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!

Detroit 67   3.18.2016-50


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?


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.

Young Performers are Rising Stars

Young Performers2The Ensemble Theatre is preparing for its summer Young Performers Program, a summer training program for youth ages 6-17. Two, four week sessions are held where the youth learn acting skills, music, dance, technical aspect of theatre production, and more. This self-esteem building program culminates in the youth presenting a professional production of their own in front of their family and other patrons. Sessions will be held June 2-28, 2014 and June 30 – July 26, 2014. For More Info Contact Teresa White, twhite@ensemblehouston.comYoung Performers
Many alumni from the program have gone on to have success in college and in their professional careers extending beyond the arts. Most recently, Joshua Levi, a former program participant was seen as a finalist on the television show X Factor. Other Ensemble Theatre young performers Raiya Goodman, John Hall, Tyne Dickson and Tah’ Janae Merchant were recently accepted into the (HSPVA) High School for Performing and Visual Arts.

Each year The Ensemble Theatre recognizes one of its former Young Performers Program participants as its Rising Star award recipient along with celebrities, corporations, and local community members for their contributions to the arts and support of The Ensemble Theatre in becoming one of Houston’s premiere historical cultural institutions. This year’s gala will be held Saturday, August 16, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Downtown – Houston.

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

“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” Inspired by Houston Born Actress

The Ensemble Theatre celebrates women’s history month with By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and directed by Eileen J. Morris: March 15-April 13, 2014.

Actress Michelle Elaine as Vera Stark. Photos courtesy of Humble Kingz Productions.

Actress Michelle Elaine as Vera Stark. Photos courtesy of Humble Kingz Productions.

The play pays homage to Houston born actress Theresa Harris. She was an unforgettable face beside many budding actresses during Hollywood’s Golden era. Harris stood out as she was seen holding her own with Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, and Jean Harlow; and she received equal film time alongside Barbara Stanwyck in the film “Baby Face.” She was a 1930’s singer, dancer, and actress whose roles in some cases and in the case of many African American actors during that time were un-credited.

African American theatres across the U.S. continue to produce new and classic works that tell the rich stories of the African American experience; provide a place for African American artists to work together collectively in perfecting their craft; and ensure recognition of their many artistic, corporate, and community contributors.

The Ensemble Theatre will host its annual black-tie gala and fundraiser Saturday, August 16, 2014 to recognize and celebrate artists, companies, and individuals whose unparalleled contributions and support enables The Ensemble Theatre to be one of Houston’s most coveted cultural institutional treasures.

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

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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