Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: Remembering Garland Lee Thompson, Sr. (1938-2014); Memorial Set for February 14, 2015

Garland Lee Thompson, Sr. and Lia Chang at the Schomburg in New York on October 18, 2012. Photo by Will Chang

Garland Lee Thompson, Sr. and Lia Chang at the Schomburg in New York on October 18, 2012. Photo by Will Chang

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.

Garland Lee Thompson, Sr.

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. South_pacific_02

Garland Lee Thompson as Transporter Technician Ensign Wilson in "THE ENEMY WITHIN" - STAR TREK: TOS - Episode #5

Garland Lee Thompson as Transporter Technician Ensign Wilson in “THE ENEMY WITHIN” – STAR TREK: TOS – Episode #5

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.

Original Playbill for NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY, September 1, 1971. Photo courtesy of

Original Playbill for NO PLACE TO BE SOMEBODY, September 1, 1971. Photo courtesy of

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.

Garland Lee Thompson Jr. at the “harlem is ...Theater” at The Interchurch Center in New York on December 17, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Garland Lee Thompson Jr. at the “harlem is …Theater” at The Interchurch Center in New York on December 17, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Photos: Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Micki Grant, Woodie King Jr., Voza Rivers, Talvin Wilks, Garland Thompson Jr., Charles Turner, Jamal Joseph, Debra Ann Byrd and More at harlem is…Theater

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cropped-lia-chang_photo-by-carlos-flores-3.jpgLia 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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3 comments on “Lia Chang: Remembering Garland Lee Thompson, Sr. (1938-2014); Memorial Set for February 14, 2015

  1. Bryan D. Haynes DDS
    December 30, 2014

    My uncle Garland was a one of a kind character. He was the family historian as well. He always embraced our native american heritage with great pride. he will be missed but never forgotten. Much love,
    Uncle Garland and dream eternally.

  2. Jim Thompson
    January 6, 2015

    My Brother and I did not agree on lots of things but we respect each other. He was doing the things that he hoped would help other Actors and Playrites to get their works seen. His son Garland Thompson Jr will continue His work.

  3. SE Scott
    January 10, 2015

    Once I met Garland I was hooked to theatre for life. He introduced me to Reader’s Theatre and I am so grateful for all I learned from him. He will be missed.

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