Photo by Ruth Morgan
WOODIE KING, JR.
Founder/Producing Director, New Federal Theatre (1970- )
Founder/Producing Director, National Black Touring Circuit (1976- )
“If corporations are going to make money in Harlem, they must provide funding to support the local arts organizations.”
Any serious black theater devotee in the country at large and New York City in particular, has probably heard of Woodie King, Jr. who for the past 35 years has been one of the most prolific theater producers in the nation. Undoubtedly, he has produced more black plays than anyone else in history.
From his base at the New Federal Theatre in lower Manhattan, Woodie has produced plays by some of the most talented and prominent black playwrights in the country, including Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, Ron Milner, Ntozake Shange and Laurence Holder.
The plays, many of them award-winners, include What the Wine Sellers Buy, The Taking of Miss Janie, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, When the Chickens Come Home to Roost (with Denzel Washington as Malcolm X), and all of Baraka’s plays.
Woodie has been just as productive in Harlem, having produced several historical plays on Harlem legends at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. These legends include Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Malcolm X, Zora Neale Hurston, Billie Holiday and blues singer Robert Johnson.
Plans are already in motion to produce a Summer Black Theater Festival in Harlem that will present black theater classics such as James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner.
Back in April 1967, Woodie wrote an article, Black Theatre: A Weapon for Change. He wrote, “There must be a change in the identity of those who bring art into the black community if blacks are to have quality education and participation in various art forms, including theater.”
Woodie, as much, if not more than anyone, has used that weapon. Like the rest of his theater colleagues in Harlem, Woodie firmly insists that the corporations now setting up business in the uptown community must contribute to cultural institutions in that community. “If these corporations are going to make money in Harlem, they must provide funding to support the local arts organizations.”