Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop co-founder Garland Lee Thompson, Sr. took his final bow on November 18, 2014; a service and memorial will be held on Thompson’s birthday, February 14, 2015, in two “acts.”
It is fitting that the Valentine’s Day celebration of the life and legacy of Garland Lee Thompson, Sr. will begin with “Act 1”, from 11 am-12 pm at St. James Presbyterian Church, 409 West 141st Street at St. Nicholas Avenue. Theater for the New City is hosting “Act 2” from 3-5pm in the Johnson Theater, 155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), featuring readings, poetry, performances and a reception in Thompson’s honor with some fantastic home cooking, and refreshments.
Garland Lee Thompson, Sr., New York theater producer, writer, director, actor, and co-founder of the Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop, passed away quickly and peacefully at Bellevue Hospital, on November 18, 2014, due to complications from a fall and pneumonia. He was 76 years old. He is survived by his two children, Garland Lee Thompson, Jr., and Alexandria Dionne; his sisters Shirley Thompson, and Addie Jean Hayes, and his brother, Jim Thompson.
Garland Lee Thompson was born in 1938, in Muskogee, OK. His mother, Sylvia Thompson, owned a successful restaurant in Muskogee called Homey Foods, a tremendous feat at the time for an African American woman in the 1930s-40s. His father, James Thompson, was in the Merchant Marines. When Thompson was 7 years old, he moved with his family to Portland, Or. He attended Jefferson High School in Portland, where he discovered his love of theater and dance.
Thompson was 20 when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and performing fulltime. One of the first professional roles he landed was as a Firetender – Boar’s Tooth Ceremonial Dancer, in the 1958 Hollywood musical film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
In the 60’s, Thompson had roles on TV – “The Lieutenant,” “Perry Mason,” “Bewitched.”
In 1964, Thompson’s turn as the title character in the short film, The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes, garnered the film’s director, Robert Clouse, a Golden Globe Award, an Edinburgh International Film Festival Award, a Best Live Action Short Film Oscar nomination, and a nomination for the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film.
In 1966, Thompson was cast as Transporter Technician Wilson on Star Trek, in the episode, “The Enemy Within.” He also was a crewman in the “TOS: Charlie X” episode. During this time, Thompson worked as a stage manager for Ray Bradbury’s plays in Los Angeles.
In 1971, Thompson moved to New York to be the original stage manager for Charles Gordone’s No Place to Be Somebody on its first national tour, and on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre. The cast starred Terry Alexander and Philip Thomas, and featured Mary Alice, Henry Baker, Julius W. Harris, Elaine Kerry and Ian Sander. He went on to direct two more national tours. Gordone was the first African American playwright to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Two years later Thompson went on to stage manage another historic Broadway production for the Negro Ensemble Company, Joseph A. Walker’s The River Niger at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
While in New York, Thompson realized a need for playwrights, specifically African Americans and women, to have their plays read aloud, critiqued and workshopped. In 1973, he founded the nonprofit The Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop, along with famed actor/director Morgan Freeman, director/actress Billie Allen and journalist Clayton Riley, as a living memorial to the late actor, director, teacher and producer, Frank Silvera (1914-1970).
The Workshop has been based in the heart of Harlem, New York, for the past 40 years, and has built a long, time honored and prestigious reputation as a nationally and internationally renowned playwrights’ development theatre for upcoming and established artists of all colors, sizes and shapes. Thousands of plays have been read at the Workshop, including, Ntozake Shange’s award winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, When the Rainbow Is Enuf and The Mighty Gents by Richard Wesley. Ruby Dee, Charles Fuller, Laurence Holder, Ntozake Shange, Morgan Freeman, Phillip Hayes Dean, Ed Bullins, Adolph Caesar, Phylicia Rashad, Ray Aranha, Charles Dutton, Bill Cobbs, SammArt Williams, and Antonio Fargas are among the many playwrights and actors who have read at the Workshop.
Over the years, the Workshop has received funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and The Rockefeller Foundation, as well as private donations.
In 1989, Thompson’s close friend Larry Leon Hamlin, the late founder of the North Carolina Black Repertory Theatre, founded the National Black Theatre Festival, and in 1991 he asked Thompson to create a new play reading series at the festival. He agreed, and created Theatre Conversations at Midnight, now known as the Readers Theatre Series. It’s since become a major, and well loved component of the festival, and will continue on under the direction of his son, Garland Lee Thompson, Jr.
Thompson was recently honored at the “harlem is…Theater” Exhibition at The Interchurch Center in New York, on view through January 6, 2015.
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon and Taxman. She has guest starred on “One Life to Live,” “As the World Turns,” and “New York Undercover.” She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
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