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National Black Theatre in Harlem is breaking ground on a new building and continuing the legacy of founder Dr. Barbara Ann Teer

The National Black Theatre in Harlem was founded in 1968 and is breaking ground on a new building
The National Black Theatre in Harlem was founded in 1968 and is breaking ground on a new building

These are exciting times for the National Black Theatre in Harlem.

NBT was founded in 1968 by the late Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, a fiercely committed dancer, actor, writer and artist activist. Dr. Ann Teer advocated for Black Theatres to be set up in Black communities and demanded that Black people support them. She wanted spaces where Black creatives, whether a playwright, poet, actor, or director could find a supportive environment in which to develop stories about who Black people really were and are, not the one dimensional characters created by White writers.

After Dr. Teer's passing in July of 2008, her daughter Sade Lythcott, took over NBT with the idea of preserving her mother’s legacy. She has been masterful in her approach, even as the organization prepares to break ground on a new building on the corner of 125th Street and 5th Avenue, and is in an itinerant period - NBT under the guidance of Sade and Artistic Director Jonathan McCrory continues to bring great theater to New York stages in partnerships with organizations like The Public with whom they are currently co-producing FAT HAM the James Ijames Pulitzer Prize-winning play and with the New York Theater Workshop on DREAMING ZENZILE, the musical based on the life of Miriam Makeba and written by singer Somi Kakoma.

Sade Lythcott and Jonathan McCrory joined WBGO Journal host and News Director Doug Doyle to talk about the bright future ahead for NBT.

NBT's CEO Sad Lythcott (bottom center) and Artistic Director Jonathan McCrory (top left) join WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle
Doug Doyle/Zoom
NBT's CEO Sade Lythcott (bottom center) and Artistic Director Jonathan McCrory (top left) join WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle

Lythcott says she knows Dr. Teer is proud of how the arts organization is growing.

"I can feel her all the way through and in some ways she and her vision and blueprint is our North Star. This feels like the completion of what her vision is but it also feels like this epic project that is the completion of many of our ancestors in their imagining of what this radically free, loving, liberated, Afro-future could be for Harlem and artists and so we're honoring seven generations back with this construction. I think we're also serving seven generations forward with they way we're thinking about built space in service of Black liberation."

McCrory is celebrating his tenth anniversary with NBT. What would he want to say the founder Dr. Teer if she suddenly appeared to him.

"I feel like the way in which I wake up and actually address the call of National Black Theatre is always telling her that I love her. I think my commitment and ability to stretch into the space of becoming the best human I possibly can is a way of saying I love her and the way I love National Black Theatre. I hope that I have done works and actions and my own personal development that would seemingly if she was able to witness it from a physical space on this planet would make her proud, but from a spiritual space I hope she's elated. I feel that the affirmation of that is that we keep on shining even through everything we've gone through."

In remembrance of Juneteenth, another important project partnership with ALL ARTS, the New York Emmy-winning arts and culture hub created by The WNET Group, the community-supported home of New York’s PBS stations, aired The Roll Call: The Roots to Strange Fruit. This was an encore presentation on ALL ARTS TV as part of a Juneteenth marathon. The film was conceived and directed by Jonathan McCrory as part of the All Arts Residential program, and it is a sonic opera that draws on historical documents from 1619 through to abolition, to explore the Black experience of slavery. “The Roll Call: The Roots to Strange Fruit” is streaming nationwide at AllArts.org/ArtistInResidence and on the free ALL ARTS app.

You can SEE the entire interview with Sade Lythcott and Jonathan McCrory here.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 250 awards from organizations like PRNDI (now PMJA), AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.