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Made In Harlem: Harlem Theatre

  • Maysles Cinema 343 Lenox Avenue New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)
Harlem Theater.jpg

Harlem Theatre

(This program is part of the series Made in Harlem: Class of ‘68)

Saturday, December 15th, 7:30pm
Presented by Maysles Cinema and The Luminal Theater
Klaus Wildenhahn, 97 mins, 1968

Harlem, 1968. The hope of the Black nation has been assassinated. But Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy takes center stage at the New Lafayette Theatre. This is where filmmaker Klaus Wildenhahn turns his lens Uptown to follow Harlem’s New Lafayette Theatre members as they rehearse scenes, conduct acting exercises for their upcoming season, and run politically radical workshops for the community.

Founded by actor-director Robert Macbeth, the New Lafayette Theatre was a significant institution within the Black Arts Movement, creating politically and artistically radical theatre by Black people for Black audiences. To further empower the community Macbeth recruited Ed Bullins – the former Black Panthers’ Minister of Culture - as the theatre’s playwright-in- residence.  

In addition to recording the theatre’s workshops, the movie contains lively street interviews with Harlem’s residents, and scenes from a Black Panther fundraiser held for Eldridge Cleaver, whose quotes bracket the film (though oddly read by the German filmmakers). The film also heavily profiles NLT director Macbeth, whose wit, skill, charm, and salesmanship (even among excruciating group-therapy exorcisms) spur the New Lafayette players to succeed at their craft.

Part political and historical document, part classic arts manual, Harlem Theatre speaks to contemporary concerns regarding justice for Black people, the instrumentality of art to bring about change, and the limited opportunities available to Black performers.

Also featuring Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, a young Ed Bullins reading for the first time to the NLT members the prologue to one of his most famous plays In the Wine Time, George Lee Miles, Gary Bolling, and Helen Ellis rehearsing for their performance of Bullins’ play How Do You Do, NLT breakout actor Roscoe Orman (Sesame Street, Willie Dynamite), and a young Whitman Mayo (Sanford & Son) in multiple scenes going over Macbeth’s brand of ‘Method’ alongside other acting techniques… Harlem Theatre bursts open a 1968 time capsule full of outrage and knowledge.

Q&A with NLT actors Gary Bolling (The Cool World, The Taking of Pelham 123, Losing Ground) and George Lee Miles (The WarriorsThe Education of Sonny Carson).

The Luminal Theater exhibits cinema and media by and focusing on the African diaspora (African-American, African, Caribbean, Afro-European, etc) to existing and new audiences in Brooklyn, New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, and surrounding communities, to overturn the deficiency of cinematic images that fully represent the Black community. The Luminal’s ongoing programming provides Black cinema access to Black art and cinema enthusiasts, filmmakers, multimedia artists and arts companies that represent and respect the work of these voices. We serve these works in regular venues to view this art, allowing a safe space for Black film art to flourish.  

This program is part of
Made In Harlem: Class of ‘68
Fall 2018- Spring 2019

In the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King (April 4th, 1968) and the subsequent riots throughout America’s tapestry of urban centers – a fruitful reformer’s zeal possessed the U.S. which lead in part to the dawn of Black and Ethnic Studies programs, and the first community colleges. More locally in Harlem the Studio Museum was founded, as well as the National Black Theater, and El Museo del Barrio. As well in 1968, galvanized by the assassination of MLK, the New York City Ballet’s first African American star Arthur Mitchell (1934-2018) began teaching at the Harlem School of the Arts, and formed what would become the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1969.

Made in Harlem: Class of ’68 unpacks and explores the period before, during, and after the birth of these key cultural institutions in Harlem, a period where Black Power, the Civil Rights Era, and Black Arts Movement coalesced and helped forge new aesthetics, politics, understandings and philosophies – the legacy of which is found everywhere throughout the planet in 2018.

As Harlem, the United States and the planet goes through rapid transformation there is hunger and yearning for context, understanding and literacy of our shared, and often erased history. This is an opportunity to quench that thirst. Made in Harlem is programmed by Jessica Green.

Co-presented by Rochelle S. Miller.  Special thanks to archivist/collector Ira Gallen for saving and preserving the film Harlem Theatre.  Extended thanks to Jack Hardy at Grapevine Video for digitizing the print from the Ira H. Gallen Archives.

This series is supported by the West Harlem Development Corporation.


Later Event: December 20
Charm City