Classical Theatre of Harlem Bids Farewell To Their Founders

After founding the Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) and serving as the company's Artistic Director and Executive Director for the past eleven seasons respectively, Alfred Preisser and Christopher McElroen will depart the Off-Broadway theatre this November.

In their eleven-year tenure, McElroen & Preisser have led CTH from an out-of-pocket start-up to an internationally recognized organization with an annual budget of approximately $1M.

The founding, and continuing, mission of the Classical Theatre of Harlem is to present the "classics" on the stages of Harlem, to nurture a new, young, and culturally diverse theatre audience, and to produce theatre that truly reflects the diversity of ideas and racial tapestry that is New York City.

Since its founding in 1999, Preisser & McElroen, with the support of many, have successfully executed CTH's mission by producing 41 full productions in Harlem yielding 13 AUDELCO Awards, 6 OBIE Awards, 2 Lucille Lortel Awards, a Drama Desk Award, an Edwin Booth Award for Outstanding Contribution to New York Theatre, recognition for Sustained Artistic Excellence by The American Theatre Wing and CTH being named "1 of 8 theatres in America to Watch" by the Drama League.

"Starting and leading this company has been a life-changing experience for me," says Preisser. "It's been a real privilege to be a part of CTH, and to have had the chance to work with the great artists and audience that have contributed to our success. It's the best of what a life in the theatre has to offer."

In its first eleven seasons CTH has provided artistic opportunities to over 400 artists helping nearly 60 emerging actors earn their Actors Equity card since 2004 when CTH became the only year round theatre in Harlem producing on an Equity contract. To date, the work of CTH has reached an audience of more than 125,000, hailed by New York Magazine as "the youngest most diverse audience in town."

McElroen comments, "I am forever grateful to the dedicated artists, audiences, funders and community partners that have brought their creativity and passion in support of the first eleven seasons of the Classical Theatre of Harlem. After eleven truly remarkable years it is time to build on the experiences I've shared in at CTH and create something new."

Preisser continues, "Eleven years is a long time to work at any one thing. I know that this present moment is the time to move on to something new, and to build something great with the artists and audience I've met while directing CTH."

At CTH McElroen has directed The Cherry Orchard with Wendell Pierce and Earle Hyman, Jean Genet's The Blacks: A Clown Show (4 OBIE Awards and named one of the top ten productions of the 2003 season by The New York Times), an original adaptation of Richard Wright's novel Native Son, Marat Sade, Rhinoceros, The Crazy Locomotive and most recently Three Sisters with Roger Guenveur Smith, Reg E. Cathey, Carmen deLavallade and Earle Hyman for which he received a 2009 AUDELCO nomination for best direction. He also directed the nationally acclaimed post-Katrina inspired production of Waiting For Godot staged outdoors in the Lower 9th Ward and Gentilly section of New Orleans. While at CTH McElroen also had the opportunity to direct and lecture at Stanford University, Dartmouth College and Duke University, among others.

At CTH Preisser has directed critically acclaimed original adaptations of Medea, The Trojan Women, Nobel-prize winner Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain, Electra and King Lear, which went on to open The 75th Anniversary Season of The Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. He also helmed the critical and popular successes Black Nativity and Caligula, both starring Andre' De Shields. In 2004 his production of Shakespeare's Macbeth traveled to the Bonn Biennial in Germany where it enjoyed a sold out run. His 2005 production of Melvin Van Peebles' Aint Supposed to Die a Natural Death was the first New York revival of that seminal American musical since 1971, and went on to win seven AUDELCO Awards, including Best Director. This past summer he co-authored and directed Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, a production funded in part by a generous $100,000 grant from The New York City Theatre Sub-district Committee.

Both Preisser & McElroen are confident that the Classical Theatre of Harlem will continue to thrive and they wish the forthcoming leaders of the organization the greatest success in continuing the mission of presenting great classical theatre within the Harlem community.

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