“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.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 750 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Could you Imagine Celebrating Without Music?

Stepp Stewart's A Soulful Christmas at The Ensemble Theatre Nov. 8 - Dec. 21, 2014.
Stepp Stewart’s A Soulful Christmas at The Ensemble Theatre Nov. 8 – Dec. 21, 2014.

Could you imagine the holidays or any festive celebration without music? No matter your cultural influences or preferred genre, music plays an integral part in our lives in some way. Music helps us tell stories, share experiences, and mark significant occasions. Years later, a faint melodic tune can bring back vivid memories of emotions,  places or times, and people we’ve shared moments with.

In The Ensemble Theatre’s upcoming production of Stepp Stewart’s A Soulful Christmas, two children are taken on a musical journey to discover the rich history within the music, dance, and culture of their family’s holiday celebrations. Audiences are in for a musical treat as the cast performs familiar songs by Michael Jackson, Donny Hathaway, The Temptations, and more!
November 8 – December 21, 2014
Tickets are on sale now: http://www.ensemblehouston.com/season/seasonlineup.html

More Than Meets the Eye in “Women in the Pit”

Wayn DeHart, Byron Jacquet, Jason Carmichael, James West

by Robert Ross

The Ensemble Theatre 2014-2015 season opener, Women in the Pit, has been met with the assumption that “Pit” is referring to Women in the Pulpit. Playwright Joyce Sylvester made it clear this show offers more than what appears obvious.

“Pit” references to the divide women face in the workforce, in their families, andLisa Thomas-Morrison and Rachel Hemphill Dicksoninternally as they strive to find balance in situations less than ideal for anyone to find equal footing. While Women in the Pit neither takes a stance for nor against female leadership in the church, it uses church politics as a platform to pose the question for the audience to decide. Audiences will see there is more than a divide in the church; there’s a divide between a woman and her faith, a divide between a woman and her family, a divide between a woman and her past, and a divide over how to conquer the divide.

James West, Jo Anne Davis-Jones, Jason CarmichaelInspiration in this play ultimately comes in the form of truths being revealed and courageously faced with conviction.

 

For Tickets and Information: www.EnsembleHouston.com

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Modern Day Ministers Tackle an Age-Old Question

By Cierra Duncan

 

Women in the PitThere is perhaps no issue more hotly debated in the history of the church than that of women serving as leaders and pastors.
The Ensemble Theatre tackles the debate in its 2014-2015 season opener, Women in the Pit,  by Joyce Sylvester and Directed by Eileen J. Morris. At Mount Zion Baptist Church two deacons and two elders are told to find a new pastor and quickly become at odds with one another when it’s clear the most qualified candidate is a woman.

Many opponents of female clergy and as church leaders cite I Timothy 2:12 as their biblical reference. The scripture says “and I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (NKJV)”
Ministers have long taught that scriptures should be studied in context with the time period they were written. Societal norms at the time, such as women not receiving the same education as men, being silent in church and covering their heads, should be taken into consideration.
“I think all of those things have merit and that all things in the scripture are for our benefit,” said Rev. Jan Courtney Stephens, associate pastor of Christian Education at New Faith Church.
“However, I think we need to understand that some things should be assessed in context and ask ‘what was God saying at that time.”

the New York Cast (L-R): Kim Sullivan, Tim Simonson, Jerome Preston Bates, Wendi Joy Franklin, and Donnie Hinosn. Photo by Phillip Howell
the New York Cast (L-R): Kim Sullivan, Tim Simonson, Jerome Preston Bates, Wendi Joy Franklin, and Donnie Hinosn. Photo by Phillip Howell

Stephens theorizes that when the Apostle Paul wrote I Timothy, a letter to the pastor at the church in Ephesus, he may have noticed the Greek women were being loud, interruptive and even ostentatious while in worship services.
“I think much of that is just being taken literally opposed to in the context of what was happening in the culture,” she said. “Women really could be stoned for not obeying their husbands.”
“A person’s cultural experience informs them tremendously,” said Rev. Lekesha Barnett, minister of young adults and singles at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. “My interpretation, based on what I believe to be true to the context and the cultural experience, is that women did not have the same benefit of education as men so they were less equipped to be teachers. You would not want someone who is not informed to teach.”
Barnett also noted I Corinthians where the Apostle Paul writes “let your women keep silent” but in the same letter he also writes “if she prophecies let her prophecy with her head covered.”
“When we get through all the layers of how one can understand those texts it’s still going to come down to the fact that there are still people who are going to believe what they are going to believe and stand where they stand because of their own biases, faith perspectives, traditions and comfort,” she continued.
Church leadership titles are not gender specific, according to Barnett and Stephens. Therefore, they cannot be solely designated to men.
“The word ‘pastor’ means to shepherd, to guide, to nurture,” Barnett said. “To pastor means you’re feeding, teaching, leading and guiding people. All of those things are something a woman can do.”

“Bishop means to oversee, as one who takes charge,” Stephens said. “If I am able to take that just by itself and go back to the way God used Deborah (a prophetess and judge) and Huldah (a temple prophet), I say it can be very possible.”
When reading the Bible in totality, it is evident that God has used some out of the ordinary people and those deemed of lesser significance to accomplish His will. And although there are those who do not agree with women in church leadership, it should be evident to every Bible believer that women have played an active role in doing God’s work.
“When you bring all scripture together it is clear that God will use whom he chooses and there is evidence of that in the Old Testament and the New Testament,” Stephens said. “It is evident that God has used women, not only to teach women but to judge and administrate even in the affairs of men.”
Barnett echoed Stephen’s sentiments.
“Where God calls and equips, He will sustain and provide the space and the opportunity for that which He has placed in a person to do and to benefit the Body of Christ,” she said.

The Ensemble Theatre Joins National Theatre Movement

The Ensemble Theatre Joins Project1Voice in the National Stage Reading of "For Colored Girls" by Ntozake Shange
The Ensemble Theatre Joins Project1Voice in the National Stage Reading of “For Colored Girls” by Ntozake Shange

The Ensemble Theatre joins Project1Voice and a nation-wide collaborative in the stage reading of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange, Monday, June 16, 2014, 6:00PM, 3535 Main Street, Houston, TX 77002.

Directed by Wayne DeHart, and featuring actresses:  Cynthia Brown, Rachel Dickson, Kimberly Hicks, Rita Hughes, Miss Pinky, Constance Washington, Samantha West

Over 30 African American theatre companies and diverse institutions will take part in this international experience featuring prominent and local actors. This year, marks the 40th anniversary of the stage debut of For Colored Girls…This seminal work of American literature uniquely combines poetry, dance and music—placing the African American female’s experience in America unapologetically center stage.

This year’s reading of For Colored Girls… is being used by several participating theatres as a platform to promote wellness for women and girls in the African American community and to expand the conversation about the well-being of women and girls by promoting literacy; providing access to health information and services; raising political awareness; and engaging in the arts. They are showing that theatre is more than entertainment; it can be a useful tool in educating, raising awareness, and bringing about a call to action.

The Ensemble Theatre has partnered with local organizations and professionals to provide testing and informational resources:
AIDS Foundation Houston will provide testing before and after the reading.
Houston Area Urban League will distribute information about affordable care enrollment.
Dr. Marketa Wills and Psychotherapist Josephine Tervalon will provide information on mental health and emotional trauma.

Heart of The Ensemble Theatre Beating Strong

Heart of the Theatre Corporate Luncheon: Ensemble Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris, Board Member Muriel Funches, and Executive Director Janette Cosley
Heart of the Theatre Corporate Luncheon: Ensemble Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris, Board Member Muriel Funches, and Executive Director Janette Cosley
The Ensemble Theatre celebrated its 2013-2014 Annual Heart of the Theatre appreciation event, Monday, March 3, 2014. The day kicked off with a corporate luncheon were Ensemble Board President Micheal Helm gave a report on the impact corporate and individual donor support has had in the growth of the theatre as a stable business and major influence in the Midtown community. Interim Executive Director Jill Jewitt of MATCH (Midtown Arts & Theatre Center Houston), spoke about the forthcoming arts space soon to break ground near the theatre. Janette Cosley, Ensemble Executive Director serves on the executive director selection committee for MATCH; and Eileen J. Morris, Ensemble Artistic Director serves as chair of the Midtown Management District’s Cultural Arts Committee.

The day culminated in a performance by Kim Coles, The Ensemble Theatre’s 2013 Actress of the Year honoree, returning to Houston with her one-woman show entitled: Oh But Wait…There’s More! Over 300 subscribers and donors were in attendance for this special event hosted by The Ensemble’s board, staff, and artists as an extension of gratitude for their support of the theatre’s programs year round.

Heart of the Theatre Performance by Actress Kim Coles in her one-woman show "Oh but Wait...There's More!"
Heart of the Theatre Performance by Actress Kim Coles in her one-woman show “Oh but Wait…There’s More!”

The Ensemble Theatre is preparing for its August 16, 2014 Annual Black Tie Gala and Fundraiser where celebrities, corporations, and local community members will be recognized for their contributions to the arts and support of The Ensemble Theatre in becoming one of Houston’s premiere historical cultural institutions.

The Ensemble Theatre's August 16, 2014 Annual Black Tie Gala. Honorary Chair: The Honorable Sylvester Turner; and Co-Chairs: Laurie Vignaud and Devra Daughtry
The Ensemble Theatre’s August 16, 2014 Annual Black Tie Gala. Honorary Chair: The Honorable Sylvester Turner; and Co-Chairs: Laurie Vignaud and Devra Daughtry

Shell Black Networking Group Invites Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker to The Ensemble Theatre

Mayor Cory Booker (center) with (L-R)Ensemble Board President Jackie Phillips, Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris, Executive Director Janette Cosley, and Board Member Vernon Landers
Mayor Cory Booker (center) with (L-R)Ensemble Board President Jackie Phillips, Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris, Executive Director Janette Cosley, and Board Member Vernon Landers

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Corey Booker visited The Ensemble Theatre, Saturday, February 23, 2013. He was invited by Ensemble Theatre Board Member and Shell Employee Simone Haygood and the Shell Black Networking Group (SBNG), one of Shell Oil’s several affinity groups designed to support diversity within the company. Members of the SBNG attended The Ensemble Theatre’s Black History Month drama, Knock Me A Kiss by Charles Smith. Following the play, Mayor Booker gave a presentation on leadership. He shared funny, endearing, and insightful stories about his family and other early experiences that helped shape his leadership style.  He elaborated on vision, attention to detail, and collaboration, a few components of his style.  Mayor Booker graciously mingled with guests including Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Shell Employees, and Ensemble Theatre Board Members and staff.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker (Center) with Ensemble Theatre Executive Director Janette Cosley and Board President Jackie Phillips
Houston Mayor Annise Parker (Center) with Ensemble Theatre Executive Director Janette Cosley and Board President Jackie Phillips

Just to Say Thank You – The Ensemble Theatre’s 2012-2013 Heart of the Theatre Subscriber Appreciation Event

hott2013smThe Ensemble Theatre Board of Directors, Staff, and Artists hosted their annual appreciation event for their corporate sponsor and subscribers, Monday, March 4, 2013. The celebration began with a corporate luncheon where representatives from several of the theatre’s corporate sponsors were greeted by Ensemble Executive and Artistic Directors Janette Cosley and Eileen J. Morris. Board President Jackie Phillips gave a presentation on the state of the theatre with updates highlighting several of the theatre’s milestone achievements over the past several years including its over 30% increased attendance to performances, a 300% increased subscribers, facility upgrades, and most recently exceeding its goal of raising $250K during the theatre’s Founder’s Circle fundraising campaign which also resulted in a $75K matching gift to enhance the theatre’s endowment fund. Performances were given by veteran Ensemble Theatre performer Werner Richmond and Young Performer’s Program student Taylor Nelson. The luncheon was followed by tours of the building to show attendees the theatre’s facility improvements.HOTT - corplunch

That evening a Jazz and Poetry event was well attended by the theatre’s subscribers, and corporate sponsors. Guests were treated to light hor d’oeuvres prepared by Chef Tarsha while listening to musical performances by Werner Richmond and the Richmond Covington Band, also featuring songs performed by actress/ vocalist Teacake. A scene for the theatre’s upcoming production of Broke-ology was performed by actor Broderick “Brod J” Jones and actress Autumn Knight. Actor/ Poet Joe P entertained the audience with the artistry spoken word. The celebration concluded with the Richmond Covington Band and Teacake getting attendees out on the dance floor for one last round of excitement and fun. Ensemble Executive and Artistic Directors Janette Cosley and Eileen J. Morris thanked subscribers for continuing their support.
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Mirron Willis: Con-tExt-ual Acting

On February 20, 2013, Mirron Willis conducted an acting workshop with an added text twist.  Instead of running through monotonous scene set or otherwise relatively unknown pieces of masterpiece theatre script, Mirron decided to incorporate the current box office sell out – Knock Me A Kiss; by having his class orate piece’s of poetry from an actual original 1925 copy of Color, written by the Harlem Renaissance poet himself, Countee Cullen.

Mirron Willis
Mirron began his workshop with what some might call ‘unconventional’ warm-up exercises.   After gathering everyone in a circle, Mirron demonstrates sounds, waist bends, and upper-body shakes that might normally be misunderstood for someone having a fit, or in viewing multiple people doing the exercises at the same time – some kind of cult activity; which is quite bizarre looking to an outsider who does not know what’s going on.  But Mirron’s intent is to open the actor up; or for all intents and purposes, ‘wake up the drama bone’.  Mirron explains that looseness is an absolute must, but at no point is one to overexert themselves.

Approximately 25 minutes into the workshop, the class headed to the stage with their poetry in hand to sit around Mirron Willis as he began to talk about Countee Cullen, who he was as a person and a poet.  He allowed the class to pass around – with emphasis on ‘carefully’ – an original 1925 copy of Color, a collection of poems put together after Countee Cullens’ controversial divorce from W.E.B. Dubois’ daughter Yolande Debois.  Mirron decided to change it up a bit and have the class dramatically orate selections from the book.  He was very in tune and had a profound method of helping the actor tap into the mind of the author as he/she read aloud the poetry selections.

At first read, the poems were cryptic and hard to understand, but after following Mirron’s instructions in using context clues and deconstructing the symbolism, the actors were able to orate each poem with clarity and conviction.

Mirron Willis proved himself the professional that he is in having worked in the industry for over 25 years.  He’s acted with some of the most known names in Hollywood – Forest Whitaker, Will Smith,  and Queen Latifa – just to name a few. Mirron came to Houston by way of a tornado.  Mr. Willis says, “My family has a farm in Crockett Texas.  It was a tornado that hit my family’s farm and in coming back here I figured it was a good time to settle here in Texas to be with my family for a while.”  In conducting this workshop, beyond the contract obligations to The Ensemble Theatre, Mirron Willis wanted to make his mark.  He stated, “I wanted to do a workshop on text as opposed to just acting.  I thought it was important for us to deconstruct the poetry.  I wanted to focus on text and the voice so that my participants can walk away with their own tools to use at home.”

The Ensemble Theatre applauds Mirron Willis for his contribution to the theatre and to the community.

-RTW