Woodie King’s New Federal Theatre Celebrates 50th Anniversary


Glynn Turman and Woodie King. Photo: Fern Gillespie 


Spanning Black Arts Movement to Black Lives Matter with Virtual Star-Studded Gala on January 17.

For 50 years, spanning from the Black Arts Movement to Black Lives Matter, Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre has been at the forefront of producing critically acclaimed plays with social justice themes focusing on Black lives and people of color. 

Under King, New Federal Theatre has produced over 450 mainstage plays, sending many of them to Broadway, having Off-Broadway hits and launching Black, Latino, Asian and women playwrights and actors into high profile celebrity careers.  He is considered “The King of Black Theatre.”

On January 17 from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM, New Federal Theatre will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a star-studded virtual gala for the public. The Gala will be accessible to the public from the theater’s website, www.newfederaltheatre.com

This virtual gala will honor New Federal Theatre acclaimed alumni: Glynn Turman of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Fargo”; S. Epatha Merkerson of “Law & Order,” “Chicago Med”; Phylicia Rashad of “Between the World and Me,” “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” and “Soul”; Oz Scott, director, Broadway’s “For Colored Girls…” and “Black Lighting”; Beth Turner, publisher Black Masks Magazine; Ron Himes, artistic director St. Louis Black Repertory Company; Cliff Frazier, NFT chairman and Institute of New Cinema Artists founder; and, Douglas Turner Ward, co-founder of The Negro Ensemble Company. The celebration is written by Bill Harris and directed by Dean Irby.  

The co-hosts of New Federal Theatre’s 50th Anniversary Gala have careers spanning span from the 1970s to 2020. There’s Ted Lange, the actor, director and screenwriter who kicked off his TV career with 1970s hits “That’s My Mama” and his iconic Isaac in “The Love Boat; DeWanda Wise, who starred as Brooklyn artist Nola Darling in the 2019 Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It,” and her husband, Alano Miller, who starred as Cato in the 2016 WGN award-winning thriller series on slavery “Underground.” 

DeWanda Wise was directed by Woodie King, Jr.in Leslie Lee’s play “Sundown Names and Night-Gone Things” in 2009 and Ted Lange appeared as Elijah Muhammad in the NFT 2018 revival of “When the Chickens Come Home to Roost.”

Ted Lange met Woodie King in the 1970s when Lange was on Broadway in Melvin Van Peebles’ show, “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death. “Woodie provided the opportunity for Black artists to be Black artists. He provided the venue and all the things we needed as artists to express our art,” Lange recalled. “When 9-11 happened, Woodie was there with the rest of the theaters producing art for the healing process of New York City. He did maybe 20 play readings.  I happen to take part in those readings. At that time, artists responded to the attacks with a healing process.”

The Honorary Committee for the gala includes Debbie Allen, Harry Belafonte, Vin Diesel, Toni Fay, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, La Tanya Richardson Jackson, Sidney Poitier, Issa Rae, Phylicia Rashad, Lamman Rucker, Glynn Turman, Mfundi Vundla and Lynn Whitfield.

Woodie King’s story is about a legacy that spans from his Harlem Renaissance mentor, Langston Hughes, to being a founder of the Black Arts Movement with Amiri Baraka to creating vital productions during the Black Lives Matter era by mentoring stars like Chadwick Boseman and Issa Rae in their early careers. 

King produced Glynn Turman is his first starring role on Broadway in 1974’s “What the Wine Sellers Buy,” produced Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls…” in 1976  and Denzel Washington in his star turn as Malcolm X in the 1981 play “When the Chickens Come Home to Roost.” It was a show that inspired a young Spike Lee and the rest is cinema history.  In addition, he directed Denzel Washington’s first leading man performance on Broadway in “Checkmates” in 1988. 

When Chadwick Boseman was a Howard student, he was mentored by King, who produced Boseman’s first starring role in a Off-Broadway New York play. Issa Rae worked at New Federal Theatre’s office as an assistant, which inspired her to create her web series “Awkward Black Girl” which later became the HBO hit “Insecure.”

At age 83, Woodie King continues to produce theatre productions telling poignant stories of Black life and history. He has adapted to the COVID crisis by taking Black theatre virtual and opening it to global audiences. 

To reserve, go to https://newfederaltheatre.com or send an email to [email protected]. Suggested donations are welcomed

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