Photo by Ruth Morgan
Founding Member/ Executive Producer, New Heritage Theatre Group (1964- )
Executive Artistic Director
“New Heritage is continuing Roger Furman’s mission of presenting quality productions for the community at affordable prices.”
When Voza Rivers enrolled in a public speaking class at the Harlem YWCA on 125th Street in 1964, he knew absolutely nothing about theater. By the time the first class ended, he was aware of Roger Furman, the guest speaker for the evening. Roger was also one of the most brilliant, knowledgeable, visionary, talented, exciting and committed theater people in Harlem.
Roger’s subject for that class was non-verbal communications. After he finished speaking, Roger announced that he was going to start a theater company and was looking for people interested in being a part of it. Voza remembers: “being basically shy, I didn’t respond but Roger convinced me to at least give it a try. It didn’t take me long to realize that I did not want to be an actor. I wanted to leave the theater. Roger convinced me to stay and introduced me to other aspects of theater.”
Roger told Voza: “I produce, direct, design and paint sets, focus lights, clean bathrooms, take tickets and usher people to their seats. If you stay with me, I will teach you how to run a theater.”
Voza accepted the challenge and became an integral member of New Heritage Theatre Group, a Harlem theater company that during the past 40 years (it’s the oldest black theater in New York City) has presented plays that theater-goers never stop talking about.
These classics include Madam Odum, Fat Tuesday (featuring Lou Myers), Four O’Clock on a Rainy Afternoon, Midnight, Friday the 13th (featuring Mario Van Peebles), On Strivers Row, The Long Black Block and many more.
After Roger’s death in 1983, New Heritage, under Voza’s leadership, with the assistance of Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Andre Robinson and Duma Ndlovu, developed a close, ongoing relationship with South African playwright/director/actor Mbongeni Ngema, which led to producing in Harlem, exciting and important plays and musicals such as Woza Albert!, Asinamali and Sarafina!.
“Before his death,” notes Voza, “Roger was moving towards presenting local and international work. By continuing to present these and other plays we are continuing his mission of presenting quality productions with professional actors at affordable prices that can compete with anything being done anywhere in New York City and throughout the country.”
In 1997 New Heritage, under the artistic direction of Jamal Joseph, established IMPACT Repertory Theatre to train young students, ages 12-19, in all aspects of theater arts.