Douglas Turner Ward, Pioneer in Black Theater, dies in 90

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    Douglas Turner Ward, an actor, playwright and director who co-founded the New York Theater Theater Group, which supports a New York theater group that supported black writers and actors at a time when in Manhattan He died on Saturday at his home. . He Was 90.

    The death was confirmed by his wife Diana Ward.

    Mr. Ward was setting his career as an actor in 1966 when he wrote an article in The New York Times titled “American Theater: For White Only?”

    “If any hope exists, outside of personal fortune, for Negro playwrights as a group – or, for that matter, Negro actors and other theater craftsmen – the most immediate, pressing, practical, absolutely minimal necessary first step to active development.” Is a permanent Negro repertory company of at least off-Broadway size and dimensions, ”he wrote. “Not in the future… but now!”

    W. in the article. Attention was drawn to McNeil Lowery, Ford Foundation’s vice president of humanities and arts, who arranged for a grant of $ 434,000 to build the kind of company that Mr. Ward proposes. Thus the Negro Ensemble Company was born in 1967, with Mr. Ward as artistic director, Robert Hooke as executive director, and Gerald S. Krone was done as administrative director.

    The company produced critically acclaimed productions, among them Joseph A. Walker’s “The River Niger” (1972), which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1974 and was adapted for the film in 1976. Mr. Ward not only directed. The game, but also starred in it, earned a Tony nomination for Best Picture Actor in a Play.

    Other notable productions by the company include Sam-Art Williams’s “Home” (1979) and Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “A Soldier’s Play” (1981), investigating a murder of a black sergeant at a Louisiana Army base About a black officer during World War II, when the armed forces were separated. The cast included Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. (It was also adapted for the film in 1984 as “A Soldier Story”.)

    Frank Rich of The Times called the production directed by Mr Ward “exaggerated”. (The play was revived on Broadway last January, starring Blair Underwood, as it was before it was shut down due to an epidemic.)

    The Negro Ensemble Company became – and continues to be – a training ground for black actors, playwrights, directors, designers and technicians. Mr. Washington and Mr. In addition to Jackson, Angela Bassett, Louis Gossett Jr. and Felicia Rashad, many of the troupe’s actors went on to star over the years.

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    Credit …Don Hogan Charles / The New York Times

    The company, and Ford’s contributions, won immediate acclaim after its founding. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the grant represented “a great step towards building new and more artists in the community”, and Roy Wilkins, who at the time was the executive director of the NAACP, said the foundation was “the Negro theater.” Recognized the potential “and” the talent of hundreds of actors and entertainers who have personally struggled. “

    The company began recording the Obi, Tony and Drama Desk Awards and was the first recording. In 1975, Times critic John J. O’Connor acknowledged the historical significance of the “spectacular” television production of the Lone Elder III drama “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men”, set in Harlem in the 1950s. “The event marked the beginning of the Negro Ensemble Company, a major black theater organization on American network television,” he wrote.

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    Credit …Bertie Andrews / ABC, via Getty Image

    The company enabled Mr. Ward to pursue a career as an actor and director.

    “I like acting for communal talk – you know, working with people,” he said in an interview with the Times in 1975. But the direction, he said, “happened to me.”

    “I had no intention of acting as a director,” he continued, but as the company’s artistic director, I choose plays, and if I can’t find someone to direct them for us Yes, I do it myself. “

    One of the first plays he directed was Richard Wright and Lewispin’s “Daddy Goodness” (1968), drunk in a town in the rural south that falls so foolishly that his friends think he’s dead. Already happened.

    In an interview, Mr. Fuller stated, “Doug is the only director I’ve worked with who can read any play and know that its story lines and characters will work on stage.”

    The Negro Ensemble Company was not immune to criticism, however. The founders were criticized for employing Mr. Crone at the St. Mark’s Playhouse in East Village, Manhattan, instead of a theater in Harlem, and a white administrator. ()He Died last year at 86.)

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    Credit …Sarah Krulwich / The New York Times

    Roosevelt Ward Jr. was born on May 5, 1930 in Burnside, LA. In Roosevelt and Dorothy (Small) Ward, who owned their own tailoring business. When he was 8, his family moved to New Orleans and attended Xavier University Preparatory School, a historic Black Roman Catholic institution.

    Mr. Ward was admitted to Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1946, then transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he studied politics and theater. He Left college at 19 and moved to New York City, where he met and befriended playwright Lorraine Hansberry and Mr. Elder.

    In the late 1940s, Mr. Ward joined the Progressive Party and became involved in leftist politics. He Draft was arrested and convicted of theft charges and spent time in prison in New Orleans while his case was under appeal. After his faith was overturned, he moved back to New York and became a journalist for The Daily Worker, a Communist Party newspaper.

    He Also studying theater, Paul Mann joined the Actors’ Workshop and selected the stage name Douglas Turner Ward, paying tribute to two people: the frenzied Frederick Dougall and Nat Turner, who led the rebellion against slavery.

    One of Mr. Ward’s first acting roles was in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Snowman Cometh” at Circle in the Square in Manhattan in 1956; The second was on Broadway in 1959 as an understudy in Ms. Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”, with Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeill in the lead roles.

    He Also started developing as a playwright. In 1965, his satirical one-acting comedy “Happy Ending” and “Day of Absence” became an off-Broadway double-bill production hit, earning him the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Playwright. Production lasted 15 months, avoiding a transit strike.

    Mr. Ward had lead roles in several plays, including “Ceremony in Dark Old Men”, for which he won the Drama Desk Award and “The Brownsville Red” regarding the incident of military racial injustice in the city of Texas. Clive Barnes, while reviewing “Brownsville” for The Times, wrote, “Ward, who, frankly, I admire more as a director than an actor, has never been better.”

    Among his many awards and accolades, Mr. Ward received Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. In 1996, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

    He Continued to write in his later years. Last March, he published a series of three plays titled “The Haitian Chronicles”, which had been working since the 1970s, all focused on the Haitian Revolution, which ended colonial rule in the early 1800s . His wife said that he considered the project his grand creation and that he and others were looking forward to staging plays with alumni of the Negro Ensemble Company in New York.

    In addition to Ms. Ward, whom he married in 1966, they have two children, Elizabeth Ward-Kapril and Douglas Powell Ward, and three grandchildren.

    At the Negro Ensemble Company, Mr. Ward often played the role of matchmaker in connecting actors to roles, seeking opportunities for people he knew were not getting much work.

    “Doug never gave NEC a place to feature himself,” playwright Steve Carter, who was a production coordinator for the company, said in a phone interview for Obesity in 2017. “He Was always looking for new people. “

    Mr Carter, who died last year, said Mr Ward was known for his willingness to step into any role in which he was needed. He A 1972 special production of “A Ballet Behind the Bridge” by Trinidadian playwright Lennox Brown was recalled. With actor Gilbert Lewis unable to appear one evening, Mr Ward was called to fill soon.

    “Doug went with the script in hand,” Mr. Carter said. Mr Vord had actually injured his hand on the set and was bleeding profusely, but he refused to go to the hospital until the show was over.

    “He There will always be what NEC needed, ”Mr. Carter said.

    Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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