Negro Theatre Workshop

Collection Ref No.:

GB 2904 NTW

Date range:

1962-1967

Description

The following material relates to the Negro Theatre Workshop, otherwise known as NTW. The collection consists of programmes, photographs and documents relating to theatrical and musical productions staged during the most active period of NTW (1964 -1967) together with administrative documents, correspondence and financial records.

Admin history:

The Negro Theatre Workshop was established in London in 1961 with the object of maintaining continuous productions of dramas, revues and musicals, so as to give negro artists experience and writers a chance to see their work performed and, in so doing, to develop and improve standards amongst negro artists and technicians in every branch of the theatre.
(Tanya Morgan - doc NTW/3/1/5). The founding members included Pearl Connor-Mogotsi together with Lloyd Reckord, Bari Johnson, Horace James, George Brown, Bobby Naidoo, Nina Baden-Semper, Tony Cyrus and Ena Cabayo. 
 
As an ensemble of professional and amateur actors, directors and writers, the NTW performed original works in community centres, town halls, churches and cathedrals up and down the country as well as representing the United Kingdom at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (Senegal).
 
The driving force behind the NTW was Pearl Connor-Mogotsi who, as Administrator and Honorary Secretary used her energy, commitment and contacts to forge links with a broad range of organisations, individuals and movements such as the Movement for Colonial Freedom, War on Want, West Indian Standing Conference, The Church Army, and The Council for British African Relations. The NTW had  an impressive list of Patrons including The Archbishop of Canterbury, Joan Littlewood, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Learie Constantine. On the Board of Trustees were The Earl of Listowel, Andrew Salkey, Christian Simpson and David Pitt  and the NTW was  supported by major figures in show business such as Sidney Poitier, Spike Milligan and Tony Richardson.
 
Initially NTW's activities were run by an Organising Committee of Pearl Connor (Hon. Secretary), June Baden-Semper (Assistant Secretary), Tanya Morgan (Treasurer) and June Leach (Assistant Treasurer) with Christian Simpson of the BBC as Artistic Co-ordinator together with the actors and theatre directors Bari Johnson and Horace James as Additional Organising Committee Members.With the support of Michael Slattery, who arranged for  the NTW to have free use of the Africa Centre for rehearsals, a number of productions - many touring - were organised between December 1964 and December 1965. These included Bethlehem Blues, The Dark Disciples and The Prodigal Son. Most of these productions were performed in churches throughout London because they offered their facilities free of charge. However in January 1966 The Prodigal Son was performed  at Lewisham Town Hall and Hackney's Baths Hall and a BBC television production of The Dark Disciples, subsequently selected as the British entry for the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (Senegal),  was broadcast at Easter 1966. 
  
In December 1965, at the behest of their legal advisor, Anthony Steel, the position of the NTW was formalised and it was registered as an Educational Trust whose Trustees 'shall hold the Trust Fund....for the  promotion and encouragement of  the study, commissioning and public performance of plays, musical drama and other forms of theatrical enterprises by the Trust which shall provide opportunities for actors and actresses and other performers of Negro and of any other race to participate.......' (Clause 3 of the Trust Deed; doc ref NTW/3/1/3).
 
At the inaugural meeting of the Negro Theatre Workshop Trust on 10 March 1966, chaired by George Lamming, the Management Council and a number of committees and sub committees were formally constituted.
 
Throughout its life NTW's development was restricted by lack of funds and a permanent base. Negotiations for an annual grant from the Arts Council, Trusts and charities were handicapped by their lack of a permanent home and performance space. For some time negotiations with the GLC for a lease to occupy  Wilton's Music Hall looked promising but in the end came to nothing.
 
Although the NTW was comparatively short lived, it was a seminal organisation in several ways. Through its productions it helped to train numerous actors, dancers, writers and directors; built the reputations and raised the profiles of many in the profession and in this way enabled them to obtain their equity cards. 

Custodial History:

The collection was gifted to the George Padmore Institute by June Guiness, nee Leech, who was deeply involved with the Negro Theatre Workshop from its early days.  For June Leech "they were happy and interesting days but, of course, quite grim for the artistes themselves as work opportunities  were not thick on the ground." [letter, dated 4th January 2007, accompanying gift agreement to the George Padmore Institute.]