uchem (GIFTY); Alice M. Gatling (HEADMISTRESS FRANCIS); Detria Ward (ELOISE AMPONSAH).

ABOUT JOCELYN BIOH

Jocelyn Bioh is a 1st generation Ghanaian-American writer/performer from New York City. She has her B.A. in English and Theatre from The Ohio State University and MFA in Theatre-Playwriting from Columbia University School of the Arts. Jocelyn is a commissioned playwright with Manhattan Theatre Club, Second Stage Theatre, Williamstown Theatre and the Atlantic Theater Company, was a former Resident Playwright at Lincoln Center and a Tow Playwriting Fellow in 2018/19. Her plays include: the multi-award-winning School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play which had two celebrated runs at MCC Theater in New York City and will be produced at 12 regional theatres all over the country in 2019 and 2020. Nollywood Dreams (PowerHouse 2016, Upcoming: MCC Theater 2020, Kilroy’s List 2015,) as well the new musical GODDESS of which she is the book writer. As a TV writer, Jocelyn has worked on Russian Doll (Netflix 2019) as well as being a staff writer on Season 2 of Spike Lee’s acclaimed series She’s Gotta Have It (May 2019.) As an actress, Jocelyn’s stage credits include: In The Blood (Drama Desk Nomination,) Everybody (Signature Theatre, Lucille Lortel nomination) Men on Boats (Playwrights Horizons,) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Broadway; Tony Award Winner for Best Play, 2015), An Octoroon (Soho Rep, Obie Award Winner for Best Play, 2014), Booty Candy (Wilma Theater), Seed (Classical Theater of Harlem, Audelco Award Nominee), and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet (City Theatre). She also originated the role of “Topsy” in the world premiere of Neighbors (The Public Theater, Audelco Award Nominee). TV: Former Cover Girl spokesmodel, “Russian Doll” (Netflix) “Crashing” (HBO), “Blue Bloods” (CBS), “The Detour” (TBS), “The Characters” (Netflix), “Louie” (FX), and “One Life to Live” (ABC). Film: “Ben Is Back.”

The Ensemble Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season is sponsored in part by grants from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. United Airlines is the official airline sponsor for The Ensemble Theatre.

The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain and enrich a diverse community. It is the oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, it also holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s largest African American theatres that owns and operates its facility with an in-house production team.

The Ensemble Theatre produces a main stage season of six contemporary and classic works devoted to the portrayal of the African American experience by local and national playwrights and artists. The theatre’s Performing Arts Education program provides educational workshops, Artist-in-Residence experiences and live performances for students both off-site and at the Theatre. The Young Performers Program offers intensive summer training for children ages 6 to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts.

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The Rhythm of Life’s Journey 2019-2020 Season

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The Ensemble Theatre Announces Its 2019-2020 Season

HOUSTON — The Ensemble Theatre Artistic Director, Eileen J. Morris, announces the theatre’s 2019-2020 season including a commissioned world premiere and five regional premieres packed with drama, comedy and musical performances; and a series of alternative programming, youth initiatives, and fundraising events.

“We are excited to bring forth another season of works that deepen our vibe with rhythm of the world by broadening our perspective of diverse human experiences,” says Morris. “This season explores survival, forgiveness, competitiveness, and the will to move forward when circumstance tells us otherwise.”

The season kicks off with the regional premiere School Girls: Or, the African Mean Girls Play by Jocelyn Bioh about a group of girls vying for social position at school, and the antics they ploy to become queen bee; next is the commissioned world premiere musical More Than Christmas by Celeste Bedford Walker that tells the inspirational story of a family where everyone is at their boiling point with one another when an unexpected crisis brings resolve and a spirit of mercy told through traditional Christmas carols and original music; the regional premiere of The Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey is a story that gives more context to Victor Hugo Green’s historical “The Negro Motorist Green Book” as a necessity for survival in the South rather than a leisure travel guide, as a Jewish Holocaust survivor meets a family ignited by the civil rights movement; next, is the regional premiere Autumn by Richard Wesley, a political drama that explores the conflicts that arise when aspirations collide across generational, racial, and gender divides; Beatbox: A Raparetta is a regional premiere by Dan Wolf and Tommy Shepherd that fuses rhythm, rhyme, and rap to deliver a dynamic tale of young hip hop performers who face poverty, jealousy, and loss in the pursuit of their dreams; and the season finale musical and regional premiere Respect: A Musical Journey of Women by Dr. Dorothy Marcic spotlights the anthem burned into the hearts of women by Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul by combining excerpts of 60 songs with women’s stories about finding dreams, lost love, relationship issues, entering the workforce, gaining independence, and more.

General Auditions for the 2019-2020 Season will be held June 23, 2019 at The Ensemble Theatre 3535 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77002. Additional information and to schedule an audition appointment contact Michelle Elaine Ogletree, Artistic Assistant: theensemblecasting@gmail.com.

FUNDRAISER EVENTS:

The Ensemble Theatre will honor celebrity guests, a rising star, and corporate and community supporters for their commitment to advancing the arts, during its Annual Black-Tie Gala, Saturday, August 17, 2019, at the Hilton Americas- Houston. The gala is the largest fundraising event dedicated to the annual support of the theatre. This year’s Honorary Chair is Winell Herron, H-E-B’s VP of public, diversity and environmental affairs, and dinner chairs Gaynell Drexler and Heidi Smith. Honorees include actors Richard Lawson, Morocco Omari, and more.

The theatre’s 17th Annual Golf Tournament is Monday, October 14, 2019 at the Northgate Country Club golf course. The tournament raises funds to support the Theatre’s youth and educational initiatives including its touring education/ children’s theatre, artist in residency, and young performers training program.

Founder’s Circle, the theatre’s distinguished leadership group of individual and corporate donors, will host a series of intimate receptions with the playwrights and directors, a Behind the Scenes tour, and an Artistic Director’s Dinner.  The Founder’s Circle raises money to support the Theatre’s exhibitions, youth programs and reserve fund to ensure The Ensemble’s future.

YOUTH INITIATIVES:

The Ensemble Theatre’s Touring Education program is a repertoire of educationally themed productions packaged into a mini season of children’s theatre with dates available to families, the general public, and private bookings available for schools, community groups, and other organizations.

The Young Performers Program (YPP) is a performing arts education series for youth age (6-17) that includes week-long sessions during spring and winter breaks, and two month-long sessions during the summer. The program offers an introductory overview of the arts through theatre, dance and music, motivating youth to use theatre as a means to explore and inspire.

YOUNG PROFESSIONALS:

Act One, the theatre’s community of young professionals, will host a series of mixers, social events, and collaborations with other Houston Area young professionals groups including two annual events: a February Black History Month Mixer, and an April, National Poetry Month showcase entitled:  Drama-try[tree]: A Night of Dramatic Poetry.

 SPECIAL PROJECTS:

Celebrating the Creative Journey is the theatre’s alternative program series of special projects and presentations planned outside its main stage season. The upcoming stage readings, film screenings, exploratory works, and collaborative ventures are designed to showcase developing productions, cultivate new artists, and expose audiences to the variety of artistic expression Houston has to offer.

  THE ENSEMBLE THEATRE’S 2019-2020 SEASON DETAILS:

School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play
PG Comedy/Regional Premiere
By Jocelyn Bioh
Directed by
Eileen J. Morris

Previews: September 14,15 & 18
OPENING NIGHT: September 19, 2019
Runs:  September 19- October 13, 2019

The hive is buzzing at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school as Paulina, the reigning Queen Bee has her sights set on the Miss Universe Pageant. Her glory is threatened when the arrival of Ericka, a new student with undeniable beauty and talent captures the attention of the pageant recruiter – and Paulina’s hive minded friends. This biting comedy explores the universal similarities of teenage girls across the globe who vie for a coveted social position among peers. How far would you go to be queen bee?

More Than Christmas
G – Holiday Musical/ World Premiere
By Celeste Bedford Walker,
Original Music by Stephanie Blue
Directed by Eileen J. Morris

Previews:
November 9, 10, 13
OPENING NIGHT: November 14, 2019
Runs: 
November 14 – December 29, 2019

The Ford and Brooks family members are celebrating Christmas at Granny Ursie’s house this year, which is old and in need of renovation. The undercurrent through all the holiday festivities is that the family is using this gathering to lovingly convince Granny to sell her home.  The Dew of Mercy is a light and warmhearted story about family, faith, and forgiveness.

The Green Book
PG- Drama/ Regional Premiere
By Calvin Alexander Ramsey
Directed By Shirley Jo Finney

Previews:  January 18, 19, 22
OPENING NIGHT: January 23, 2020
Runs:  January 18 – February 23, 2020

Inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s historical “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” the setting takes place during a weekend when the Davis’ are celebrating the arrival of Dr. W. E. B.  DuBois for a lecture.  The appearance of a white visitor, who turns out to be a Jewish Holocaust survivor, sets off a chain of events that shows that racism and anti-Semitism cannot be ignored.  This play is an investigation of the impact of Civil Rights on contemporary American issues.

Autumn
PG-13 Drama/ Regional Premiere
By Richard Wesley
Directed by Eileen J. Morris

Previews:  March 14,15,18
OPENING NIGHT: March 19, 2020
Runs:  March 19 – April 12, 2020

By preeminent playwright, screenwriter & NYU professor Richard Wesley, Autumn tells the story of Franklyn Longley, a veteran big city mayor who is line to become the first Black governor of his state. He suddenly finds his place in history threatened when his party decides to throw its nomination behind a dynamic young politician who is also Black and just so happens to be the Mayor’s protégé. This political drama explores the conflicts that arise when aspirations collide across a generational divide marked by sharply different political agendas.

Beatbox: a raparetta
PG-13 Drama-Regional Premiere
By Dan Wolf and Tommy Shepherd
Directed by Rachel Hemphill Dickson

Previews: May 9, 10, 13
OPENING NIGHT: May 9, 2020
Runs:  May 9 – June 7, 2020

BEATBOX: A Raparetta is a modern dramatic musical production written and performed in rhythm and rhyme with vocal drumbeats (beatboxing), hip hop dance and a live DJ! The play is soaked in the beat and the heat of hip-hop culture. It provokes a sense of desperation held at bay. The powerful rap rhymes built from equal parts of anger and hope; and the constant threat of violence. The focus is on the lives of two stepbrothers, and the circumstances that begin to pull them apart, as they navigate through loss, jealousy, poverty, and dreams.

Respect:  A Musical Journey of Women
PG – Musical/Regional Premiere
By Dr. Dorothy Marcic
Directed and Choreographed by Patdro Harris
Musical Direction by
Chika Kaba Ma’tunde

Previews: June 20, 21, 24
OPENING NIGHT: June 20, 2020
Runs:  June 25 – July 26, 2020

Respect, a resonating anthem of solidarity and empowerment in times of struggle and evolution was burned into the hearts of women by Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul. A story told through Top-40 music, Respect: A Musical Journey of Women combines excerpts of 60 songs with women’s own stories about finding dreams, lost love, relationship issues, entering the workforce, gaining independence, and more. Songs such as “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Will Survive,” “I Will Follow Him,” “These Boots are Made for Walking,” and “What’s Love Got to Do with it” gave insight to the thoughts, emotions, and actions of women around the world.

For information regarding subscriptions, tickets, group sales, and other theatre programming call The Ensemble Theatre Box Office:  713-520-0055 or visit www.EnsembleHouston.com.

The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and to enlighten, entertain, and enrich a diverse community. Forty years later, the theatre has evolved from a small touring company to one of Houston’s finest historical cultural institutions.

The Ensemble is one of a few professional theatres in the region dedicated to the production of works portraying the African American experience. The oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, it holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s largest African American theatres owning and operating its facility and producing in-house. The late Board President Emerita Audrey Lawson led the capital campaign for The Ensemble’s $4.5 million building renovations that concluded in 1997. The Ensemble Theatre has fulfilled and surpassed the vision of its founder and continues to expand and create innovative programs to bring African American theatre to myriad audiences.

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