Signature Theatre and The Negro Ensemble Company to Honor Late Playwright Leslie Lee, 3/24

Signature Theatre and The Negro Ensemble Company to Honor Late Playwright Leslie Lee, 3/24

On Monday, March 24, 2014, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (Charles Weldon, Artistic Director; Karen Brown, Executive Director) and Signature Theatre (James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director; Erika Mallin, Executive Director) will unite in a day-long celebration of the life and works of Tony Award-nominated playwright Leslie Lee. Lee passed away in New York City on January 20, 2014.

The celebration begins at 3pm with a memorial service honoring Leslie Lee, curated by Heather Massie, founder of The Leslie Lee Legacy Fund. The event will feature excerpts from some of Mr. Lee's plays and speakers include Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Charles Weldon, and Douglas Turner Ward. NEC continues the tribute with a 7pm reading of Legends, one of Lee's most recent plays which has not been produced previously. Immediately following the 7pm reading, there will be a VIP reception in tribute to Mr. Lee. The day of celebration for Leslie Lee will be held at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 W. 42nd Street between 9th/10th Aves).

The 3pm Memorial is free and open to the public. Tickets for the 7pm reading of Legends produced by The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. ($20 general admission, $30 with post-show VIP reception) are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200, online by visiting www.ticketcentral.com, or by visiting Ticket Central's box office, located at 416 W. 42nd Street (Daily Noon-8pm).

Leslie Lee's substantial credits and impressive legacy began with his inception into the playwrights training program at NEC. His acclaimed play The First Breeze of Summer, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and starring Leslie Uggams, enjoyed a successful revival in 2008 at Signature Theatre, winning nine Audelco Awards. The First Breeze of Summer was originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company, Inc., directed by Co-Founder and then Artistic Director, Douglas Turner Ward, and went on to win an Obie Award for Best New American Play as well as an Outer Critics Circle Award. Subsequently, the play moved to the Palace Theatre on Broadway, where it received a 1976 Tony Award nomination for Best Play. Mr. Lee additionally wrote The War Party, Colored People's Time, Blues in a Broken Tongue, The Rabbit's Foot; Black Eagles, Hannah Davis; a new a version of the musical Golden Boy, in collaboration with Charles Strouse and Lee Adams; a musical about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. currently titled Before The Dream, in collaboration with Charles Strouse; a musical, Phillis, in collaboration with Micki Grant; Elegy To A Down Queen, Cops and Robbers, Spirit North, Legends, The Ninth Wave, Between Now and Then, Sundown Names and Night-Gone Things, Mina, The Book of Lambert, Cherokee Rose, and Apples and Oranges. Mr. Lee also wrote several screenplays, including The First Breeze of Summer, Almos' a Man, Go Tell It on the Mountain (American Playhouse), Summer Father, The Killing Floor, and most recently a screenplay on Alexander Pushkin, titled Pushkin. Mr. Lee taught dramatic writing for The Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing Program at the NYU Tisch School the Arts. A longtime member of New Dramatists, he served as head of its Alumni Association. He was a founding artist of La MaMa e.t.c., served as Executive Director of NEC, and was a Playwright-in-Residence with Signature Theatre.

Support for The Leslie Lee Legacy Fund for the continued production of his works and legacy of writing can be made by tax deductible contributions through Fractured Atlas. http://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=9976.

The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. is honored to present Legends as part of the NEC Monday Night Reading Series, in tribute to Leslie Lee whose extraordinary gifts as a playwright are eclipsed only by his gentleness and generosity of spirit. Though he is absent in presence, his soul undoubtedly continues to inspire us as embodied in the living art of his writing, with his ever-present and unmistakable genius of voice; we heed his legacy urging us to carry on. He will be missed, loved, revered but not forgotten. For more information on the NEC Monday Night Reading Series, visit www.necinc.org.

About THE NEGRO ENSEMBLE COMPANY, INC.: NEC provides African-American, African and Caribbean professional artists with an opportunity to learn, to work, to grow and to be nurtured in the performing arts. NEC produces work by and about black people to a culturally diverse audience, thereby providing the broader access to appreciate the voice from a rich, diverse culture often underserved. In 1965, Playwright Douglas Turner Ward, producer/actor Robert Hooks, and theater manager Gerald Krone made a dream a reality with The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc.. The catalyst for this was "A Raisin in the Sun." Hooks and Ward were castmates in the road company; and they dreamed of starting a theater company run by and for black people. Eventually with money from the Ford Foundation and a home at the St. Marks Playhouse, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. formed officially in 1967. Success began with the play The River Niger, that later moved to Broadway (Tony Award for Best Play), and later an extensive tour. In 1981, the NEC had probably its most successful production with A Soldier's Play, winning the Critics Circle Best Play Award and the Pulitzer Prize. The NEC has produced more than two hundred new plays and provided a theatrical home for more than four thousand cast and crew members. The NEC is respected worldwide for its commitment to excellence, and has won dozens of honors and awards. It has been a constant source and sustenance for black actors, directors, and writers as they have worked to break down walls of racial prejudice.

About SIGNATURE THEATRE: Signature Theatre exists to honor and celebrate the playwright. Founded in 1991 by James Houghton, Signature makes an extended commitment to a playwright's body of work, and during this journey, the writer is engaged in every aspect of the creative process. By championing in-depth explorations of a playwright's body of work, Signature delivers an intimate and immersive journey into the playwright's singular vision.

Signature serves its mission through its permanent home at The Pershing Square Signature Center, a three-theatre facility on West 42nd Street designed by Frank Gehry Architects to host Signature's three distinct playwrights' residencies and foster a cultural community. At the Center, opened in January 2012, Signature continues its founding Playwright-in-Residence model as Residency One, a first-of-its-kind, intensive exploration of a single writer's body of work. Residency Five, the only program of its kind, was launched at the Center to support multiple playwrights as they build bodies of work by guaranteeing each writer three productions over a five-year period. The Legacy Program, launched during Signature's 10th Anniversary, invites writers from both residencies back for productions of premiere or earlier plays.

The Pershing Square Signature Center is a major contribution to New York City's cultural landscape and provides a venue for cultural organizations that supports and encourages collaboration among artists throughout the space. In addition to its three intimate theatres, the Center features a studio theatre, rehearsal studio, and a public café, bar and bookstore. Through the Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access, Signature has also made an unprecedented commitment to making its productions accessible by underwriting the cost of initial run tickets, currently priced at $25, through 2031.

Signature has presented entire seasons of the work of Edward Albee, Lee Blessing, Horton Foote, Maria Irene Fornes, Athol Fugard, John Guare, Bill Irwin, Adrienne Kennedy, Tony Kushner, Romulus Linney, Charles Mee, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Paula Vogel, August Wilson, Lanford Wilson, and a season celebrating the historic Negro Ensemble Company. Signature's current Residency One playwright is David Henry Hwang; current Residency Five playwrights are Annie Baker, Martha Clarke, Will Eno, Katori Hall, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Kenneth Lonergan, and Regina Taylor; and the current Legacy Playwrights are Horton Foote and August Wilson. Signature, its productions and its resident writers have been recognized with the Pulitzer Prize, Lucille Lortel Awards, Obie Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and AUDELCO Awards, among many other distinctions. For more information, visit signaturetheatre.org.

Photo by RD/Leon/Retna Ltd.

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