Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad in Benefit February 13

On February 13, New York's historic Town Hall will be the setting for an extraordinary star-studded salute to the endurance and influence of Woodie King, Jr.'s New Federal Theatre (NFT), for 35 years a seminal force in the Black Arts Movement (BAM). Co-hosted by Ossie Davis, Lynn Whitfield and Avery Brooks," "Catch The Spirit of Black Theater" will celebrate the NFT's vital contribution to the arts internationally. The gala will feature a special "roast and toast" to Negro Ensemble Company co-founder award winning actor/director/writer, Douglas Turner Ward, an awards presentation honoring significant contributors to the development of the theatre and performances by an illustrious roster of African-American stars of film, television and theater.

Special guest artists appearing include: Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, Obba Babatunde, Amiri Baraka, Mayme Hansberry, Robert Hooks, Reginald Vel Johnson, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, S. Epatha Merkerson, Phylicia Rashad, Ruben-Santiago Hudson, Kiki Shepard, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Glynn Turman, Leslie Uggams, Denzel Washington and Hattie Winston.

Honorary Chairs are Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis, C. Virginia Fields and Cicely Tyson. Co-chairs are Robert Hooks, Samuel L. Jackson, Byron Lewis, Phylicia Rashad and Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

The event will honor lyricist/composer/writer/performer Micki Grant, creator of the groundbreaking original musical revue, Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope; prolific playwright, Ed Bullins; and producer, director, lyricist George C. Wolfe. Two special awards for contributions to Black theater will also be presented: one, to the critically acclaimed ensemble cast of the recent revival A Raisin in the Sun, including Sean Combs and Phylicia Rashad, and the second, to the Theater Development Fund, whose support of minority artists and companies has been critical to their survival.

The gala celebration will kick-off at 3:00pm at Town Hall followed by a dinner with the honorees, performers and national committee members. Tickets for the 35th Anniversary Gala Benefit are $75, $175, and $300 (includes dinner); tables are $3,000, $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and $25,000 and can be purchased by calling Lorelei Enterprises at 212-838-2660 or Ticketmaster at 212-307- 4100

About the New Federal Theatre…

Launched in the basement of the Lower East Side's St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, New Federal Theatre has gone on to international acclaim for its bold mission to integrate minorities and women into the main stream of American theater by training artists for the profession and by presenting plays by minorities and women to integrated, multi-cultural audiences -- plays which evoke the truth through beautiful artistic recreations of ourselves.

Founded by Woodie King Jr. in 1970, New Federal Theater (NFT) grew out of a theater program at Mobilization for Youth and was originally funded by the Henry Street Settlement along with a small grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. St. Augustine's Church on Henry Street opened its basement for the launch of the theater's first season. In 1974, the construction of the Henry Street Settlement's Louis Abrons Arts Center, located at 466 Grand Street, was completed. The facility includes three theaters, rehearsal studios and modern stage equipment, all of which were made available to NFT.

In March 1996, NFT's administrative offices returned to its home at St. Augustine's Church, but maintains its production and training programs at Henry Street Settlements' Abrons Art Center. Specializing in minority drama, NFT has brought the joy of the living stage to not only the minority community living on the Lower East Side, but to audiences from all over the metropolitan area. NFT has provided emerging playwrights with the opportunity to have their works produced; it has brought minority actors, directors and designers to national attention and sponsored numerous ethnic theater groups and events. NFT's Vocational Training Workshops continue to prepare minority people for employment in theater and related fields. Most importantly, NFT provides the multi-ethnic Lower East Side, as well as the New York Metro area with theater of the highest caliber that relates to the interest of different cultural groups.

The impact of NFT is nothing less than extraordinary. It is almost impossible to turn on a TV or see a movie and not see a NFT alumni. Writers first presented at NFT are now part of the literary fabric of the American mainstream. Many plays attained national significance and reached much wider audiences by having been showcased at NFT. Playwrights such a J. E. Franklin, Ron Milner, Ed Bullins, Amiri Baraka, Joseph Lazardi, Ntozake Shange, David Henry Hwang, Damian Leake, Genny Lim, Laurence Holder, Alexis DeVeaux and others have risen to national prominence.

The alumni list of NFT productions reads like a Who's Who of American theater, film and television: Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Jackee Harry, Laurence Fishburne, Dick Anthony Williams, Glynn Turman, Taurean Blacque, Debbie Morgan, Robert Downey Jr., Garrett Morris, Lynn Whitfield, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruby Dee, Ella Joyce, Leslie Uggams, Samuel L. Jackson and scores more.

Under Woodie King Jr.'s stewardship NFT and the National Black Touring Circuit have presented over 180 productions in the last three and a half decades including: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, What the Winesellers Buy, Reggae, The Taking of Miss Janie and Dance and the Railroad. His directorial credits are extensive and include work in film as well as in theater. He has directed at the most prominent theaters across the country and has been the recipient of numerous awards from Audelco, the NAACP, Drama Critics Circle and an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement.

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