Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Jun. 15: Elain Graham, S. Epatha Merkerson and Ruben Santiago-Hudson set for PROJECT1VOICE’s 5th Annual 1VOICE/1PLAY/1DAY 2015 NYC staged-reading of HOME; Arthur French, Ebony Jo-Ann, Lizan Mitchell and Leslie Odom, Jr. set for 50th anniversary staged-reading of HAPPY ENDING

REV NYC HOME FINAL 4Project1VOICE will recapture the magic of the legendary Negro Ensemble Company with benefit staged readings of Home by Samm-Art Williams in locations around the world on Monday June 15, 2015. This international salute to the American theater will honor the 35th year anniversary of HOME’s Broadway debut and will celebrate the legacy of the historic Negro Ensemble Company. The fifth annual 1VOICE/1PLAY/1DAY international event will also commemorate another milestone–this one in civil rights—the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  This amendment ended slavery and involuntary servitude in America–officially making the United States of America home for any thenenslaved persons and their descendants.  This international theater experience—including over 30 black theaters, museums and diverse institutions throughout the world–will feature prominent actors including Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) alums and local enthusiasts. NEC alums and others will return to their hometowns to participate in special HOME-coming stage readings: Andre Holland Selma and Cinemax’s The KNICK (Birmingham), James Pickens Jr. ABC’s Greys Anatomy (Cleveland), Woodie King, Jr., producer/director and Aku Kadogo For Colored Girls… (Detroit). These events will explore the meaning of home– is it a place, a state of mind or both? How it connects us as human beings? How it enriches and heals us? The readings will be followed by a panel discussion in select cites.

Elain Graham and S. Epatha Merkerson. Photo by Lia Chang

Elain Graham and S. Epatha Merkerson. Photo by Lia Chang

Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Photo by Lia Chang

Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Photo by Lia Chang

Project1VOICE and the Negro Ensemble Company is presenting the flagship production in New York City at the Harlem Hospital Mural Pavilion–506 Lennox Avenue at West 135th Street–on June 15, 2015 at 7PM. Directed by renowned Negro Ensemble Company alum and Tony Award nominee Michele Shay (A Raisin in the Sun, Seven Guitars), the NYC cast includes Negro Ensemble Company alums Elain Graham (While I Yet Live, Smash, 666 Park Ave) Golden Globe, Emmy, SAG and NAACP Award winning S. Epatha Merkerson (Law and Order, Lackawanna Blues) and Tony Award Winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Seven Guitars, Selma). The flagship post show discussion will be led by national television and radio legal analyst Eric L. Welch Guster, founder and managing attorney of the Guster Law Firm. Tony Nominee Norm Lewis (Scandal, Phantom of the Opera) is scheduled to introduce the evening. Proceeds from the NYC-Manhattan event will benefit Project1VOICE and the Negro Ensemble Company. HOME will be ASL interpreted.

Norm Lewis. Photo by Lia Chang

Norm Lewis. Photo by Lia Chang

For NYC flagship presentation tickets ONLY and a partial list of participating organizations visit: HOME is presented by special permission granted by Samuel French.

General admission $25
w/Reception at 6PM—$50
w/Post show reception and meet and greet–$75

Home, received great acclaim at NEC in 1979, transferring to Broadway’s Cort Theatre on May 7th, 1980The original cast starred Charles Brown, L. Scott Caldwell and Michele Shay with direction by NEC co-founder Douglas Turner Ward. The play ran for 278 performances. Home is rich in specific detail about the African American experience and universal in its reach.

WATCH Project1VOICE on ARISE 360 with Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Arthur French and Erich McMillan-McCall

REV3 EMM HAPPY ENDINGSAlso on June 15th, P1V NYC will present a special 50th anniversary staged-reading of another NEC seminal work, Happy Ending by Douglas Turner Ward. This presentation will take place at 2PM in the Harlem Hospital Mural Pavilion. Directed by critically acclaimed Yale University alum Timothy Douglas (Arena Stage, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park) the cast includes: original NEC member Arthur French (A Trip to Bountiful), Ebony Jo-Ann (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Lizan Mitchell (Having Our Say) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Hamilton).

Happy Ending/Day of Absence a program of two one-act plays premiered at the St. Mark’s Playhouse in Manhattan on November 15, 1965 and ran for 504 performances. This was prior to the NEC’s inception. Ward received a Drama Desk Award for his writing. Tickets are available at HAPPY ENDING is made possible with special permission granted by the Dramatists Play Services.

Arthur French, Novella Nelson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Charles Turner, Lizan Mitchell and Denise Burse. Photo by Lia Chang

Arthur French, Novella Nelson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Charles Turner, Lizan Mitchell and Denise Burse. Photo by Lia Chang

Billie Allen. Photo by Lia Chang

Billie Allen. Photo by Lia Chang

At the New York City event, NEC co-founder Douglas Turner Ward and original director of HOME will receive the first annual Special Project1VOICE Honors Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Actor/Director Billie Allen will receive the first annual Project1VOICE Honors NYC Award for Outstanding Achievement in the American Theater.

A staged reading of HOME will also be presented on June 15th at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn. This reading features NEC alums Peggy Alston, Dean Irby and Carol Maillard directed by Femi Sarah Heggie. For P1V Brooklyn tickets and information visit

About HOME
HOME is a brilliantly inventive, lyrically expressive play deals joyfully with the coming of age of a young black man from rural South Carolina. The action begins on the small farm in South Carolina that Cephus Miles, an orphan, has inherited from his family. Young and strong, he is content to work the land—until his childhood sweetheart rejects him and goes off to college. Not believing in the Vietnam War, Cephus is imprisoned as a draft evader for refusing to serve. By the time he is released, Cephus has lost his land to the tax collector so he heads north to build a new life. With a good job and a slinky new girlfriend, he finds the big city exciting and rewarding. But soon after, the dream begins to fade—Cephus loses his job and becomes involved in drugs and prostitution. Pulling himself together, he returns to South Carolina and settles back on the land with his old sweetheart. Despite all, he has never lost his joyous goodwill, his indomitable spirit and the conviction that one day his quest for fulfillment will be rewarded.

About the playwright Samm-Art Williams
Samm-Art Williams was born in Burgaw, North Carolina. He is an American playwright and screenwriter, and a stage and film/TV actor. He entered New York City theater as an actor in 1973, performing with New York’s famed Negro Ensemble Company. Much of his work as writer concerns the African-American experience. He was nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for his play Home (1979), which moved from the Negro Ensemble Company to a Broadway production in 1980. Among his television credits Williams wrote the PBS productions Kneeslappers and Experiment in Freedom; episodes for the series Cagney and Lacey, The New Mike Hammer, Miami Vice and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the NBC special Motown Returns to the Apollo (1986), among other work.  He received two Emmy nominations for his work for TV series. Among his other plays are The Dance on Widows’ Row, The Waiting Room and Montford Point Marin.

Happy Ending is the story of two sisters, Ellie and Vi, who work as maid and laundress for the wealthy Harrisons. As the play begins they are sitting at the kitchen table in a tenement apartment in Harlem, lamenting the end of their good times. Mr. Harrison has discovered his wife in an act of infidelity. The sisters fear that if the marriage breaks up they will be both out of a job. Their nephew, Junie, chides them for their slavish sentiments at a time when blacks are on the march toward liberation. But Ellie explains the facts of life to him: how she feeds and dresses her relatives and furnishes their homes at the Harrison’s expense.

About the playwright Douglas Turner Ward
Douglas Turner Ward is a Negro Ensemble Company co-founder, actor, director, and playwright. He was born in Burnside. He moved to NYC in 1949 at the age of nineteen. In 1956, Ward began his off-Broadway career as an actor in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh; he went on to perform and understudy for a part in A Raisin in the Sun. In 1965, Ward, Robert Hooks, and Gerald Krone formed the Negro Ensemble Company; he made his playwriting debut that same year with the oft produced Happy Ending/Day of Absence. In 1967, the Negro Ensemble Company was officially opened with Ward serving as artistic director; some of the NEC’s notable productions include A Soldier’s Play, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Home, First Breeze of Summer and The River Niger, which became the company’s first play to go to Broadway. The River Niger eventually won a Tony Award for Best Play. Ward went on to write other plays, including The Reckoning and Brotherhood.

As a result of Ward and his colleagues’ hard work, the Negro Ensemble Company went on to produce more than two hundred plays, and to become a place for Black theater professionals to gain experience and prominence in the theatre, television and film. Some notable actors who have worked with the Negro Ensemble Company include Adoph Caesar, Louis Gossett, Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Roxie Roker, Esther Rolle, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Denzel Washington.

“The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. is honored to have a role in celebrating the legacy and the legends responsible for making Theatre great.  It is our contention that without the extraordinary vision of Douglas Turner Ward, Co-founder, Playwright, Actor and Director, the art of Theatre could not have created the profound impact on American culture, international politics and intellectual/social progression that has informed more than three generations.  With assistance from brilliant playwrights, including Samm-Art Williams, Steve Carter, Judi Ann Mason, Wole Soyinka, Charles Fuller, and Leslie Lee, NEC touched and moved the world with innovative thought and amazing performances.  The time to pay homage is long overdue.  It is our sincere hope that we follow the footsteps today and in all the future today’s in ways that give tribute,” says Karen Brown, Negro Ensemble Company Executive Director.

“The overall mission of the NEC is to present live theatre performances by and about black people to a culturally diverse audience that is often underserved by the theatrical community. The NEC cannon created emotionally resonant characters with depth and variety. The NEC paved the way for black Americans to present a voice that had been aggressively stifled for three hundred years–opening the door for others. With the NEC, many black actors found their first opportunity to play characters with depth and meaning. What an honor for Project1VOICE to celebrate and honor the brilliance of this indefatigable legacy of NEC–a legacy that continues to transform American and global theater today. NEC is truly part of the ground on which we all stand,” says Erich McMillan-McCall CEO/Founder of Project1VOICE.

Project1VOICE, in partnership with organizations all over the world will use the staged readings of HOME to expand the conversation about the need to preserve the legacy and tradition of the American theater most specifically African American playwrights and theaters worldwide.  For more information about 1VOICE/1PLAY/1DAY and other programs and events offered by Project1VOICE, visit

Erich McMillan-McCall

Erich McMillan-McCall

About Project1VOICE (Producer)
Founded by actor/producer Erich McMillan-McCall, Project1VOICE is a national organization whose mission is to strengthen and promote African American theater and playwrights through its innovative initiatives and approaches to audience development, volunteerism and community engagement, as well as fundraising. Project1VOICE focuses attention on the challenges confronting African American theaters and assists in providing solutions for sustainability and long-term institutional growth with programs that educate, enlighten and entertain. Project1VOICE seeks to preserve the legacy of African American theater and cultivate future generations of artists and arts patrons.  What began as a grassroots organization for survival in response to the economic downturn of 2008-09 soon developed into a national initiative.   Project1VOICE has produced 5 staged readings in as many years–Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress, The Amen Corner by James Baldwin, A Soldier’s Play by Charles Fuller and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange respectively. In 2013 a special staged reading of Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963 was performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with Howard University, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, African Continuum and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. This event– directed by NEC alum and Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad–commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bombing that killed the four girls in Birmingham, Alabama. The reading was performed on the precise 50th anniversary date–Sunday, September 15, 2013 and live streamed globally.

Now celebrating its 5th consecutive year, Project1VOICE is an evolving and continuing voice for American theater. Key members of the Project1VOICE team are producer/production manager Gwen Gilliam, award-winning playwright and MOTOWN: the Musical director Charles Randolph-Wright and marketing consultant/producer Marcia Pendelton (Walk Tall Girl Productions). HOME is made possible with special permission granted by Samuel French. HAPPY ENDING is made possible with special permission granted by the Dramatists Play Services.

The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (NEC) is the premiere theatrical performance company developing and producing important and superior works by and about African American artists. The company was founded in 1967 by playwright Douglas Turner Ward, actor/producer Robert Hooks, theater manager Gerald Krone. The NEC created a legacy producing critical works that illuminate the very heart and soul of our culture and experience.

Since its founding in 1967, the NEC has produced more than two hundred new plays and provided a theatrical home for more than four thousand cast and crew members. Among its ranks have been some of the world’s finest creative talents from stage, television and film, including Charles Fuller, Louis Gossett Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Leslie Lee, Phylica Rashad, Roxie Roker, Esther Rolle and Denzel Washington. The NEC is respected worldwide for its commitment to excellence and has won dozens of honors and awards. It has garnered 1 Pulitzer Prize, 2 Tony Awards, 13 Obies; with a total of 46 total theatrical achievement awards. While these accolades point to the larger success of the NEC, it has created something far greater. It has been a constant source and sustenance for black actors, directors, writers and other theater professionals as they have worked to break down walls of racial injustices.

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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Crafting a Career

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One comment on “Jun. 15: Elain Graham, S. Epatha Merkerson and Ruben Santiago-Hudson set for PROJECT1VOICE’s 5th Annual 1VOICE/1PLAY/1DAY 2015 NYC staged-reading of HOME; Arthur French, Ebony Jo-Ann, Lizan Mitchell and Leslie Odom, Jr. set for 50th anniversary staged-reading of HAPPY ENDING

  1. Betty Bock
    June 13, 2015

    Eric, I am so impressed and so, so proud of you and the way in which you dream is coming about. Keep me posted. Betty

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