ABOVE: Morocco Omari, Amanda Holmes, Eileen J. Morris, Janette Cosley, Dr. Teddy McDavid, Dr. John Clemmons and Richard Lawson
One of the Nation’s Largest African American Theatres Celebrates Honorees at 2019 Gala
The Ensemble Theatre celebrated its Rhythm of the Night 2019 Gala this past Saturday, August 17th at the Hilton Americas-Houston. The gala serves as the theatre’s major fundraising endeavor in support of its annual $2 million operating budget that includes six mainstage season productions, and its educational initiatives directed toward youth.
This year’s gala chairs, Winell Herron, Honorary Chair; and Co-Chairs Gaynell Drexler and Heidi Smith, along with The Ensemble Theatre board of directors and staff, welcomed more than 450 esteemed donors and supporters.
The Rhythm of the Night festivities began with a Mayor’s reception including a raffle and silent auction of travel packages, culinary and entertainment experiences, fine jewelry and a wheelbarrow stocked with a variety of premium spirits.
Eyes were immediately drawn to the center stage as the ballroom doors opened. The center screen projected a night sky with flowing clouds gently pulling guests towards their seats as the theatre’s signature “E” hung as a luminescent moon. A vibrations teal green with dustings of silver and subtle hints of gold were the essence of the evening decor. Lush floral arrangements of purple and green hydrangeas, with magenta roses accented the tables in alternating towers of billowing blooms. Guests enjoyed a three-course meal prepared by executive chef Ruffy Sulaiman starting with a Texas field greens and English cucumber salad with roasted tomatoes, candied walnuts and white balsamic vinaigrette; course two was a duo of braised short rib in a black truffle cabernet sauce and bronzed salmon with peppadew silk garnish atop roasted garlic risotto with steamed asparagus and roasted Brussel sprouts; and a swapper’s desert of Grand Marnier crème Brule with raspberry and blackberry garnish and blackberry cube, or chocolate caramel trifle layer of chocolate cake, and caramel chocolate mousse topped with toffee crunch.
Mayor Sylvester Turner shared remarks about his support for the arts and The Ensemble Theatre as one of the beacons of artistic excellence Houston has to offer.
“The Ensemble Theatre has worked hard to become one of the top performing theatres in the nation dedicated to the African American experience,” said Mayor Turner. “We are proud to have them among our many thriving arts institutions in this city.”
Ensemble Theatre Board President Jesse Tyson expressed gratitude on behalf of the theatre to the gala chairs and sponsors for their leadership and support.
Emcees Melanie Lawson (ABC13) and Khambrel Marshall (KPRC-TV 2) enjoyed playful banter keeping attendees engaged in laughter throughout the evening and helped introduce this year’s honorees.
This year’s honorees included: Richard Lawson, who received the Legacy Award; Morocco Omari, Actor of the Year; Amanda Holmes, Rising Star Award; Lora Clemmons, President’s Award (Posthumously); and Dr. Teddy McDavid, Community Volunteer of the Year.
Richard Lawson, who was the Legacy Award recipient, recognized Ensemble Theatre Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris for her work and thanked his wife Tina Knowles Lawson for her passionate support of the arts.
“It is our charge to take up the mantel of creating theatre for our young people and for our community…to deliver literature that challenges, inspires, and upholds out society,” said Lawson. “Theatre is the backbone of what educates us as a people and moves the culture forward.”
Actor of the Year, Morocco Omari, shared the story of his transition from service in Marine Corps where he had been deployed several places including the Middle East, to the performing arts. He spoke about using his Marine Corps discipline and applying it to his acting trade.
“When I started doing TV and film and used all that craft of learning characters, breaking down scripts, absorbing words, and learning these beats and pauses, aware you’ve done all this homework that prepared you to be on screen” said Omari. “You sit across from a Terence Howard, a Taraji P. Henson, Patrick Swayze, or Richard Lawson, and you say…I’m ready.”
Rising Star Award recipient Amanda Holmes shared her warmth and appreciation towards the theatre for her growth as a youth through the Young Performers Program.
“I am so thankful to The Ensemble Theatre for pouring into me for so many years,” said Holmes.
Dr. John Clemmons, Jr. accepted the President’s Award presented posthumously to his wife Lora Clemmons. He moved the audience to share in a laugh following his endearing tribute to her.
“Lora was funny, she was beautiful, she was sophisticated, she was darn near perfect; and those were her own words,” said Dr. Clemmons as guests appreciated his affectionate humor.
Dr. Teddy McDavid, Community Volunteer of the Year, spoke about her values that have kept her so committed to The Ensemble Theatre and her vision for its future.
“I firmly believe in surrounding myself with extraordinary people, and The Ensemble Theatre is that” said McDavid. “Everyone involved including the artists, staff, and volunteers are always striving to sustain and produce works for the benefit of all.”
The emcees helped conclude the night by thanking everyone for coming and inviting them to continue the celebration. The Collector’s Item Band helped conclude the program playing a selection of their own rhythms of the night creating a packed dance floor. Guests stayed and continued the celebration well into the evening.
H-E-B was this year’s lead sponsor, joined by Shell, Gaynell Drexler, ECC Graphic Design, Friends of Lora Clemmons, Liberty Bank, Heidi Smith, Tony & Donna Vallone, Reginald Van Lee, and a host of other corporate and individual donors dedicated to investing in the arts and the continued growth of The Ensemble Theatre.
Other guests in attendance included: Council Member Dwight Boykins and Genora Boykins; Council Member Amanda Edwards; Council Member David Robinson; Council Member Jack Christie; Judge John Peavy and Diane Peavy; Wash Allen; Wendy Lewis Armstrong; Anita Bates; Denise Bates; Alaina Benford; Chris Bell; Mildred and Willie Bright; Dr. Lakshmi Seshadri and James Campbell; Brenda Peters Chase; Yvonne and Rufus Cormier; Cheryl and Percy Cruezot; Diana Fallis; Deidra and Terence Fontaine; Taylor Fistt; Gloria Gaston; Augusta Green; Janice and Jonathan Hall; Douglas Herron; Angela and James Holland; Amanda and Jennifer Holmes; Eileen and Kase Lawal; Dr. Rhea Lawson; Tina Knowles-Lawson; Sherry Levy; Linda and Lou Lorelle; Shauntell McWilliams; DeQuina Moore; Rosalind Moore; Shelby Hodge and Shafik Rifaat; Pastor Juanita Rasmus; Sean Roberts; Dr. Carolyn Evans Shabazz; Heidi and Marcus Smith; Judy Foston Stanford and John Stanford, Jr; Dr. Antonio Tillis; Jesse Tyson; Marcellus Upshaw; Tonya and Charles Valentine; Laurie Vignaud; Dr. Victor Leo Walker, II; Gerald Womack; Merele Yarborough; and many more.
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. In addition to being hailed as 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; and the Young Performers Program offers intensive summer training for children ages 6 to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts.