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New Perspectives Theatre Company Presents Next Reading In ON HER SHOULDERS Program

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On Her Shoulders presentS staged readings of four short plays by Eulalie Spence: Episode, The Hunch, The Starter and Undertow on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The evening is directed by Arminda Thomas who also provides The Play in Context, situating the scripts in their historical time and place. Doors open at 6:45pm for a 7:00pm start with the PIC lecture, followed by the readings and a post-performance Q&A with refreshments.

Eulalie Spence (1894 - 1981) was a writer, teacher, director, actress and playwright from the British West Indies. She was an influential member of the Harlem Renaissance and is believed to be the only playwright of that group to formally attend classes in dramatic structure. She graduated from Wadleigh High School and the New York Training School for Teachers. In 1924 she was a student at the National Ethiopian Art Theatre School, which was dedicated to the training and employment of black actors. Spence received a B.A. in 1937 from New York University and an M.A. in speech in 1939 from Teacher's College, Columbia University. She was a prolific writer during the 1920s and 1930s with fourteen known plays and Harlem was the setting for many of them including Episode, The Hunch, The Starter and Undertow. Spence insisted "that plays obey the rules of dramatic form, not a political agenda." As a follower of Alain Locke, she held fast to her belief that her actors have the voice of the everyday working people, black dialect included. Many of Spence's plays were comedies and some of her contemporaries did not believe that the "New Negro" was ready for such frivolity in any arena of American life. Nonetheless, her plays helped to make a name for the Krigwa Players- a guild founded by W.E.B DuBois- amongst both Black and white critics. Her opened Kriwga's second season in 1927 and Critic William E. Clarke wrote in the New York Age:

In 1927, Krigwa sponsored Spence's Fool's Errand to compete in the Fifth Annual International Little Theatre Tournament, a first for Black theatre artists since the finalists competed in a Broadway theatre. The Krigwa Players won one of four $200 prizes and the play was published by Samuel French. However, Spence and DuBois didn't see eye to eye, artistically or politically. DuBois took the prize money and used it to reimburse production expenses and paid neither the actors nor Spence. The Krigwa Players disbanded as a result. Politically, DuBois felt that theatre should be used as a vehicle to showcase propaganda plays to advance the cause of the American Negro. Spence, on the other hand, always very aware of the fact that she was not African American but rather from the West Indies, had a different outlook. She felt that theatre was the place for people to be entertained and not "antagonized by the problems of society".

After the Krigwa Players, Spence focused on teaching (she had begun her career with the NYC Public Schools in 1918) and then acting for Columbia University's Laboratory Players. She used her progressive thinking to discuss social norms with her students. Her thirty-one year career at Eastern District High School in Brooklyn was groundbreaking, especially given that she was a black teacher in a predominantly white school. It was there that she became a mentor to Joseph Papp, who would go on to create The Public Theatre and who cited Spence as "the most influential force in my life." Eulalie Spence died in Gettysburg, PA, on March 7, 1981, at the age of 86. Her obituary did not mention her career as a playwright, saying only that she was a retired schoolteacher.

Admission is by Donation ($10). The performance is at NPTC Studio, 458 West 37 Street @10th Avenue. R.S.V.P. to OnHerShouldersReservations@gmail.com.


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