Tag Archives: Song of the Lusitanian Bogey

NEC History

The “Bogey” Incident in London

Controversy it seems has constantly been a part of the NEC experience. Right from the beginning when many publicly questioned and challenged its reason for coming into existence, its mission, the choice of plays it produced and of course the use of the word “Negro” in its name. There was controversy about where it was located (in Greenwich Village instead of Harlem) and often about the content of the plays it produced. The Song of the Luistanian Bogey by German playwright Peter Weiss was the first play the new company produced. But it with the author’s permission it had been adapted and completely rewritten by Doug. It opened to tremendous critical acclaim in New York.

            In the middle of the second season the Company was invited to participate in the World Theatre Festival in London.  The plays chosen for their London debut were The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey and God is a (Guess What?). 

            Bogey, the first of the two plays, opened at the Aldwych Theatre on May 5, 1969 and almost instantly, due its political content, there were protests and demonstrations demanding that it should be shut down.In the Sunday edition of The London Times (5/11/69), theatre commentator and critic Harold Hobson wrote, “If I were to write of Black people in similar terms:  If I were to speak of their evilness and their devilry:  If I were to say that their badness is an axiom so obvious that there is no need to state it:  I do not doubt for a moment that I should be accused of racial hatred.  But I wonder whether the literature of this Company could not be seen by some as a direct stimulus to racial prejudice.”

            Irving Wardle of the Daily London Times (6/6/69) wrote:  “It would be hard for me to devise any show more certain of winning white liberal applause than this anti-colonial diatribe performed by a black company:  The more so since the target is the Portuguese regime in Angola, and the Company are not Black Arts Revolutionaries, but the more moderate Negro Ensemble Company from New York who are working out their race’s theatrical destiny within the embrace of a Ford Foundation Grant.”

            Beyond commentary in the press, there were actual demonstrations in the theatre during performances.  There was one particular night that was remembered by its cast members and other personnel many years later.

Ed Burbridge  the show’s designer remembered it this way;

“We had a riot in the theatre.  Some people who were against what the play was saying attacked the actors from the audience.  There was a fight, ushers were throwing people to the floor, actors were crying.  After, we went upstairs in the theatre, Douglasgathered us all together and said to us:  ‘You’ve done this before in New Yorkand you were very successful with it, but this is probably the most important performance you’ve ever given of this play . . . .  It was simply a shock, but it was an awakening, too, for the Company.  . . . And after we left the theatre and went back to the hotel . . . someone had scrawled ‘Nigger Go Home’ on the wall. Then it was quite       real.”

 Several actors in the cast recalled it like this:

Rosalind Cash:                                                                                     

            “I don’t know whether it was opening night or during the run of it, there was a riot or something.  People were throwing things on the stage, and that had never happened before.  I mean, there had been shouts and all that (before).  But there were things coming from the area of the balcony, falling on the stage, and I said, ‘Oh, oh I’m going to die with my boots on.’  It felt threatening.  And I was in the middle of a protest song and I stopped singing and I heard, I think it was Esther Rolle saying, ‘Sing, damnit!  Sing!’  And I stood there defiantly and to where the debris was coming from, and at that moment I really didn’t care.  I really didn’t care, cause you see, the subject matter was about the oppression of black people . . . And I was willing to stand there and sing my song . . . .  It was a first.  It was unique in my career, that things were thrown at us on stage.”

Frances Foster:                                                                                              

 “We felt very vulnerable because we had our backs to the audience and we could only hear what was going on.  We couldn’t see, and of course we assumed it was the entire audience.  But of course, it wasn’t.  It was just a small faction that had gotten in to disturb the performance.  Deliberately disturb the performance.  And (at Intermission) we went backstage.  By that time they had called the Bobbies (police), and the Bobbies came backstage and said they would post men in the aisles to keep these people from bothering us.  Gerry Krone, Doug and Bobby wanted to know if we wanted to go on with the show.  The choice was ours.  We said, ‘We’re going to go on.’  And we did . . .  So that’s how we dealt with that.”

            Esther Rolle:                                                               

            “The London Bobbies came and threw the whole group out.  Well, the adrenaline was so high after that, we continued the show . . .  I lost count of the ovations.  But that was a performance to remember.  . . .  It was quite exciting.  Very exciting.”

:

Hattie Winston:           

            “It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country.  The first time I’d ever performed out of the country.  I experienced joy, I experienced anger.  I experienced a sense of solidarity with NEC and with my people.  We were picketed.  Things were thrown at us.  We had a lot of nerve talking about imperialism to the British, inLondon.  So they picketed and threw things at us.  But a bond was formed.  Between the blacks in London and the NEC.  People began to take stands.  I mean we actually had people who heard about what happened come out and support us.  People who normally would not have come to the theatre.  They actually came to the theatre to support these nervy black people fromNew York.”

Stage manager Edmund Cambridge:

All of a sudden we heard a kind of rumbling coming from out in the audience and a chanting that kinda grew saying; “Damn lie! Communist!”…The Portuguese contingent that were sitting there began to shout and throw programs and paper and stuff down onto the stage. And Rosalind Cash was standing dead center singing a protest song while this was going on. And you could see a moment of fear in her eyes and she faltered for a moment. And the actors who were in front of her, Norman Bush and the others shouted: “Sing! Sing! Sing!” And I was screaming out: Sing, Roz, Sing!” …And everybody joined together in spirit, I mean you could almost see sparks from the actors out to the audience. And the audience, those that were not protesting, began to feed us with their help in going on with the show. That was a tremendous moment in theatre.”

Michael Schultz was the director and this is what he had to say.

“The actors on stage got totally petrified but they continued to perform because it was the kind of play where you talked back to the audience. There was no fourth wall. So they kept performing until things got out of hand. Everybody was really shaken up because there had never been a violent confrontation in the theatre, in this country. It was quite an experience.”

(All comments were extracted from tape interviews by R. Kilberg.)

            God is a (Guess What?), the second play was performed without incident after which the Company took both plays to Rome, Italy, and performed them to lively critical acclaim.  But the controversy over Bogey in England continued.  On July 2, 1969, the London Times ran a story by a staff reporter that said Sir Elwyn Jones, the Attorney General, asked Sir Norman Skelhorn, Director of Public Productions, to look into the presentation of The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey because Mr. Patrick Wall, Conservative M.P. for Halterprice, asked in the House of Commons whether those responsible for the show would be referred for prosecution for incitement to racial hatred under the Race Relations Act . . . .  And a breach of the peace under the Public Order Act.

            One official of the Aldwych Theatre said, “In no way could the show be described as racist.”  Nevertheless, Sir Elwyn Jones referred the show to the public prosecutor.

                On July 5, 1969, it was reported that Sir Elwyn Jones had decided that no useful purpose would be served by taking action against the show.  In a public statement, he said that neither he or the Metropolitan Police had received any other complaints about the play which was no longer being performed in the country.  And that the Company had returned toAmerica. 

-GE.

Note: Some of this material, specifically the quotes, were drawn from interviews conducted by Richard Kilberg.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Douglas Turner Ward Chronology

Douglas Turner Ward

A Chronology

 

The Early Years:

1930 – Born May 5th in Burnside, Louisiana. Father: Roosevelt Ward, a forklift operator.

            Mother: Dorothy (Short) Ward, a dressmaker. He was given the name Roosevelt

            Ward Jr.

1938 – The family moves to New Orleans, LA, where Ward Jr. attends a two-room

            School.

1940 – Attended Xavier University Prep, a black Catholic school.

1946 – Attended Wilberforce University for one year.

1947 – Transfers to University of Michigan. Majors in Journalism. Played football as a

            Halfback. After a serious knee injury, he focuses his interests in politics and

            Theatre.

1948 – Moves to NYC. Meets Lorraine Hansberry and Lonne Elder III. Joins the

            Progressive Party and becomes a Left-Wing political activist.

1949 – Wrote Star of Liberty, a short play about the rebellious slave Nat Turner. The play

             is performed before an audience of five thousand people.

             Ward is arrested in New York for draft evasion and returned to New Orleans,

             LA, where he is imprisoned for three months. His case is appealed.

1951 – Remains in New Orleans for two years while the case is pending. During this

            time, writes his first full-length play The Trial of Willie McGee.

1953 – The Supreme Court overturns his draft evasion conviction. Ward moves back to

            New York City and attempts to start a literary magazine called Challenge with

            Lorraine Hansberry and Lonne Elder III. One issue is published.

            Attends Paul Mann’s Acting Workshop and writes for The Daily Worker, a Left-

            Wing political journal.

            At the Hotel Teresa in Harlem, Ward along with Hansberry and Elder read his

            play The Trial of Willie McGee. This reading inspires Elder and Hansberry to try

            their hand at writing plays.

           Ward joins the Harlem Writers Workshop but leaves after a few weeks because

           he felt that their literary outlook was too limiting.

1957 – The Daily Worker closes. Ward’s career in journalism is over. He decides to

            pursue a full-time career in theatre.

1958 – Ward gets his first professional acting job at New York’s Circle in the Square

            Theatre in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.

            For acting purposes, Roosevelt Ward Jr. changes his name to Douglas Turner

            Ward.

1959 – Performs a small role in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway

           and understudies Sidney Poitier as a lead character, Walter Lee Younger. Lonne

           Elder is also in the show. Robert Hooks joins the cast late in its Broadway run.

1960 – Ward assumes the lead (Walter Lee Younger) in the extended national tour of A

            Raisin in the Sun. Hooks and Elder are also in the touring company. The three

            become close friends.

1961 – Returns to New York City to play Archibald Wellington in Jean Genet’s The

           Blacks at the St. Mark’s Playhouse.

1965 – Robert Hooks produces two short plays at the St. Mark’s Playhouse written by

            Ward. The plays were Day of Absence and Happy Ending.

            Ward marries Diana Powell.

1966 – Ward wins two Obie (Off-Broadway) Awards. One for writing and one for acting

            in Happy Ending and Day of Absence.

 

            Wins Drama Desk Award for Playwriting.

            Ward writes an article for The New York Times entitled “American Theatre: For

            Whites Only” (8/14). The article stirs discussions about blacks in theatre and

            because of this McNeil Lowry of the Ford Foundation invites Ward, Hooks, and

            Gerald Krone to submit a proposal for funds to establish a repertory company and

            training program for black theatre artists.

The NEC Years:

1967 – The Ford Foundation gives Ward, Hooks, and Krone $434,000 to start the

            company. The Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) is incorporated with Robert

            Hooks as Executive Director, Gerald Krone as Administrative Director, and Ward

            as Artistic Director.

           The company opens its first show, Song of the Lusitanian Bogey written by

           German author Peter Weiss and adapted by Ward. Controversy and acclaim greets

           the opening.

           Other plays of that season include Summer of the 17th Doll by Australian author

           Ray Lawler, story adapted to the American South by Douglas Turner Ward,

           and Daddy Goodness, a French play by Louis Sapan, adapted by the black

           novelist Richard Wright.

1968 – Ward directs his first show, which is Daddy Goodness.

            Ward and the NEC are publicly attacked in the black press for not producing one

            play by a black American playwright in its first season. And also for using the

            word ‘Negro’ in its name rather than ‘Black’.

1969 – In their second season, the NEC produces Lonne Elder III’s Ceremonies in Dark

           Old Men. Ward plays the leading role and wins a Drama Desk Award for his

           performance.

           The NEC receives a Tony Award for Special Achievement in the Theatre.

           Despite its perceived success, the company is forced to cut down its training 

           programs due to shortage of grant monies. Later that year, a benefit organized by

           Robert Hooks at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway saves the company from

           financial collapse.

           Robert Hooks leaves his day-to-day operation at the NEC and moves back to

           Washington D.C. to create the D.C. Black Repertory Company.

1970 – Ceremonies in Dark Old Men starring Ward is broadcast in primetime on

            ABC TV.

            A performance of The Harangues, a short play by Joseph Walker, featuring Ward

            in a principal role, is interrupted by a black theatre group protesting its content.

            The NEC and Ward come under more fire in black periodicals for being located in

            Greenwich Village instead of Harlem and for retaining its white administrator,

            Gerald Krone. Ward refuses to respond to these criticisms because he did not

            consider them valid.

1973 – Ward directs and acts in The River Niger, another play by Joseph Walker. This

            becomes the first NEC production to move to Broadway.

            The show receives two Tony Award nominations, one for Best Play and one for

            Ward for Best Supporting Actor. Ward refuses the nomination because his was

            not a supporting part but the lead.

            The play receives the Tony Award as Best Play.

1975 – The First Breeze of Summer by Leslie Lee, directed by Ward, becomes the second

            NEC play to move to Broadway. It receives a Best Play Tony Award nomination.

            Ward receives the National Theatre Conference Person of the Year Award.

1977 – The Louisiana Performing Arts installs Douglas Turner Ward in its Hall of Fame.

1979 – Ward receives an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Fine Arts) from City College of

            New York.

            Financial constraints force the NEC to drastically cut back on its staff and

            production schedule.

1980 – Ward is given the Ebony Magazine Black American Achievement Award for

            Accomplishment in Fine Arts.

 

            Home by Samm-Art Williams and directed by Douglas Turner Ward becomes the

            NEC’s third play to move to Broadway. It receives two Tony Award nominations.

            The NEC moves from the St. Mark’s Theatre in Greenwich Village to Theatre 4

            on W. 54th St. in midtown Manhattan.

1981 – Ward receives the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award for

            Outstanding Contributions to the Progress of Human Rights.

1982 – A Soldier’s Play, written by Charles Fuller, directed by Douglas Turner Ward,

           receives the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

           Gerald Krone formally resigns his administrative position at the NEC to work in

           television news.

1984 – The NEC gets a $100,000 donation from Citibank but is still facing serious

            financial troubles.

1987 – The NEC celebrates its 20th anniversary while facing a major financial shortfall.

            Ward calls for public support. But some of his announced productions have to be

            cancelled.

            Ward announces his resignation as Artistic Director and retires the title.

            Leon Denmark is named Managing Director of the NEC.

            Ward is invited by The New York Times to write a follow-up article to his

            “American Theatre: For Whites Only”, assessing the state of African American

            Theatre after twenty years. When the article “Counterpoint: A Twenty Year View

            of Black Theatre” is submitted, the Times refuses to print it. The article is

            ultimately published in Black Masks Magazine.

 

            PBS’s American Masters series broadcasts a documentary, narrated by Ossie

            Davis entitled “The NEC: A Company of Excellence”.

1990 – The NEC announces that it will produce Charles Fuller’s ambitious four-play

      series about the Civil War and the Reconstruction period collectively known as WE

      but financial difficulties make this a difficult task.

1991 – Ward receives an Honorary Doctorate from Columbia College in Chicago.

            Ward returns to the NEC as Artistic Director in an attempt to resolve its financial

            crisis. He announces in The New York Times that the NEC will have to shut down

            if unable to raise $250,000.

1993 – Ward produces and directs Last Night at Ace High, which became the NEC’s last

            show under his auspices as Artistic Director.

             That same year, the NEC is honored at the National Black Theatre Festival in

             Winston-Salem, NC, as an “indispensable cultural and national resource”.

After The NEC:

1996 – Douglas Turner Ward is inducted into the Broadway Theatre Hall of Fame.

            (1/22)

1998 – Ward receives Honorary Doctor of Literature from Louisiana State University

2002 – Directs John Scott’s Farma at the Ensemble Theater in Miami, FL.

2003 – Receives Legend Honors Award at the Zora Neal Hurston Festival in Orlando,

            FL.

2005 – Ward receives the New Federal Theater’s Award of Excellence at the Town Hall

             in NYC.

             Ward receives the NAACP Award in Los Angeles, CA.

Note:

This chronology is still evolving because Mr. Ward is still very much alive and active.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements