Photo by Ruth Morgan
Founder, Harlem Theatre Company (1987-2004)
“Our goal was to produce actors who were intelligent, well-trained and professional.”
James Pringle wasn’t exactly born to the theater. “Actually, I got into theater chasing after a fellow student while in college. Once when we were hanging out, she had to leave me to go to rehearsals. I decided to tag along. The male student who was the male lead didn’t show up so they asked me to read his part. I got hooked. Within two months I was on my way to Los Angeles to study acting.”
From that inauspicious beginning James eventually ended up launching the Harlem Theatre Company (HTC) in 1987. “I had noticed,” he says, “that too many young, aspiring black actors too often lacked proper training so the Harlem Theatre Company was created to provide a space in which actors could both learn and perform. Our goals were to produce actors who were both intelligent and professional and to give Harlem an affordable, intensive, professional actor’s training program that not only teaches the craft of acting, but uses performing arts training to instill HTC’s students with the self-esteem and sense of community necessary for success in any field. Our course outline included: body dynamics, pantomine, voice and speech, scene study, character analysis and construction, stage make-up and singing.”
With minimal funding support and a large personal commitment and determination, James’ young company presented a number of plays, including Inacent Black and the Five Brothers, Dishin’ with Tish, Steal Away, The Colored Museum and Love Child. “The latter,” says James, “deals with the sensitive subject of teenagers having babies and talking to their children with loud, demeaning profanity. The confrontation scene between the daughter and mother is so powerful and moving that when I first read it I cried; when I saw it in rehearsals I cried and every time I saw it performed I cried.”
Worn out by the never ending, often frustrating struggle for funds, James reluctantly closed down the Harlem Theatre Company in 2004. “I was just plain tired and returned home to Chicago to recuperate.”
Odds are that the same allure of black theater that captivated James as a college student will lure him back into the fold.