Photo by Ruth Morgan
GARLAND LEE THOMPSON, SR.
Co-Founder/Executive Director, Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop (1973- )
"…theater people in Harlem have to collaborate more with each other and gain control of the venues in which we present our works.”
It is a long and bumpy journey from Muskogee, Oklahoma to acting in films such as South Pacific and the original Star Trek movie; to working with noted artists such as Glenn Turman, Paul Winfield, Beah Richards, Vinette Carroll, Hal DeWindt, Ray Bradbury and William Shatner; to joining with Morgan Freeman, Billie Allen and Clayton Riley in founding one of Harlem’s major black theater institutions.
Garland Lee Thompson, Sr. has made that journey. In 1973, he and his colleagues launched the Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop (named after the highly acclaimed actor/director) with the mission of “providing a place where writers of color and women were allowed to develop their work through full readings and critiquing from their peers.”
Since then several hundred playwrights, new and established, have had their plays read by professional actors in several venues, including their current site at 301 West 125th Street.
The impressive list of playwrights includes Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Fuller and Charles Gordone and Audelco Award nominees and winners Richard Wesley, Aishah Rahman, Ntozake Shange, Ed Bullins and Samm-Art Williams.
Garland, who besides acting, has also written, stage managed and directed plays, was a natural choice to oversee play readings for Larry Leon Hamlin’s National Black Theatre Festival held every other year in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I developed a program called Theatre Conversations at Midnight so we wouldn’t conflict with other productions going on at the festival. It was such an immediate hit that we had to add on Theatre Conversations at High Noon. We now read 35 new plays in five days.”
“The work that Frank Silvera and other Harlem Theater companies do is very important,” insists Garland, “and if we are to continue to exist, two things are necessary. One, that theater people in Harlem have to collaborate more with each other and gain control of the venues in which we present our works. Two, that we and others in this community must insist that businesses that make money in Harlem contribute to its cultural institutions.”