For the last quarter century, New Horizon Theater has been dedicated to providing top-notch entertainment to the African American theater community.
“I am ecstatic to know that we have lasted 25 years with an all-volunteer core of operations,” explained New Horizon Theater Chairperson Joyce Meggerson-Moore, who got her start at the theater as a volunteer for its first production, “Home.” “Our volunteers can be extremely proud of the work that we have done over the years to make us who we are today. We continue to raise funds for the talented people that we have produced through the years.”
New Horizon Theater was founded by Elva Branson, who assembled a core group of artists who had a series of discussions about the need for a venue for African American performers with its inaugural production of “Home” in 1992. The team that Branson put together identified the theater’s mission and worked with the organization until she left the state in 1996. In 1997, New Horizon Theater, Inc. received its tax-exempt status under Barbara Naylor and Meggerson-Moore’s leadership.
Ernest McCarty served as New Horizon’s artistic director from 1994 to 2008. Since that time, the theater continues with program volunteers and consultants to assist in making recommendations for the annual programming and has provided opportunities for more than 400 persons in all phases of theater production.
At a time when people say Black theater is dwindling, New Horizon Theater is forging ahead.
“Black people do attend our productions. However, attendance is not consistent enough from many of our attendees on a season-ticket-holder basis,” Meggerson-Moore said. “People generally attend when it is a play that they believe they will enjoy, if they have visitors in the city to bring to the play, if the play is in a location near to them. We produce a variety of plays—historical, dramatic, romantic, comedy and musicals. Many people tend to attend one or the other and may not attend for several seasons.
“Because it takes so much money to produce plays.” Meggerson-Moore continued, “additional funds are needed from people who donate, businesses, governmental sources, private donations, and foundations. These contributions help us constantly advertise and remain visible in the community. People are just not aware of how much it costs to operate a theater company with quality productions.”
In addition to plays and musicals, New Horizon Theater also brings in national recording groups and artists usually for New Horizon’s annual black tie event. This year’s annual event featured the Dramatics featuring Willie Ford. Most recently, Meggerson-Moore brought in the Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston.
To kick off New Horizon’s 25 season, New Horizon Theater, Inc, will be presenting “Kings of Harlem.” Written, produced and directed by Layon Gray, “Kings of Harlem” tells the little-known story of the Harlem Renaissance (also known as the Rens), an all Black basketball team and six men who overcame adversity to win more than 200 games while barnstorming through the segregated United States in the 1930s and 1940s, despite not being accepted professionally and socially. They went on to become one of the most successful and renowned basketball teams that added style and grace to the sport.
“Layon has been one of those contacts that we have developed who is easy to work with. His plays are educational, informative, dramatic and his performers are excellent!” Meggerson-Moore said. “We produced ‘Black Angels Over Tuskegee’ in collaboration with the Western Pennsylvania Tuskegee Airmen Memorial for one performance. That was such a success that we brought them back the following year to do several performances of ‘Black Angels Over Tuskegee’ for New Horizon Theater. Layon’s new play was the perfect fit for our 25 anniversary season opener.
“I am hoping that the Pittsburgh audience will appreciate this historical play that is appropriate for anyone age nine and up,” Meggerson-Moore added. “We are bringing performers from New York who have performed off Broadway. Pittsburgers do not have to leave the city to experience this play.”
Gray is glad to be bringing another one of his productions to Pittsburgh.
“We loved the audience last time and we’re going to make Pittsburgh proud because there is a line in the play that pays homage to the Pittsburgh Courier,” said Gray. “These guys were five years before the Harlem Globetrotters and they won the first world championship. This is a story that I thought people should know no one’s ever talked about it and done it in a play.
This was truly a journey for me and it went on to be nominated for two awards for best ensemble and best choreography.”
“Kings of Harlem” will be showing at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater from Oct.14-16 for four shows only. All seats are $40 and can be purchased at www.newhorizontheater.org.
“We really want everyone to help us kick off our 25th anniversary celebration year in great style,” Meggerson-Moore said.
“New Horizon Theater, Inc. has its history documented and we have some wonderful activities planned for the 2015/2016 season to add to this body of work.”
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