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As a child I always wanted to be a pilot but quickly dropped that idea when I learned pilots have to have 20/20 vision and can’t wear glasses. I knew I would never be a pilot with my eye sight. Yet the idea that in the theatre you can move at top speeds and roll in and out of the clouds of your mind and travel to places and meet people from every culture in the world without leaving the ground intrigued me. So in a funny kind of way I became a pilot of the theatre. The theatre has given me more frequent flyer miles across the landscapes of human understanding in my community than Delta or American Airlines could have ever done. Experimenting with theater became my aircraft. From my visionary seat I could search the sky and bear witness to what is possible. My experience in helping to build a community theatre has been simply sublime! Our first production went off very well, I remember everybody was dressed in black, but we were doing something different in 1970. We were talking about “Black Love” instead of “hate Whitey.”
Carl Clay got his reputation in theatre and film the old fashion way. He earned it! Carl Clay today has emerged as a long distance runner in the African American theatre community. His book Poor-ducing Theatre & Film at Black Spectrum is a must read! I’m glad I've helped play a part in Carl's dream to create a true community based theatre institution. Melvin Van Peebles
After 40 years Black Spectrum Theatre Co. is still going strong and still Poor-ducing. It’s living proof that good Black don't crack. Congratulations! Comedian Paul Mooney Carl Clay’s work at Black Spectrum Theatre is unparallel. It has been an absolute pleasure to know and work with him for the last 30 years. I also applaud Poorducing theatre as a chronicle of his hard work in building Black Spectrum Theatre from the ground up. Jazz/Fusion Artist Roy Ayers Carl Clay has my utmost respect as a friend and colleague in the Performing Arts. As the Founder of Black Spectrum Theatre, of which I am a proud alumna, Carl is one of the few African American Theatre Owners who has not only held on to his own space for the past 40 years, but whose business intellect and artistic vision continues to expand. Thank God for Carl Clay, who gave me a place to work my own one-woman play, “A Rose Among Thorns, a Tribute to Rosa Parks,” with professional support, respect, and love, when I returned many years later. Carl Clay is vital to our Black Arts Community and a model for our youth. Actress Ella Joyce
On Poor-ducing Theatre & Film at Black Spectrum by Carl Clay An Overview by Woodie King, Jr.
A theater grows in Queens. No, this will not be similar to Betty Smith's fiction, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This is the 40-year journey of Black Spectrum Theatre in Southeast Queens and, by its history and definition, it must grow out of the journey from childhood into adulthood of its Founding Director and Executive Producer, Carl Clay. And, yes, it is similar to the journey of so many of us who work in Black theatre; similar in that all are defined by the unique personalities and experiences of their Leaders.
Informed by the second great migration relocating many blacks from The South to the urban north (in Clay's family from Alabama to Harlem and finally into Queens) and influenced by the Black aesthetics of Baldwin, Fanon, Cleaver, Huey P. Newton and Lerone Bennett, the music of Oscar Brown, Jr. and Miles Davis, and later German Expressionist theatre, Clay became a poet, playwright and Nationalist while still in his teens. He and his brothers, though from the relative safety of Queens, witnessed the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the riots in Harlem, Detroit, and Newark.
Carl Clay experienced censorship for the first time with his first original play, despite its successful endorsement from his fellow high school students. This, of course, infuriated Clay, who came of age during the Black Consciousness movement of the `60's. Therefore, if Newtown High School would not present his play he would produce it himself. Evolving from the educational institution's banning of his work, a producer was born. In 1969 Carl Clay was instrumental in founding the theater that he has led for the past 40 years, Black Spectrum Theatre & Film Company. Poor-ducing Theatre is as much about Black Spectrum Theatre as it is about Carl Clay. In this memoir/autobiography Clay takes us from Newtown H.S. to Pace University; writing and recording for music genius, Roy Ayers; and a pivotal "apprenticeship" with the genius of black cinema, Melvin Van Peebles. It is this relationship that gave rise to the screenwriter and filmmaker Clay was to become - making quality films on the smallest of budgets. Later, at Black Spectrum, Carl Clay included film production as in integral part of the theatre company. Poor-ducing Theatre gives us a behind the scenes look at over a dozen of Black Spectrum's hit plays and films. Of particular interest are the politics of funding for the arts, especially funding for Black Theatre. Clay explores the method used by some funders to divide artists and institutions, using Tom Lloyd's museum as an example.
As the memoir begins Clay is being honored with the prestigious producer's Award at the 2003 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem, North Carolina. As he is introduced by the late Larry Leon Hamlin, founder of the festival, to thunderous applause from the 2000 attendees, his life flashes before him. Poor-ducing Theatre allows us to see and understand the journey which delivered him to that auspicious occasion.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
othing I imagined could have prepared me for the steps I was now taking into the convention center of Winston Salem, N.C. that warm evening in August 2003. With camera’s flashing and the sound of what seemed like over 100 African drummers, I cautiously entered. The sound was deafening, numbing and soul shaking all at once. There before me was a room filled with thousands of people cheering, and applauding as our line of theatre artists, directors, and producers entered. Among us were seasoned actors, old timers, and TV stars of the present and of days gone by. It was the gathering of a familiar clan of theater elders and icons from all over the country that walked in front of me and behind me. A chill ran down my spine. I wasn’t reading a book or watching a TV show about history, I was living it. It was surreal. Among the crowd were many of my heroes of the Black theatre movement and TV stars I had admired and looked up to for longer than I can remember. Yet, what gave me more of a rush and an unsettled nervousness was that tonight I would be honored as Producer of the Year for Black Spectrum Theatre’s award winning production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. Just steps from me walked one of my biggest idols, Bette Howard, who had helmed the production as Black Spectrum’s resident Director. Tonight, she would also receive an award for her dedicated commitment to the African American Theatre as a Director. I was walking on what I was to learn was sacred ground in Winston Salem, N.C. and I was beginning to understand why. There was this feeling, as I walked through the convention center that night, that the spirits of the ancestors were also gathering. I continued through the room with people reaching out to shake my hand as others flashed picture after picture. Indeed there was something primal going on here, and it was affecting me in ways I can’t exactly explain. Suddenly, flashes of my life in the theatre rushed into my conscious mind, my own beginnings, my parents, my struggles, my failures, my victories. Moments later I am at the honorees’ dais. As I sit I am in awe of those sitting next to me, around me, in front and in back of me. And, more than ever, I feel the presence of ancestors, who I am now convinced are sitting next to me too. There was Sherman Hemsley of The Jeffersons TV show. Over to my right, down in front, was Richard Roundtree of Shaft movie fame. As I looked up to my right, there sat my friend and mentor theatre icon, Woodie King. There’s famed stage and screen actressess Diahann Carroll and Barbara Montgomery a few seats away. Ted Lange of TV’s Love Boat, wasn’t far away and Rockmond Dunbar of the TV show Soul Food shook my hand as he took his seat and said,
“Congratulations.” Down to my left sat Philip Rose. He waved congratulations. Yet, it was he who deserved the congratulations. He originally produced A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway and introduced to the world what Harlem already knew, that Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Lloyd Richards and the other members of that play were destined for greatness. Mr. Rose broke down barriers that continue to reverberate to this day. Yet, there he was. As I scanned the table just a few chairs from me sat Joseph Marcell, and a smile came across my face, I had always enjoyed his work as the butler on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That night I must have shaken hands with hundreds of actors both new and familiar who joined in this ritualized celebration of Black theatre from all over America. There’s Novella Nelson, and Tony Award winning Diva Tonya Pinkins. They’re both congratulating me! I had years earlier gone to see both Novella and Tonya in Broadway shows. Novella gave us Having Our Say, and Tonya had given us Jelly’s Last Jam. Then I traded smiles across the room with my friend and number one queen of keeping it real, Ms. Ella Joyce. She would congratulate me several times that night and put the evening in perspective for me. After all, this was my first time here. I always respected Ella because she started in the theatre like I did and with excellent acting chops and a little good fortune landed on one of the top rated black TV shows of the 90’s, Roc. She’s one of those folks you always hoped would make-good because not only is she extremely talented but also a real and genuine person. Yet it was her down to earth assessment and history about the evening’s guests that now had me bursting with laughter. “Brother Carl”, she said, “You are to be congratulated big time for what has brought you to this convention center tonight as Producer of the Year for the festival. Nobody understands like I understand what it must be to keep a theatre running for more than 35 years.” Ella’s funny, because before I could go into my humble bag, she told me as one of unofficial founding divas of the festival to just sit back and enjoy this. “Larry Leon has chosen you to receive this award this year because both you and Bette Howard really deserve it.” Ella’s kind words sat with me as I thought about what I would say once I got up onto the podium that night. Many times I had watched Woodie King and many others, like the Negro Ensemble Company’s Douglas Turner Ward, and the National Black Theater’s Barbara Ann Teer, and the other elders of the Black theatre movement come forward and accept accolades for their work. But to me, my journey had always been so very different. I always considered myself simply a journeyman in search of the next theatre experience, never quite stopping to realize it had been 35 years that I had been doing this. As they began to make the announcements welcoming everyone, my mind drifted off a bit as sounds of more than 2,000 people who filled the auditorium became silent. I thought about how this all came
to be, this night. How did I get here? What was it that has allowed me to sustain my theatre for so long? Over 35 years? I knew the answer in my heart. I had never planned any of this. I had no idea that my thirst for creative expression would lead me to this place where the ancestors were now gathering, and the heros and she-ros, and artistic warriors and creative forces of our time would meet to renew themselves. After all, I didn’t have a big name or a big career. All I ever had was a vision, a pen, a belief system and a lot of love to pursue what I thought things should be like in my community. I had no idea it would lead here. There were other honorees that night, and Diahann Carroll and Malcolm Jamal Warner brought them up to share what each of their journeys had been about. I listened to each one of them as they spoke from the dais. They each talked about their lives and how they had gotten to this point. Another rush of consciousness grabbed me and I began asking questions of myself. Going back…deep questions with echoing answers from a time that I thought I had forgotten…going back.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Carl Clay (Founder / Executive Producer) is just finishing his successful run of the hit play “Single Black Female,” and “Kingfish Amos & Andy” which received rave reviews from NY Times, Daily News, Amsterdam News, Queens Chronicle and host of other publications. As the Founder and CEO of Black Spectrum Theatre, Mr. Clay has produced over 150 plays, trained well over 1000 actors and written and directed 15 plays, 25 films aimed at AfricanAmerican youth, including a feature length film now being released on DVD on Netflix and Blockbusters. He’s a lyricist who’s written songs for Roy Ayers, Norman Conners, Black Rob, and others. He has produced over 40 major jazz concerts with such artists as Roberta Flack Freddie Hubert, Roy Ayers, and Najee. And to his credit, Mr. Clay helped launched the careers of such notable actors as Lisa Nicole Carson (The Ally McBeal TV Show) in her first feature film, Desiree Coleman (Mamma, I Want to Sing), and film & television actress, Ella Joyce, Broadway actress Deborah Burrell-Cleveland, Debra Blackwell Cook, and Carlease Burke.
Education: P. S. 15, J.H.S. 59, Newtown High School, Pace University B.A. Education/Theatre, Brooklyn College Graduate School Theatre & TV Directing, Third World Cinema, Columbia University Institute for Non-profit Management, and Rockport International School of Film & Television
Poor- \ pur, por\ adjective-Middle English poure, from Anglo-French povre, pore, from Latin pauper; akin to Latin paucus little lacking material possessions b : of, relating to, or characterized by poverty 2 a : less than adequate : meager b lean, emaciated 6 : barren.
ducing- ducere to lead — tow transitive verb. 1 : to offer to view or notice 2 : to give birth or rise to : yield 3 : to extend in length, area, or volume 4 : to make available for public exhibition or dissemination: as a : to provide funding for b : to oversee the making of 5 a : to cause to have existence or to happen : bring about b : to give being, form, or shape to : make; especially : manufacture 6 :to compose, create, or bring out by intellectual or physical effort
Poor-ducing: ….. Poor-ducing: to dream & imagine with near deillusionary belief: To lead and function with inadequate resources: To adapt: to overcome impossible obstacles: to bring to market and/or create plays, films, concerts, poetry, while stretching pennies and materials to their absolute outer limits: to effectively bring into being something with nothing, day in and day out: Poor-ducer ….to do with less knowing your artistic counterparts have the luxury of doing it with triple the resources that you have: Poor-duce to squeeze water from a rock, while borrowing from peter to pay Paul. 1 pro•duce Pronunciation: \prə- düs, prō-, - dyüs\ Function: verb
Main Entry: poor Pronunciation: \ pu r, po r\ Function: adjective Etymology: Middle English poure, from Anglo-French povre, pore, from Latin pauper; akin to Latin paucus little and to Latin parere to give birth to, produce — more at few, pare Date: 13th century 1 a : lacking material possessions b : of, relating to, or characterized by poverty 2 a : less than adequate : meager b : small in worth 3 : exciting pity <you poor thing> 4 a : inferior in quality or value b : humble, unpretentious c : mean, petty 5 : lean, emaciated 6 : barren, unproductive —used of land 7 : indifferent, unfavorable 8 : lacking a normal or adequate supply of something specified — often used in combination <oil-poor countries> — poor•ish \-ish\ adjective — poor•ness noun
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THEATRE & FILM AT BLACK SPECTRUM WRITTEN BY
Published on Jan 20, 2010
Poor-ducing Theatre & Film at Black Spectrum is Mr. Carl Clay’s journey towards the creation of an African American Theatre institution in S...