New Federal Theatre to Present TELLING TALES OUT OF SCHOOL Beginning Next Month

Performances will run from October 17 to November 12, 2023.

By: Sep. 23, 2023
New Federal Theatre to Present TELLING TALES OUT OF SCHOOL Beginning Next Month

Following an enthusiastically received work in progress of the play last May, New Federal Theatre (NFT) will present the world premiere of "Telling Tales Out of School," a new play by Wesley Brown, from October 17 to November 12 at Castillo Theatre/ASP, 543 West 42nd Street. The play offers a unique perspective on the Harlem Renaissance by providing a character study of four of its most-noted female prime movers, revealing their ambitions, longings and resentments and illuminating the feminine energy they brought to the movement. Director is Woodie King, Jr., founder and Producing Director Emeritus of NFT and an iconic figure of Black Theater. King and NFT received a 2020 Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre and the Off-Broadway Alliance named him a "Legend of Off-Broadway."

In the play, it's June, 1954 and a memorial service for Alain Locke, architect of the Harlem Renaissance, is being held at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Among the attendees are Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset and Nancy Cunard. Not having seen one another in over twenty years, they gather at the Hotel Theresa after the funeral. Over tea, an afternoon of boundless praise of Locke unravels into disturbing revelations about the great man and the four women who have come to honor him.

Beate Hein Bennett reported on the work-in-progress for New York Theatre Wire, writing: "Wesley Brown's play brings to life these four very different women as they engage each other in a rather bold unmasking of each one's 'vulnerable vulnerabilities' (to use an Alain Locke phrase)...[raising] questions as relevant today as they were for these women: questions of identity, of self-identification, of language as social signifier, of social relationships in a society that is fractured by competition, racism, gender distrust, and political hypocrisy." Susan Hall added in Berkshire Fine Arts, "Broadway bound? Come hear a reading and join the discussion."

The four leading women of the Harlem Renaissance are played by four distinguished actresses of Off-Broadway. Richarda Abrams plays Jessie Fauset, June Ballinger plays Nancy Cunard, Petronia Paley plays Nella Larsen and Elizabeth Van Dyke plays Zora Neale Hurston.


Nellallitea "Nella" Larsen (1891-1964) studied nursing and worked as a nurse before becoming a librarian and then a writer. She is best known for her two novels, "Quicksand" (1928) and "Passing" (1929), which explore racial identity and the experiences of light-skinned African American women. She was recognized for her unique style and exploration of complex racial and social issues. Her career was cut short by accusations of plagiarism and controversies over her personal life. Larsen's book "Passing" was adapted into the acclaimed 2021 film of the same name by Rebecca Hall.

Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) was literary editor of "The Crisis," the official magazine of the NAACP, and played a key role in promoting African American literature during the early 20th century. She authored four novels, numerous short stories, and advocated for education and civil rights throughout her life.

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) was a British writer, heiress of the Cunard Shipping Line and political activist who rejected her privileged background to become an advocate for social justice and anti-colonialism. A key figure in the literary/cultural scene of 1920s and 30s Europe, She was a muse to some of the most distinguished writers and artists of the time, among them Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Langston Hughes, Aldous Huxley and Ezra Pound. She is best known for her book, "Negro: An Anthology," which brought together writings by Black writers from around the world. An outspoken advocate for civil rights, she was involved in various political movements throughout her life.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an author, folklorist, and anthropologist. She is best known for her novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (1937), a masterpiece of African-American literature. Her work often explored the experiences of African-Americans in the rural South. She conducted extensive research on African-American folklore and culture and her anthropological work remains influential today. Her use of Black regional vernacular and folklore helped to establish her as a distinctive voice and style in African- American literature.


Richarda Abrams (Jessie Fauset) is a three-time AUDELCO award-winning actress, singer, playwright and producer. Her theatrical performances include "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (Ivoryton Playhouse), "Last Days of Judas Iscariot" (directed by Estelle Parsons at La MaMa) and "Fear Itself" (Crossroads). She has appeared Off-Broadway at The Public Theater, Cherry Lane, Second Stage and The Acting Company, among others. Her on-camera credits include "The Subject" by Chisa Hutchinson, "The Riverside Bench," "Oreos With Attitude" (Showtime), "Sesame Street," "One Life To Live," "As The World Turns," "Cosby" and Lifetime's "Sherri."

June Ballinger (Nancy Cunard) is an actor of American and British heritage. She frequently performs her one-woman show, "Remembrance Day", about a female code breaker at Bletchley Park during WWII (inspired by the life of her mother). She was in the original Broadway cast of "Pack of Lies" starring Rosemary Harris. She has appeared Off-Broadway at Ensemble Studio Theatre, New World Symphony New Work Program in collaboration with The Playwright's Realm, Primary Stages and Chelsea Theatre Center, among others. Regionally she has appeared at New Harmony Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Kennedy Center and numerous others. For 22 years she led The Passage Theatre Company in Trenton, NJ. Her TV work includes NBC's "The Blacklist," Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building," "Law & Order SVU," "Amazon Prime Hunters," "Law & Order," "Saturday Night Live" and various soaps. She plays Mrs. Henry in "Monster" (Netflix, 2021). She is a company member of the Actors Center NYC and Ensemble Studio Theatre and serves on the board of Woodie King Jr.'s New Federal Theatre.

Petronia Paley (Nellallitea "Nella" Larsen) is an award-winning actor who has appeared in classical and contemporary theater on Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatre. In 2020, she understudied Cicely Tyson in "The Gin Game" on Broadway. She has received five AUDELCO nominations and three AUDELCO awards for her acting, including for her solo show, "On The Way To Timbuktu," which was first produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre. She is a veteran of daytime TV, creating long-running characters on "The Guiding Light" and "Another World." At NFT, she has appeared in "The Trial" and "Most Dangerous Man in America" and directed "Looking for Leroy" by Larry Muhammad. She is a member of The Actors Studio, Red Bull Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theatre.

Elizabeth Van Dyke (Zora Neale Hurston), an actress, director and producer, earned acclaim for playing the famed author in "Zora Neale Hurston" by Laurence Holder, initially directed by the late Wynn Handman and later by Woodie King, Jr. for a 2016 revival by NFT at Castillo Theatre. She received an AUDELCO Award for Best Actress. She won an Ace Gold Award for "Love To All, Lorraine," a play based on the life of Lorraine Hansberry at The American Place Theatre and EST. She originated the roles of Fannie Mae Dove in "Flyin' West" by Pearl Cleage, Mattie in "No N..., No Jews, & No Dogs" by the late John Henry Redwood, and Annie in "The Dance On Widow's Row" by Samm Art Williams. In the 2022 AUDELCO Awards, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award and won Best Featured Actress for her performance in "Wedding Band" directed by Awoye Timpo at Theatre for a New Audience. Ms. Van Dyke is also an accomplished director. She recently directed "Gong Lum's Legacy" by Charles White, which was awarded Best Production in the 2022 AUDELCO Awards. She succeeded Woodie King, Jr. as Producing Artistic Director of NFT in 2021.


Wesley Brown is the author of three published novels, a collection of short stories, "Dance of the Infidels," and four produced plays that include: "Boogie Woogie and Booker T" (NFT, 1987 starring La Tanya Richardson, Reuben Santiago Hudson and Marie Brown; winner of four AUDELCO awards), "Life During Wartime" (1992, also winner of four AUDELCO awards), and "A Prophet Among Them" (2001). He is Professor Emeritus in English at Rutgers University and a former Visiting Professor in the Arts Division at Bard College at Simon's Rock. He wrote the narration for a segment of the 1997 PBS documentary, "W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography in Four Voices" and is co-editor of the "Methuen Anthology of American Women Playwrights: 1970-2020". A new edition of his first novel, "Tragic Magic" was published by McSweeney's in 2021.


Woodie King, Jr. (Director) is founder and Producing Director Emeritus of NFT. He has directed for Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater and film. In 2021, Woodie King, Jr.'s New Federal Theatre received the 2020 Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. In 2020, the Off-Broadway Alliance named Woodie King, Jr. a "Legend of Off-Broadway. In recent years, he has been the subject of biographical documentaries including "The King of Stage: the Woodie King, Jr. Story" directed by Juney Smith and TCG's "Legacy Leaders of Color" video project. His numerous other awards include an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement, TCG's Peter Zeisler Award, AEA's Paul Robeson Award, AEA's Rosetta LeNoire Award, an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Wayne State University, a Doctorate of Fine Arts from the College of Wooster and Honorary Doctorates from Lehman College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In 2012 he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and received the Innovative Theatre Award's Sustained Excellence in Theatre.

In 1985, he was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for "Boseman and Lena" and in the 1987/88 season he won an NAACP Image Award for directing "Checkmates" at Inner City Cultural Center, Los Angeles. In 1988, he directed "Checkmates" on Broadway. Other directing projects include Charles Dutton in "Splendid Mummer" at American Place Theatre, "God's Trombones" at the Ford's Theatre, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" at Detroit Rep, "A Raisin in the Sun" and "The Member of the Wedding" at GeVa, Robert Johnson's "Trick the Devil" (AUDELCO Awards for Best Director and Best Play of the Year), "Checkmates" at St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre, And the World Laughs with You" at Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, "Mud Tracks" by Regina Taylor at Ensemble Studio Theatre, "A Raisin in the Sun" starring Esther Rolle and Kenny Leon at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Samm-Art Williams' "Home" at Brooklyn College, "Ali" at the Crossroads Theatre, "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches" and "2010 Men in White" at Ohio State University, "The Piano Lesson" at Tennessee Repertory Theatre in Nashville and Seminole State College and "Sowa's Red Gravy" with Lonette McKee. He has been a visiting professor at numerous universities.


Set design is by Chris Cumberbatch. Lighting design is by Antoinette Tynes. Costume design is by Gail Cooper Hecht. Sound design is by Bill Toles. Properties design is by Belynda M'Baye. Scenic design is by Terrell James. Choreographer is Mickey Davidson. Stage Manager is Bayo and Assistant Stage Manager is Fumiko Tanaka.


New Federal Theatre (NFT) was founded by Woodie King, Jr. in 1970 as an outgrowth of a theater program called Mobilization for Youth. This neighborhood-based professional theatre was originally funded by the Henry Street Settlement along with a small grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. The theater's first season was launched in the basement of St. Augustine's Church on Henry Street.

Several early successes brought NFT to national prominence: "Black Girl" by J.E. Franklin won a Drama Desk Award. "The Taking of Miss Janie" by Ed Bullins moved from NFT to Lincoln Center and won the Drama Critics Circle Award. "For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange performed on Broadway for ten months and was nominated for the Tony Award before embarking on a three-year national tour. It has subsequently been performed regionally and around the world, and was revived off-Broadway in 2019. Both plays were co-produced with the late Joseph Papp.

Many performers have benefited from early successes on NFT's stage, including the late Chadwick Boseman, Debbie Allen, Morgan Freeman, Phylicia Rashad, Denzel Washington, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Issa Rae, and many more.

Photo Credit: L-R: June Ballinger as Nancy Cunard, Petronia Paley as Nella Larsen, Elizabeth Van Dyke as Zora Neale Hurston, Richarda Abrams as Jessie Fauset. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

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