Category Archives: Issue #6

Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note

The DTW Quarterly

Winter 2011

Issue # 6

WELCOME to our 6th edition of this quarterly. Our theme for this issue is “Playwrights and playwriting and the NEC”…Almost from the moment the NEC announced its existence it was inundated with plays from all over seeking exposure of some kind. Plays by African American playwrights addressing themes and stories from black life. There were so many stories to tell and in 1967 there were virtually no stages on which these stories could be enacted. The NEC changed all that.


In this issue we are featuring an interview with Charles Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “A Soldier’s Play”. To date the NEC has produced more of Fuller’s plays than any other author. Eight of his works, including the massive WE- 4 play series (Sally, Prince, Jonquil and Burner’s Frolic) were presented during Doug’s tenure as artistic director.


We have also included a series of comments by Doug on the NEC being a “Writer’s Theatre”…There is an article/interview on the NEC’s media efforts…A narrative on how the anthology “Classic Plays of the NEC” came about.


And finally there is an update on Doug in San Francisco last October and in New York two weeks ago.


So read and enjoy…And oh yes, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


The editors.

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Classic Plays of the NEC: The Anthology and how it came to be

Classic Plays from the NEC- The Anthology and how it came to be.

In 1995 The University of Pittsburg Press published a collection of plays produced by The Negro Ensemble Company edited by Paul Carter Harrison and I. For me it was the realization of a dream that I had harbored for quite some time.

Even before my own affiliation with the NEC began I always thought that there ought to be a collection of their works available in print for aspiring playwrights like myself to peruse and read. I even thought there ought to be more than one because there were so many plays I had seen there that I wanted to read and re-experience after I had seen them on stage. Over the years I had seen and bought many anthologies of plays done by other theatre companies so naturally I figured that The NEC with its high record of critically acclaimed works should be represented in this way as well. So the only thing I could figure is that it was an oversight on somebody’s part that needed to be corrected.

Now many of the company’s biggest hits like Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, The River Niger etc. had been published individually and could be found in the Drama section of larger bookstores. Some were available in the Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service acting editions. But a significant number of the ones I thought worthwhile weren’t available anywhere. Somehow, for whatever reason, they seemed to have fallen through the cracks. So around 1980, three years after I had been produced by the company I suggested it to Doug and he thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to move forward with it. And beyond that he made all the play scripts I requested available to me.

Now I had never edited an anthology before or ever thought I would ever be doing one so this was all a new and interesting challenge for me. So the first thing I did was look at other anthologies, analyzed how they were put together and used that as a guideline. After I was finished I set about finding a publisher and thought that it would be easy since, as I said before, an anthology like this was long overdue. But I was wrong. Every publisher I sent my proposal to sent back a nicely worded letter telling me what an excellent idea the anthology was but why it was not for them. The first were the publishers who had put out collections of plays done by other companies. After rejections from them I sent my proposal to any company who had published an anthology of plays of any kind. My proposal included a cover letter and a detailed listing of the plays I had in mind with a sampling of the critical acclaim each had attracted. Also I articulated why I thought such an anthology was necessary and who the potential audience for such a volume would be. Still it was no go. I think in a year and a half I wrote to over a hundred publishers and received a hundred or more rejections.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a stubborn person and have never been. So after all those refusals I decided that the anthology was not such a good idea after all and gave up on it. I had other things that needed addressing, so I moved on.

About four years passed and I had more or less forgotten all about it. By this time my living situation had changed. I was no longer living in New York City or even functioning as a playwright in any primary kind of way. I was now living in Tempe, Arizona, teaching at the State University (ASU) and enjoying it immensely. Playwrighting had become a secondary or part-time endeavor at the most… Anyway, I was at a theatre conference at USC-San Diego where I ran into an NEC Playwright/Director Paul Carter Harrison. We hadn’t seen each in a long time and spent several hours talking about our various activities and endeavors. Somewhere in the course of things I mentioned the NEC anthology I had tried to get off the ground with dismal results. He thought it was a terrific idea and asked if I could send him the proposal that had been so roundly rejected. I said sure. It was a dead issue to me anyway.

To cut to the chase, Paul came on board and said that we should try again. This time he took the lead. The first thing he did was ask if he could change some of the titles I had selected. I said sure. Most of the ones I had chosen hadn’t been published and I explained my rationale to him. He understood but suggested that maybe we would be better off going with some of the well known plays first. And that’s what we did. Almost immediately he got a positive responsive from The University of Pittsburg Press who wanted more information. We put together a more detailed proposal along with copies of all the plays. The idea now had been expanded from one volume of plays to three volumes which we both felt would more properly represent the great variety of worthwhile plays the NEC had presented. In addition to that I thought it would be great if Doug Ward could write the Forward to each volume. In Volume #1 he would talk about the playwrights the company discovered and nurtured. In Volume #2 he would talk about the actors, directors, designers and other NEC personnel. In Volume #3 he would comment on the audiences that came to the NEC, the critics who assessed the work and about the company’s travels abroad. In this way along with the plays there would be a sort of overview history of the company as seen from three perspectives by its Artistic Director. That was the plan but it never quite came to fruition.

The problems began with the first volume when a reader that the University of Pittsburg Press assigned to it objected to several of the titles based on content he or she thought socially or politically incorrect. Paul wrote a letter to the Publisher addressing each objection head on and pointing out the fallacy and sometimes absurdity of the reader’s objections. We were then given the go ahead by the University of Pittsburg Press.

It took close to a year to secure the rights to all the plays we wanted to include. One of the reasons for this is that there wasn’t any appreciable amount of money being offered. I’ve forgotten the amount but it was genuinely miniscule. In fact, if I remember rightly, we all agreed that the money should just be donated to the NEC. And that’s where it went.

The book came out and physically it was handsomer than I had imagined it could be. The University of Pittsburg Press had done a wonderful job. Now it was time to put together the second volume. Paul, who had done all the lead work on Volume #1 said that he was stepping back and I would have to take the lead on this one. That was sensible and fair. I emulated what had been done the first time and ran into the same obstacles. Here I thought that with Volume #1 we had proved ourselves but now we were being asked to do it all over again. Questions about the content of the plays, about the validity of a second volume, about the need for a greater variety in terms of themes and even plots. And every time I answered one question a dozen more would come up. I talked to Doug about it and he pointed out the fact that they were dealing with the plays as though they hadn’t been produced and proved their value in the only crucible that really matters. “Every one of these plays have been professionally produced for a paying audience and have been critically scrutinized by some of the most demanding critics in the country. What more do they want?” I wrote and said that to them but the questions kept coming. Finally I decided that I had had enough. I ended communication with the publisher and never pursued the idea further. From my point of view it appeared that they were making me jump hurdles that I didn’t need to jump. So I just gave it up.

The first volume exists and I think that it’s great. It would be wonderful if some time in the future there could be other volumes of NEC plays. But for now this one exists so why not celebrate what is and not what-might-have-been?

Gus Edwards

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The NEC: A Writer’s Theatre

The NEC: A Writer’s Theatre

Doug always maintained that the NEC was a “writer’s theatre”. And that was only natural since he had come to the theatre as a writer and despite accolades for his acting and direction his major artistic ambitions still revolved around his literary endeavors. So when the company was started Ward as Artistic Director set out to discover and nurture African American playwrights of talent whichever way they could.  It was for this reason that the Playwright’s Workshop continued to be a part of the NEC’s operational program long after the Acting classes, Design classes, Public Relations classes etc had to be discontinued due to a lack of funds.


“When I set out, I set out to do text plays because it was transferable. It can be duplicated; it can be entered into, revived and re-experienced. We were lacking a body of work that could disseminate itself into the environment. A start had to be made somewhere and this was the place as far as I was concerned…One of the things that was important for me to explore and confirm in an experimental way was something that I felt theoretically. This had to do with the variety of black material I felt was out there. I also knew that Black theatre and Black artistry was considerably more varied than most people suspected. In fact it is more varied than it is alike. We have all sorts of stories that we tell and an infinite number of ways of telling them. But unfortunately many people, white critics in particular, have tried to stereotype black writers by throwing them all into the naturalistic bag. The  “Family play…Family drama” nonsense. But if you look closely even the term “family drama” is a misnomer because if they ever bothered or were even capable of looking at the works closely they would see that the so called “family drama” were more metaphoric than naturalistic.




What you had were black writers who during that time were beginning to express themselves in a wide variety of ways and styles… They were broad and diverse using whatever modes they needed to communicate whatever it is they had to say. They were eclectic and like black musicians they were using whatever raw material  was on hand to fit their purpose. So when you look across the spectrum of the type of plays we produced you will find everything from realistic and naturalistic dramas to farce, satire, poetic plays symbolic comedies, musicals, science fiction, gothic horror, and history plays. It’s all there all one has to do is look. And it wasn’t accidental. This was something I set out to discover and prove right from the beginning.”




The virtue of the NEC being in the NEC’s writer’s workshop was that you could develop yourself regardless of whether the NEC produced you or not. You have to remember we were only able to do four plays a season and sometimes even less when money was a problem. So that there was no way we could produce the works of every good or potentially good writer who came through the door. That was never the idea. The idea was to help writers develop their work so that they might have a chance of getting them produced elsewhere perhaps .And that was the idea of our “Season within a Season”. We had a 75 seat theatre space upstairs of the St. Marks Theatre and I thought “Why the hell not use it?” Lonne Elder was the first writing workshop director and then Steve Carter took it over. Steve basically ran it as a workshop theatre in the sense that plays were selected and they were given at least a staged reading and sometimes close to a full but skeletal production in that  space.. So we were trying to give those writers every chance we had available to us.

Doug Ward (tape interview 6-6-95)

If one is interested in looking at a cross section of the plays produced by the NEC under Doug’s tenure as Artistic Director take a look at the book Classic Plays from the Negro Ensemble Company edited by Gus Edwards and Paul Carter Harrison with an insightful introduction by Douglas Turner Ward. The book was published in 1995 by The University of Pittsburg Press.

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Charles Fuller: In His Own Words

Charles Fuller: In His Own Words

Note: During the historical years of the NEC when Doug Ward was its Artistic Director he nurtured and produced the works of many writers. One of the most successful is Charles Fuller who won the Obie (Off- Broadway) Award in 1981 for Distinguished Playwriting for Zooman and the Sign and the Pulitzer Prize one year later for A Soldier’s Play. Both works were produced by the NEC and both were directed by Douglas Turner Ward.


In the Deepest Part of Sleep


When I left Philadelphia to come here (New York City), it was The NEC that I looked forward to working with. Any struggles I had in improving my work was really to work with the The NEC where I would not be embarrassed if Douglas Turner Ward saw this play. It would be written well enough that he would like it. They were a theatre really devoted to playwrights. Doug had a reputation for nurturing playwrights and working with them. And I was very concerned about getting my work to people who at least had some commitment to playwrights. The first play we did together was In the Deepest Part of Sleep(the 1973/74 Season). This particular play worked on two levels with four people. And so I was concerned with not only how this play moved but that you always had a certain kind of visual image going on in this single house.  A situation where you could watch all four people in four separate rooms. Doug helped me by giving me an idea of what I was trying to do, clearing it up for me so that the visual thing I was very much concerned with always happened, as well as the dialogue and the story line that had to go along with all that stuff. So he was really instrumental in giving me a vision of what you could do on stage. The size of it and what it meant. I hadn’t had that before.

Zooman and the Sign


In Philadelphia where I’m from there was a time when 40 or 50 kids a year would be gunned down by other teenagers. So Zooman was really and attempt at looking at the kinds of kids that were involved in those kinds of shootings. I used to work as a Housing Inspector for the city and I was involved in a shooting in the sense that I knew one of the kids who had shot another teenager. And I found that in talking to me right after he was absolutely without guilt or without any sense of conscience about it at all. It was simply a matter of turf and the other kid shouldn’t have been there. It was extraordinary. At that moment I began to feel that there was growing a group of young people in the black community who were diametrically opposed to the attitudes and values of what my generation had grown up with.  And that these young people were growing up without any other connection except the street. So I wanted to contrast this kind of character with the family of Reuben and Rachael (two characters in the play) and their closeness and the love that they had. I also wanted this to be the last of my kitchen plays.  I wanted to do something that would take my work out of the living room and out of the kitchen and begin to set it in other areas and other kinds of places because I began to think that the house as a place for a play was beginning to strangle black writers. So Zooman and the Sign was my first attempt to get the play out of the kitchen.


I also wanted to talk about the disillusionment of young black people in our society. There is an entire class of young black men in this country who have no connection to religion, culture or the social activities of their own people. They function in a world that is for the most part a jungle. They set the rules and abide by those rules. They have no loyalties to anything but that.


What is interesting about Zooman is that it unfortunately is just as viable today as it was when it was originally produced. And indeed there are more Zoomen on the streets right now than at the time the play was written. There are more young people alienated from what we perceive to be traditional black life. So Zooman was my way of providing a warning. My way of saying “This young man is on his way. This man is here, are we going to deal with him? He belongs to us, so we simply can’t ignore him. This group of young people is related to us. They’re our cousins, our nephews, someone’s son, someone’s grandson; they are someone’s brother and so on.  So they are connected to us.”… Now fifty percent of the people in prison are black people and about ninety nine percent of the crimes they commit are against other black people. It’s insane not to be concerned about that. So as I said Zooman was more in the order of a warning that if we don’t do something shortly this young man and his kind are going to overwhelm us and we must do something to make sure that they continue to be a part of our family. Otherwise we will have no control over what they do and how it impacts on us.


The play was done at the NEC; it won an award and so forth. But more important than that is the fact that through reviews, word of mouth or whatever a lot of people heard about it. So that the play wound up being done all over the place, even in the Detroit School System. And it is still the most popular play I have written thus far.

A Soldier’s Play   


I guess I should start by saying that I’ve always had this enormous fascination with the black soldier because throughout history he has been the only character who has functioned on equal footing with white people. During the settling of the Old West black soldiers were the police of the area. They fought in the Civil War and when it came time to do equal things only the black soldier had the opportunity to do so. Then when he came back to civilian life he was once again relegated to a subservient role. But after World War Two black soldiers came back and were the first group of blacks who went to college on the GI Bill. So they became the middle class of the 1950s and 60s. What I did with A Soldier’s Play was research the whole period. I wanted to research what blacks had done in the Second World War. Around that same time my best friend the poet and playwright Larry Neal died and as a memorial to Larry I wrote A Soldier’s Play. The play is in a way not just a memorial to my friend but also  in a way an attempt on my part to demonstrate that the black soldiers and the black officers were on the leading edge of what was going to change America in the 1950s and 60s. Davenport tells the white captain at the end of the play that you might as well get used to taking orders from black people because things in this country are starting to change. And he is in a position to begin to do that. So A Soldier’s Play was the result of a lot of research.


The Pulitzer Prize


It was done by the NEC with Doug directing a dream cast that has gone on to make names for themselves on stage, on TV and in the movies. During the run one day Leon Denmark (managing director for the NEC) called and said: “Charles, I think you’ve won the Pulitzer Prize.  I told him to hold off for a minute “Cause if you’re wrong I’d be awfully embarrassed to tell people I won when it just wasn’t so.” But then they announced it and Doug and I shared an interesting moment, because I called him and told him. We were very proud to have done it, to have worked as hard as we did and have the results be something so wonderful and acknowledged in this way. For me that was probably the most extraordinary moment of my relationship with Doug and the company. Now let me add quickly that I have always considered it our prize. That is the NEC and Doug and me and all the actors and everyone else who worked so hard on the production to make it what it was. I wrote the play but they were the ones who took care of the rest of it for me.



The WE Plays


After A Soldier’s Play it was important for me to try something totally new in terms of my own work and try something very different in terms of its complexities.  So that’s when I thought I’d tell a story over an extended period of time. Forty years to be exact. And in the process of telling this story introduce characters that you would meet again and again because you would meet them in different plays. Each play, each story would be connected but nevertheless each would stand on its own and yet when you look at the entire work it would just be one story. Sort of like a mosaic. It was very complicated and I didn’t know if it would work but the challenge was in doing it… The movies Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind and others have suggested that black people during that period were fools. They could not read, could not write, and could not talk. That they could do nothing but hope and rely on the goodwill of the white people they served. But the truth is quite different and part of the challenge for me was to contrast the nature of the story I’m telling against Birth of a Nation or against any of those stories which have become a part of the American myth and American attitudes in this society. So these facts about ourselves, these truths about black people that were for the most part obscured by Southern and Northern histories are now being overturned.  The book Reconstruction by Eric Foner and a variety of other pieces about the life of the slaves are overturning the idea that the slaves were stupid and incompetent.  So what I’m doing with the WE Plays is simply taking that history and examining it in realistic terms. It must be understood that we developed a class of people during that time who ran for public office. That they had to have strategists and campaign bosses in order to do so. If slavery prevented us from learning things, how was it possible that directly thereafter we created a class of people who had enough intelligence to start voting and start building political machines? So that was the idea, the challenge and the execution that became four plays collectively called The WE Plays. Individually they were Sally, Prince, Jonquil and Burner’s Frolic. The NEC did them during the 1988/89 and 1989/90 season with Doug once again directing.


About the NEC and Douglas Turner Ward


Theatre in America is fundamentally a segregated institution. If black people were to rely on American mainstream theatre, we would for the most part never see ourselves in those productions. We would not have any sense of ourselves as people in this country operating and functioning as human beings in the United States because most theatres in this country will not produce black playwrights except for the one or two they deem acceptable to their subscribers. Doug and the NEC for the longest while provided this country with the only consistent view of black people in the theatre.


Douglas Turner Ward is a writer so his commitment was to writers. The NEC besides being many other things was primarily a playwright’s theatre. I mean you can’t ask for more than that. Other theatres commit to different things, subscribers, raising money, their board of directors and all sorts of things. But the NEC under Doug every year opened their season with new plays. Every single year for nearly thirty years. No one else has ever done that. No other theatre I know has had that much commitment to playwrights. That’s an extraordinary thing and Doug ought to be really thanked for that. And certainly as a playwright I thank him all the time.


(Interview taped in 1988 and updated in 2011)

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Doug Ward: On The NEC’s Involvement with Media

Doug Ward: On The NEC’s Involvement with  Media


DTW: Somewhere I think it was at the end of the Broadway run of The River Niger we had about sixty thousand dollars which was profit and ultimately it just went into the company budget and everyday activity. But Gerry and I were willing to take that money and buy the rights of the Nate Shaw book All God’s Dangers. Our hope for that was either a feature movie or a TV series. I was more inclined toward the series because a four part, six part, whatever series I felt would have allowed you to encompass the scope of the book more than a feature length film. But with a quality TV mini-series you can get the expanse and the scope more than a movie which as you know, generally runs about two hours. But a TV mini-series, as I said would give you time for developing the events of the narrative with more detail and specificity. With a movie it would’ve been all about compression and dealing with the climatic moments.


GE: Question.


DTW: Shoot.


GE: Since you had that surplus money why didn’t you pursue the movie rights for The River Niger? That to me would seem the more natural way to go.


DTW: Yes, but there was only one problem.


GE: What was that?


DTW: The movie rights of The River Niger was already sold to someone else. It was sold very early, I guess. But let’s say it hadn’t been sold by the time I’m talking about, we had dealt with it for the length of time we did in putting it up and running it on Broadway and on the road. I’m talking two or three years all together. So maybe if it hadn’t been sold it would’ve come to us automatically to try to do it for TV or the movies the way we did with Ceremonies. But when I think back on it the bad movie that they made out of it might have even been made before we finished our stage run of it. And once the movie came out it was so abominable that everybody’s interest was to try to forget it even existed. So that’s the story on that. I hope it answered your question.


GE: It did, thank you. Now I remember an announcement early in your existence as a company that said something to the effect that you were exploring the possibilities or were definitely going to make a movie about Benjamin Banneker, the man who ostensibly came up with the plan for the design of Washington, DC?


DTW: Yes, I think so but I don’t remember it clearly. It sounds more like a project Bobby Hooks was interested in. At the time he was active in both movies and TV. He had a series he was starring in (NYPD) and several movies as well. So I’m pretty sure it was his project but I don’t remember it clearly. There were other projects too that we explored. Hell Gus, throughout our history, at one time or another we had access to the major networks in terms of talking about projects. If you’ll remember there were only three at the time, ABC, NBC and CBS. Back then cable didn’t exist. But we had access to all three.


GE: I remember seeing Ceremonies, Day of Absence and First Breeze of Summer on TV. Were there others?


DTW: No. But that’s what I mean about having access.


GE: I see, and after that?

DTW: We did pursue some things like the book The Homestead Grays (by James Wylie) about an all black fighter squadron during the Second World War. The idea was to get backing for it as a movie, not a TV project. So what I’m saying Gus is that whenever we talked about media it was for a specific project. We weren’t just pursuing the media in general. But with All God’s Dangers we went ahead vigorously in actively pursuing the rights to that book. And we came close, very close because I think that the author (Theodore Rosengarten) who wrote the book based on the life of Nate Shaw (real name Nate Cobb) really wanted us to have it. Because in talking to me and so forth in terms of my ideas on how to approach it, he felt that we stood a chance of matching and paralleling his own intents and also the quality and content of the book that he had written. Because as you know, as a writer he was a little leery about just a commercial sale where he would have no input in the outcome. But once I talked to him he was quite pleased with the direction that I had indicated in terms of adapting the material. So he was rooting for us. He verbally gave me the rights.


GE: So what happened?


DTW: The book had been well received critically and it had even sold well for the type of book it was. It was in the limelight to a certain extent and once Hollywood, commercial Hollywood expressed an interest in it his agent was more inclined to allow Hollywood to buy the rights rather than a little company like The NEC. I mean all we would’ve been able to do was buy the rights then we would’ve had to go after getting money to produce it. I’m sure his agent felt that if a major studio was in on it, they were already in a position to get it made. But then there was another complication.

GE: And what was that?


DTW: One of the conditions of buying the property was that the agent had to get the approval of Nate Shaw’s heirs. And we said that his living heirs had to agree not to interfere with the development of the property. We wanted to avoid the possibility of some working class poor or whatever black relatives wouldn’t suddenly start seeing dollar signs and start trying to do everything they could to see how much money they could get out of the situation. We didn’t want any conflict. The NEC was not going to get itself into any kind of conflict where we were antagonistic to or were being sued some other black people who were heirs or whatever. We didn’t need that therefore we demanded that once we bought the rights it was not our responsibility to get waiver rights from the heirs. The end result was that agent used that request or demand as a way of then not selling it to us. It allowed him to go where he wanted to go in the first place, to Hollywood and some major studio bought the rights.


GE: But it was never made into a movie.


DTW: No, hell no. What people don’t seem to understand is how Hollywood works. Ten novels or stories will come out and they will proceed to buy whichever ones seem to get some positive reviews. And in this instance I think whoever bought it seemed like they were buying it as a possibility for Jimmy (James Earl Jones).And they knew that being a major studio, if some little poor black relative came up with some problems they could just brush him aside or ignore him or even give him two dollars and say “Get the fuck out of my face.” And he would do that. But it wasn’t just about the money for us. It was the principal of not being in conflict with other blacks over a situation like that. So a studio bought the rights and I think they even approached Charles Fuller to do an adaptation of it. But anyway, like a lot of Hollywood projects, it never came to realization. Hollywood put it on a shelf somewhere and forgot about it. And that’s what they generally do with most of the material they acquire. They make an initial effort and if it doesn’t fall together right away they say “Fuck this” and move on.


But like I said, I wanted to do it on TV in four or six parts where we would have the canvas that we could explore through Nate Shaw the whole world of the South at the time. The harshness of that world in the 1920s and 30s.The struggles with the sharecroppers unions and Nate Shaw’s participation in that struggle that finally got him in jail for 14 years. One of the reasons that Rosengarten wanted me to do it is because when we sat there the first thing I told him that one of the central episodes of the whole series was going to be the trial and the whole business of the sharecroppers union. At that time in the South with the Klu Klux Klan and everything the authorities considered the Sharecroppers Union, the Black Sharecroppers Union to be a kind of radical organization led by Communists. But the real truth about the Sharecroppers Union is, yes, radicals had been responsible for its existence just like radicals had been responsible for the AF of L-CIO and a lot of trade unions. But the real story was the fact of how much it empowered the poor sharecropper to fight against what was going on and how much they were being trampled upon.

Anyway, that’s what I remember about our involvement with media, whether it was movies or TV. Look, we were running a theatre company and that was difficult enough. But we did pursue some media projects when the opportunity arose. Anything else?


GE: Not right this minute. Thanks.


(Taped in Doug’s office, June 1995)



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Doug Ward: An Update

Doug Ward: An Update

On October 11, 2011 The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco opened their new season with a handsomely produced, multicultural, multi generational update of Doug’s one act play Day of Absence, directed by the company’s new Artistic Director Steven Anthony Jones. This conceptual rendition of the play includes rap, hip-hop along with several other aspects of contemporary verbal and musical means of expression illustrates the fact that Doug’s award winning satire about race relations is as relevant now as it was fifty years ago when it was first produced.

Doug was flown in for the opening and spent a week in the city attending talk backs with the audience after the show, catching up with friends and seeing the sights. This was the first time he’s travelled any appreciable distance since his operation. He says he felt no ill effects whatsoever. This was also the first time he’s been to San Francisco sine the Soldier’s Play tour in 1984. So the way it looks things are getting back to normal for him.

I went to San Francisco to see the production and to meet up with Doug.  We spent several days together doing what we always do, walk, talk, eat and just sit around looking at the world going by. We talked about several projects he is on the verge of getting back to, particularly a collection of 3 one act plays by him that I am currently preparing for publication. The collective title is The Tom Azz Plays. The individual titles are Clarence X-Rated, Clarence Updated and The Redeemer.

Two weeks ago I spoke to him on the phone for about an hour. He tells me that he’s now cooking his food and is eating a lot better. That’s good news to those of us who have been worried about how thin he’s gotten. I ask as I always do about what he was working on. He says that he is once again looking at his single character play Dessalines (the 3rd play of his Haitian Chronicles) with the idea of preparing it for both production and publication. “Once I get my voice and speech back properly, I plan on performing the role again as I did before.” …What this says to me is that Doug is almost back to becoming fully engaged in the creative work that was seriously interrupted by that illness in May 2009. And that for all of us who love, admire and are inspired by him is a good reason to cheer this HOLIDAY SEASON.

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