ABOVE: Sharon McCarter, Carol Dunne and Willie H. Coleman (Photo Credit: Robert Ross)
The Ensemble Theatre recently hosted its annual Heart of the Theatre Celebration and Appreciation Event, recognizing its growing community of supporters as the heart of its thriving programs on February 11. The Heart of the Theatre Celebration is The Ensemble Theatre’s celebration and expression of gratitude towards its community partners, collaborators, subscribers, patrons, volunteers and sponsors for their commitment to helping the theatre fulfill its mission to preserve African American artistic expression.
This two-part event included a Corporate Luncheon and a special evening performance. Room décor included table coverings rippled with shades of red and rustic orange paired with seasonal floral centerpieces and vibrant red chair covers. Soiree Catering provided stuffed Cajun chicken breasts with herb roasted potatoes and vegetable medley, a mixed field green salad with vinaigrette dressing, and crème brûlée bread pudding.
Ms. Janette L. Cosley, Ensemble Executive Director, kicked off the corporate luncheon program with a welcome to guests and introduction of Ensemble Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris. The two ladies invited special guest Carol Dunne, Northern Stage Producing Artistic Director and Leader for the BOLD Women’s Leadership Circle to the podium for the presentation of a Certificate of Appreciation from Texas State Senate by Betty McGinnis legislative representative for Senator Carol Alvarado. Dunne spoke about the endeavors of the BOLD Women’s Leadership Circle funded by the Pussycat Foundation to support and cultivate female leadership in the arts. In 2018, The Ensemble Theatre was awarded part of the $1.25 million inaugural BOLD Women’s Leadership Circle grant award to five theatres in the nation. Dunne shared her connection to Morris as a producing artistic director of a theatre similar in size in Vermont and some of their unique challenges as women in the male dominated arts industry. She went on to announce that The Ensemble Theatre has been chosen to receive additional grant funds over the next three years for the continuation of its current programming under the BOLD Women’s Leadership Circle. The announcement was met with cheering and a roaring applause.
Midtown Houston Board Chair Willie H. Coleman shared his personal history in the early years of the theatre before Midtown became the community’s official name and led a brief invocation before lunch was served. Ensemble Theatre actors Silvanus Latoison and Samantha West performed a song and dance to Sam Cook’s “Change is Gonna Come” and transitioned into a dramatic scene while guests enjoyed lunch.
Corporate Luncheon Guests included: Roxie and Peter Weston Cargill, Brenda Peters-Chase, Michael Clark, Willie H. Coleman, LaQuita Cyprian-Passmore, Carol Dunne, Reagan Flowers, Helen George, Johnathan Hall, Fatimar and Adrian Jones, Karen Labat, Vernon Landers, Renee Logans, Sharon McCarter, Betty McGinnis, Taylor Miller, Roslyn Moore, Christopher and Juanita Passmore, Kenneth Porter, Sharon M. Samuel, Shawn Simmons, Earnestyne Terry, Richard C. and Jean Thompson, Kethia and Jeffery Webber, Edwina Wilks and Erika D. Young.
The Heart of the Theatre Celebration concluded with guests being treated to an evening reception and performance by celebrity actor Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man show, Frederick Douglass Now. Smith’s performance took the audience on a journey through Frederick Douglass’ escape to freedom from slavery against a modern backdrop. His performance was received with a standing ovation after which he answered questions from the audience including a group of youth. He jokingly shared he’d answer all their extra credit questions for being out on a school night. Finally, Smith came from the stage to greet the audience and graciously spent time talking and taking photos as guests exited the theatre.
Smith is a writer, director, and actor who has appeared in stage, film, and television productions. He gained recognition for his roles in several Spike Lee films including: “School Daze” (1988), “Do The Right Thing” (1989), “Jungle Fever” (1991), “Malcolm X” (1992), Get On The Bus (1995), and more. In fact, the two are slated to collaborate on the film adaptation of Frederick Douglass Now. Frederick Douglass Now is a show Smith began developing while attending Occidental College in Los Angeles California where he majored in American Studies. It’s a monologue he has been performing and honing for more than 20 years. He brings into present context the writings of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), a former slave who escaped to freedom to become a renowned orator and author including narratives on gender and race equality. The jazz infused work includes elements of slam poetry and dramatic performance intertwined with original text.