Barbara Ann Teer and the National Black Theatre: Transformational Forces in Harlem

By Hatch, James V. | African American Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
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Barbara Ann Teer and the National Black Theatre: Transformational Forces in Harlem


Hatch, James V., African American Review


Lundeana Marie Thomas. Barbara Ann Teer and the National Black Theatre: Transformational Forces in Harlem. New York: Garland, 1997. 190 pp. $65.00.

Although nearly 112 experimental black and white theatres were founded in New York City during the late sixties, the National Black Theatre (NBT) is one of the few not only to survive into the nineties, but to prosper. Barbara Ann Teer, founder of NBT, chose 125th Street for a theatre to provide Harlem with more than entertainment. Her primary mission was to "raise the level of consciousness through liberating the spirits and strengthening the minds of its people." Professor Lundeana Thomas, the author of this important history, provides readers with a convincing portrait of a vital community theatre and the woman who envisioned and built an institution that over thirty years changed the lives of many Harlem residents.

Teer abandoned a professional Broadway career because the Great White Way offered her stereotyped roles in which her spirit found no fulfillment. She envisioned a theatre in which Blacks would control and "bring validation to a group suffering from the negative effects of cultural hegemony," a theatre which would embrace the dual heritage of being African and American by combining the elements of the black Pentecostal church with the ceremonial rites of the Yoruba from Nigeria.

To understand this complex symbiosis, Professor Thomas found it necessary to attend not only performances of the NBT, but to attend services of a Pentecostal church, and to read widely in Nigerian Gelede ritualistic performances, all of which form the basis for Teer's performance theory and practice. These sources, combined with personal interviews, enable Thomas to trace the evolution of Teer's philosophy, the rich and sophisticated doctrine underpinning the institution.

Thomas describes a theatre in which performers and their audience undertake a spiritual journey together to raise African American consciousness by pursuing it through five cycles of increasing self-awareness: The Nigger, The Negro, The Militant, The Nationalist, and The Revolutionary.

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