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Classical Theatre of Harlem

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The Classical Theatre of Harlem opened its 25th season in honor of The Harlem Renaissance and the late actor Andre Braugher, who was a trustee.

On March 21, The Cathedral of St. John The Divine played host to “Renaissance Reborn: Reimagining the Past, Igniting the Future,” a historic event hosted by The Classical Theatre of Harlem to commemorate 100 years of the Harlem Renaissance and to mark the 25th year of the CTH. The evening was inspired by the dinner party thrown by Charles S. Johnson in 1924 to herald the new wave of Black artistry into the American consciousness of the time.

In that spirit, a panel discussion was convened with Shondaland staff writer Mia Brabham Nolan, who served as moderator. The panel included luminaries such as CTH associate artistic director and veteran actor Carl Cofield, Melba’s founder Melba Wilson, veteran actor and Godfather of Harlem star Peter Francis James, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York University Professor Emeritus David Levering Lewis, and Hunter College Professor of African American Studies Mark Harding.

The discussion provided many insightful moments from each member about what Harlem meant to them then and now. Harding and Lewis provided the full historical backdrop to the period. “Harlem is the most storied place in America, because of the intentionality,” James said during his remarks, as Wilson spoke at length about growing up in Harlem and her drive to open her namesake restaurant “to show those in the Harlem’s of the world that they can do it too.”

The evening came to a close after a stirring performance by actor and singer Mykal Kilgore along with performances from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a speech by Producing Artistic Director Ty Jones about the value of the organization’s work. “Art can create a kind of divination that does not show up on a spreadsheet,” he said to rousing applause. In addition, New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a proclamation making March 21 officially The Classical Theatre of Harlem Day in the city.

We got a chance to briefly chat with Jones at the event about the upcoming season for The Classical Theatre of Harlem and its future events.

Cassius: With this Renaissance Reborn event kicking off your new season, what more can we expect in terms of the community engagement that you guys have and other events coming up this season?

Ty Jones: We’re putting together a few events to try to engage the audience as much as we possibly can. So we have this event tonight and another event in Brooklyn on April 21 at a supporter’s home. His name is Ken Ruck. And then we have another event called “Hold Em in Harlem” on May 23. That’ll be at the Renaissance Ballroom. And then we’re doing our Chairman’s dinner in honor of Andre Braugher in July. July will also be the month in which we do our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Every single one of those nights, it’s an opportunity to engage with our community. Hopefully, we’re going to average 1000 people a night every night.

C: With an event like this tied in with the community of Harlem and the energy that’s been felt here tonight, how would you like to see that replicated in terms of, say, volunteer turnout?

TJ: Well, I think what it is, it’s about sustainability. And hopefully, this isn’t just a one-off. You know, at the end of the day, we hope to be able to do the practical things, like get people’s emails, and then make sure that they’re connected to us in a way so they know every single activity that we’re doing. And on our social media sites, we always let folks know when we need volunteers for X, Y, or Z.

C: With the way that things are developing in terms of spaces in Harlem being more open to cultural opportunity and for CTH celebrating its 25th season, how does it make you feel to be at the vanguard of an esteemed organization and being part of that wave?

TJ: Well, what I like to say is that we’re complementing what already is happening up in Harlem. We’re sort of complementing the history that’s already happened, we’re occupying our little space along the spectrum. But without question, we couldn’t be here without all the folks who did what they did before to allow us to be here. And I think it’s our responsibility to continue along that same spectrum to make sure that others are the vanguard of what it is to be an artist or to be of service to a community.