Renowned actor and NEC artistic director Charles Weldon succumbed to lung cancer on December 7, 2018.

Meeting the Challenges: Charles Weldon and the NEC

by Freda Scott Giles

The Negro Ensemble Company was born from a challenge. In 1966, fresh from a triumphant run of his two one-act plays, Day of Absence and Happy Ending at the St. Marks Play-house on the lower eastside of Manhattan, playwright/actor Douglas Turner Ward challenged the theatre establishment by means of an op-ed article published in The New York Times, titled "American Theatre: For Whites Only?" Ward expressed the need for a producing venue for Black-authored and performed theatre; he envisioned a repertory company similar to Bertoldt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble. Fortuitously, the Ford Foundation responded to his challenge with a generous grant of $1.2 million over three years and the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) became a reality. For over half a century, this iconic, world famous theatre organ-ization has been accosted by financial problems, artistic differences, and intraracial politics, but has managed to survive.

Actor Robert Hooks and theatre financial manager Gerald S. Krone partnered with Ward in putting NEC on its feet. The inaugural season was mounted in 1967-1968: Ward, as artistic director, selected Song of the Lusitanian Bogey by Peter Weiss, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler, Kongi's Harvest by Wole Soyinka, and Daddy Goodness by Richard Wright. Though artistically strong and solidly mounted, the first season raised questions that are still being debated.... (continued)

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Freda Scott Giles earned her PhD at the City University of New York. A specialist in African American theatre, directing and acting, she has authored articles focusing on early African American theatre, Harlem Renaissance drama and theatre, and contemporary African American theatre practitioners. She has also written several plays, and directed a considerable number of productions in New York and Georgia. A professional actor, she has performed Off Broadway and in film, television and radio. In addition, she is the founding editor of Continuum, an online peer-reviewed journal of African Diaspora drama, theatre, and performance, published by Black Theatre Network.


Fall 2018

This article is featured in Vol. 24, No. 3

Also in this issue:

  • Ron OJ Parson: A Legacy of Good Work and Influencing Others

  • In Memoriam: Grace L. Jones and Dr. Paul Bryant-Jackson

  • Editor's Notes: Black Men of Letters Honor Black Women Writers

  • Arts Hotline

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    Charles Weldon playing Pop Pop in Nadhege Ptah's 2018 film Paris Blues in Harlem. The cast also included Tonya Pinkins and Arthur French.