How National Black Theatre is Making a New Home in Harlem and on Broadway

National Black Theatre is in the midst of a building itself a new home in Harlem — but then, the company has been in the business of building a home for 55 years.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“Home has been an idea for Black African American culture since we were ripped from Africa,” said Sade Lythcott, the CEO of National Black Theatre (NBT), on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “How do we create something with permanence and look at giving our community something it’s never had since Black folks were brought to this country from Africa, which is a true home?”

It’s a question NBT has been asking since it was founded in 1968 by Lythcott’s mother, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer. Now, under the leadership of Lythcott and executive artistic director Jonathan McCrory, NBT is readying to build a new, 21-story Harlem facility that will house a new theater complex as well as retail and affordable housing units.

Meanwhile, the theater is making a place for itself on Broadway for the first time with “Fat Ham” (pictured above), the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by James Ijames that NBT co-produced with the Public Theater last year and will open at the American Airlines Theatre in April.

The play premiered initially in a 2021 video capture that was filmed at a time when most theaters were still dark due to COVID-19. “‘Fat Ham’ was an antidote in a moment when we all needed it,” McCrory said on Stagecraft. “We all needed a moment to be in joy and be in family and see each other smile and laugh again. … [The play is] rigorously rooted inside Black culture while also rigorously examining a western cultural icon, ‘Hamlet,’ while also rigorously inviting a family back together.”

Lythcott added, “In this time of tumult, as we mourn the deaths of Tyre Nichols and countless Black bodies, we think a part of that antidote is to tell the truth through the mechanism of joy. What our community deserves is a break.”

She continued, “For Black audiences, all too often in these kinds of comedies on Broadway we find ourselves in audiences where we feel like people are laughing at us, not with us. ‘Fat Ham’ is a call-you-in moment where audience of all shapes, colors, sizes, genders and sexuality can find themselves in these characters. … We can let our guard down and learn more about each other.”

Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, Lythcott and McCrory look back on NBT’s long-term relationships with artists like Ijames and “Fat Ham” director Saheem Ali, explore the ins and outs of building the first revenue-generating Black arts complex in the country, and explain why NBT’s founder considered the theater’s Harlem block — at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street — the most famous address in the world.

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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