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

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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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Detroit ’67 and “Revolutionary” Youth

To Get Down on a Righteous Pair of Tickets Click Here!
Dominique Morisseau’s play Detroit ’67 takes place during an intense time in our national and even world history. There was the Vietnam War, nuclear threats, the assassination of President Kennedy, the fight for the Voting Rights Act, and the onward push of the civil rights movement with young leaders at the helm.

Juxtaposed to these signs of the times were the chart-topping Motown hits; songs that fell upon the ears and hearts of youth and gave voice to their dreams and passions. What was it like to be young in the 60’s?

“Empowered, Emboldened, and Revolutionary” are words one Ensemble Theatre patron uses to describe his experience as a youth in Detroit during the riots.

Detroit 67   3.18.2016-17While the play takes place specifically during the Detroit 1967 riots, it focuses on Lank and Michelle “Chelle,” a brother and sister trying to run a business together amidst the heated eruption of violence in their city; young entrepreneurs running an after-hours club in the basement of their deceased parent’s home. Fears for their future are being spurred by all the turmoil, and intersecting with their desire to be young and carefree.

Parallels between the 1960s and present time can be seen with the mounting tension and frustration between civilians and authority figures; and youth led activism such as the Black Lives Matter movement.  A new generation emerges and asserts themselves against inequalities and begins their endeavors to affect change.

Today’s technology allows youth to mobilize quickly with the use of social media. They can develop and run a campaign or movement from computers and mobile devices as seen in recent political and fundraising campaigns, and movements for social change on a global scale.

“Most of the movements of our day were led by youth,” says the Detroit native. “In many instances the parents were supporting them because in their day they knew they likely wouldn’t have had the numbers to make the impact we were making.”Detroit 67   3.18.2016-33

The lives of youth in any generation appear to be ever layered with the complexity of seeking justice and social changes towards issues of the day, with the simplicities  of good music, romance, and deciding what dreams to follow first.

We’re about to dim the lights and get ready for this psychedelic basement party in Detroit ’67To Get Down on a Righteous Pair of Tickets Click Here!

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Fences: A Protection or A Divide

The Ensemble Theatre is preparing to kick off 2016 with August Wilson’s Fences, and we wanted to pause to think about metaphorical fences in our lives. In the play, the main character Troy is building a fence. It appears the fence is taking a long time to complete and the condition of the fence is somehow tied to the changing circumstances in his life.

Think of the intent in each of the following phrases:

Jesus be a fence (protection)
Wrong side of the fence (separation)
Straddle the fence (indecision or dilemma)
Falling off the fence (failure)
Don’t fence me in (barrier or boarder)

The fences in our lives are always there, and the purpose for them changes with the conditions that affect our perception:

That emotional fence you put up as a stronghold of protection against perceived harm or threat; the territorial ego hoarding a space or task from others; the separation and longing for someone or something you miss; that barrier or hurdle limiting your ability to advance; the idea that something you want or feel you deserve is off limits or inappropriate; or the feeling of constraint by boarders, boundaries, or rules.

Whether your fence is to hold something in or to block something out, it’s there. How did it get there? When did you begin working on your fence? Is it warm and inviting like a picket fence or cold as a chain link?
www.EnsembleHouston.com

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THE ENSEMBLE THEATRE IS THANKFUL FOR YOU

e-logoWhat do we mean when we say thank you for your support?

You are at the top of our thoughts as we take a pause to draw near to our families and share in this celebratory time of year. You are an extended family to The Ensemble Theatre as an institution collectively supported by the community, and to each of our board, staff, artists and volunteers whom you encounter.

We are diligent in our efforts to express our gratitude for your sponsorships, donations, subscriptions, and other support you provide to the theatre. However, what we are really thanking you for is the relationship we have with you. Our encounters are much deeper than a transaction.

Over time we’ve shared in our excitement for the theatre’s performances and special events; we’ve shared in our feedback where we believe there is room for growth; and we may even share a moment where we’ve experienced illness or loss, an anniversary, or an introduction to a relative visiting from out of town.

It’s the human connection that endears us closer through the shared experience of fulfilling The Ensemble Theatre mission to preserve African American artistic expression, and to enlighten, entertain, and enrich a diverse community. It’s knowing that your support helps provide employment for the artists and staff; it’s the joy you feel when you hear how your support has helped provide opportunities for youth to explore and experience the arts; it’s the feeling of achievement when you see the physical results of your support through a successfully run production or a facility improvement finally completed; and it’s the confidence in knowing the leadership and staff entrusted with the daily operations of one of your favorite institutions are doing their part in managing the community’s investment.

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“Two Old Black Guys Just Sitting Around Talking” Brings Two Houston Veteran Actors Together

Two Old Black Guys Just Sitting Around Talking
“Two Old Black Guys Just Sitting Around Talking” makes its regional premiere at The Ensemble Theatre.

Two Old BlackGuys Just Sitting Around Talking brings together two of Houston’s veteran actors, Wayne DeHart and Alex Morris, who take us into a sometimes raw, sometimes gritty, yet always funny conversation between two aging friends; their brotherly relationship complicated by their age-old rivalry for the love of the same woman.

If you’ve ever eavesdropped on your elders’ conversations you know some of them can be pretty candid and laced with a few embellishments, yet chalked full of wisdom.

Both Wayne DeHart and Alex Morris, a former Alley Theatre company member, have a career spanning more than 30 years in stage, television, and film. Both men also began performing during the early years of The Ensemble Theatre and during the life of its late founder George W. Hawkins.

Wayne DeHart
Actor Wayne DeHart

The career paths of Morris and DeHart have many similarities and even intersect at several points, leaving one to conclude that each will bring a great deal of authenticity to the characters they play.

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Actor Alex Morris

“What I Learned in Paris” Brings A Lesson in Love, Life, and Liberation!

What I Learned in Paris
A Houston powerhouse of talent brings Pearl Cleage’s “What I Learned In Paris” to life at The Ensemble Theatre.

Have you ever been to Paris? Can you tell us what epiphanic lessons you learned there?

What I Learned In Paris finds a group of adults enthralled in what some would consider quite inappropriate and trivial behavior since their on the ebb of one of the major historically significant political achievements of the 1970’s. C’est la vie mon chéri. No matter what gravely important changes or monumental successes hang in our backdrop, it doesn’t stop life’s little nuances from occurring. “The heart wants what the heart wants.”What I Learned in Paris

The story takes some far out psychedelic twists when a divorcee, back in the ATL fresh from her trip to Paris and full of new age wisdom, has a few liberating lessons for the love torn bunch. Director Eileen J. Morris has put together a powerhouse of talent to bring every dimension of Pearl Cleage’s romantic comedy to life.

Featured cast members include: Yunina Barbour-Payne, making her debut on The Ensemble Theatre stage; Kendrick “KayB” Bown, just seen in Fly; Cynthia Brown Garcia, who was in The Ensemble’s premiere of the Thomas Meloncon play Christmas with Great Aunt; Detria Ward, who won the 2013 Houston Press Best Actress for her performance in The Ensemble’s production of Pearl Cleage’s The Nacirema Society; and Mirron Willis, who most recently performed as Malcolm X in The Meeting.