New York University's African Grove Theatre hosts its inaugural production, The African Company Presents Richard III, Carlyle Brown’s play about the country's first Black theater that performed on the same block where its namesake theater now stands.
The production, featuring Tisch School of the Arts students from Grad Acting and Design for Stage & Film, will be performed Nov. 15-18 and Nov. 20-21 in the new state-of-the-art theater on the fourth floor of the John A. Paulson Center.
The play celebrates a new era for the Tisch theater training program by honoring the legacy of the Black theater it is named for, explains Carl Cofield, chair of Grad Acting who is directing the play. Brown’s play is being performed in New York City for the first time.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to pay homage to the artists whose shoulders I stand on,” says Cofield. “We are in the space, on the actual land, where some of our forebears and artists were telling these stories. This play pays respect to the people who paved the road and smoothed some of the bumps. It feels like the absolute right thing at the right moment.”
The 145-seat African Grove is one of three theaters in the John A. Paulson Center, which opened in April. The Iris Cantor Theatre seats 350 and is NYU’s first professional-level proscenium theater. Theatre C is a flexible black box theater that can be configured in multiple ways for maximum creativity. The Paulson Center also boasts rehearsal rooms, music practice rooms, design shops, and a performance space specially designed for acoustic music.
Together, they elevate the program’s facilities to the caliber of its faculty and curriculum.
“This is a game changer, and not only for acting. It lends itself to collaboration, and ultimately it creates an ecosystem that supports student development in a beautiful way,” Cofield adds.
NYU announced last year that strategic investor and philanthropist Ceci Chan donated $1 million to name the theater after the historic Black company that performed in Greenwich Village a century ago. William Alexander Brown, a former ship steward, founded the African Grove in 1816, hosting poetry readings, musical performances, and plays. The company opened a 300-seat theater in 1821, where it performed Shakespeare and other classics, including a play penned by Brown. The theater served as a place for Black creative expression for just two years before it was destroyed by a White mob.
Despite its short history, the company has an outsize influence on Black theater, especially in New York.
“The European actors were seen as the one and only benchmark. And here was this small band of committed Black artists who were doing shows that resonated and were drawing comparisons to some of New York’s best, despite some insurmountable obstacles,” Cofield says. “The similarities to me personally are so apparent. I have the fortune of working at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, and we do very much the same thing. We are committed artists, just like the characters in the play.”
The African Company Presents Richard III is presented Nov. 15-18 and Nov. 20-21 at 8 p.m. The set design is by Vinita Gatne, costume design by Roger Teng, lighting design by Adrienne Miikelle, and sound design by Ryan Marsh.
Tisch Grad Acting and Design for Stage & Film students also present The Office Plays by Adam Bock in Theatre C Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 20-21 at 8 p.m.. The pair of one-acts is directed by Colette Robert, with set design by Taylor Friel, costume design by Kat Ibasco, lighting design by Andre Segar, and sound design by Jordan Bernstein.
General admission tickets are $15, student tickets are $10 for both productions. Tickets may be purchased online at the Tisch theater website. Audience members should use the 38 W. Houston St. (and Greene Street) entrance to the building and take the elevators or stairs to the fourth floor.
About the NYU Tisch School of the Arts
For over 50 years, the NYU Tisch School of the Arts has drawn on the vast artistic and cultural resources of New York City and New York University to create an extraordinary training ground for the individual artist and scholar of the arts. Today, students learn their craft in a spirited, risk-taking environment that combines the professional training of a conservatory with the liberal arts education of a premier global university with campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and 11 academic centers around the world. Learn more at www.tisch.nyu.edu.