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.

 

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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.

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

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

“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

Act One Young Professionals Present…Drama-try[tree]: A Night of Dramatic Poetry at The Ensemble Theatre

ensemble flyer-2013The Ensemble Theatre’s Act One Young Professionals celebrate National Poetry Month with their 2nd Annual poetry event entitled: Drama-try[Tree]: A Dramatic Night of Poetry, Saturday, April 27, 2013, 7:00 p.m. in the theatre’s Performance Centre space.

Mayor Annise Parker’s recent city initiative to find Houston’s first Poet Laureate is creating buzz on all poetry platforms. Performance poetry sets can be found drawing audiences all over the city including, clubs, coffee houses, arts venues, and university campuses. The range of experience spans from novice to seasoned poets. Some of them even working as educators with literacy and writing programs or using their talents to support other community causes.

The showcase at The Ensemble Theatre features both experienced and rising artists on the Houston Area poetry scene. Their individual styles of performance poetry will allow audiences to experience the dramatics of spoken word art.

“Houston continues to attract a growing population of chic and savvy young professionals who are very astute when it comes to the arts and community involvement,” says Pam Ulmer, Act One Chair. “We hope to create a synergy between artists, young professionals, and The Ensemble Theatre, especially since Midtown is now a state designated Cultural Arts and Entertainment District.”

Drama-try: A Dramatic Night of Poetry
The Ensemble Theatre – Performance Centre
3535 Main St. (Fannin and Berry St. Entrance)
Saturday, April 27, 2013, 7:00PM
Tickets Available Online: http://EnsembleHouston.com/ActOne/index.html
713-520-0055

Joe P

Joe P

Drama-try Host for the evening is Joseph “Joe P” Palmore, Clark Atlanta University alumni and local poet and actor gaining recognition for his talent, creativity, and community involvement. He is a five-year veteran actor with The Ensemble Theatre where he recently held one of the lead roles as Malcolm King in Broke-ology. He can also be found hosting poetry nights at Bambou with Se7en the Poet in Rice Village.

DJ Cruize Control

DJ Cruize Control

DJ Cruize Control (Chris Williams) is a graduate of Prairie View A&M University and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He is one of Houston’s notable deejays. Cruize Control has been spinning for over 10 years all over the country mixing for celebrities, national events, private parties and Time 2 Play USA™. “Cruize”, as he is nicknamed, has rocked parties for Red Bull, Addidas, Ricky Smiley, Jermaine Dupree, the Dallas Cowboys, Brian McKnight and Brian Michael-Cox just to name a few. He has performed during the 2010 NBA All-Star festivities in Dallas, TX with upcoming performances at Super Bowl XLV.

Featured poets for the evening:

BlackBluez

BlackBluez

BlackBluez (Vincent Johnson) is a rising poet, writer, director and actor who was a member of the Houston poetry slam teams from 2007-2012. He worked as assistant director for the stage play Karma by JalaWorld Productions in 2010, and continues to pursue other opportunities in theatre.

Jem the Poet

Jem the Poet

Jem the Poet (Jamie Harrison Marshall) is an award winning poet who has been performing since the age of three and was inspired by Langston Hughes. She attended the University of Houston where she was also involved in drama, and later appearing in plays such as For Colored Girls Who Have Consider Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Women of the Bible – Choices: Which Road Will You Choose. She has performed at the Essence Festival, Cancer and Aids benefits, and won the award for “Last Poet Standing” in 2009.

Outspoken Bean

Outspoken Bean

Outspoken Bean (Emmanuel Bean) is a Prairie View A&M alumni who helped found an coach the university’s first poetry slam team that ultimately ranked 8th in the country. He is an educator and a Texas Poet Laureate nominee. Currently he serves as program director and lead coach for Meta-Four Houston, a non-profit organization that uses reading, creative writing, poetry and performance techniques to promote literacy and critical thinking skills among youth.

Kayenne Nebula

Kayenne Nebula

Kayenne Nebula (Mia Kayenne DeSilva) a New Orleans native has been writing poetry and music for over 17 years. She is founder of the Spice Project, an underground artist resource and community involvement organization that was recognized by the U.S. Congress in 2012. She has opened for artists Lorenz Tate, Black Ice, and Sunni Patterson. She also spends time working with the Arts Advocate and donating her time and art to non- profits like Toiletries For Families, The AIDS Foundation and Poetry with a Purpose.

Drama-try host committee members: Donna Anderson; Tim Armstrong; Samson Babalola; GoGo Business Communication; Cathy Coleman; Andrea Browne; Terrence Blackshire; Tracy Guillory; Veronica Lewis; Wendy Lewis-Armstrong; Michelle Levi; Crystal Washington; Carl McGowan; Mark Martin; Henry Mosley; Kevin Plowden; Angela Randolph; Robert Ross; Mignon Smith; Renata and Tracy Taylor; and Pamela Ulmer.

Act One was created to unite The Ensemble Theatre’s growing community of young artists and professionals with an increasing interest in how they can contribute to sustaining the institution. Act One members are recognized as the next generation of leaders who will support the theatre’s annual membership campaign and ultimately develop into volunteers and fundraising supporters.

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. Thirty-six 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. Board President Emeritus 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 a myriad of audiences.

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