The National Black Theatre was founded in 1968 by the late Dr. Barbara Ann Teer who was an African-American writer, producer, teacher and actress. Located at 2031 Fifth Avenue between 125th and 126th Streets, The National Black Theatre’s exterior was designed by the Haitian-American architect Gerard Paul. Within these walls, the Theatre houses the largest collection of Nigerian New Sacred Art in the Western Hemisphere, which includes hand carved wood totems and copper, aluminum and brass relief art done by traditional Nigerian artisans. The 64,000 square feet of space is divided between two buildings, each three stories high. The interior was designed by five new Sacred Nigerian Artists from Oshogbo, Nigeria.
Dr. Teer dedicated her life to the preservation and sustenance of a unique spiritual tradition that she believed flows from an African world-view of art. Her thinking was that community based theatre is the most promising way to realize economic potential and the theatre’s mission was self-empowerment and training for a new generation of artists and creative entrepreneurs.
Dr. Teer also believed that for the black artist to have creative freedom and for their ancestral heritage to flourish, they must pass from generation to generation a tangible legacy of theatre art. She strongly believed in utilizing the symbolism, rituals and mythology of the West African traditions. This method shifted the Western theatre from a “self-conscious” art form to a “God-conscious” art form – allowing artistic expression to thrive on audience participation, similar to that found in Black churches. She called this the TEER Technology – The Technology of Soul.
Their programs consist of not only theatre arts but also visual art exhibits, workshops, seminars and conferences. The Liberation Temple on the third floor of one of the two buildings in this complex is a huge octagonal shaped room that can seat up to 270 people. Alicia Keys, Patti LaBelle and Nina Simone have performed here and Donald Faison started his career here.
The Nation Black Theatre is the first revenue-generating Black theatre arts complex and although they have gone through some tough financial difficulties, they have remained a viable part of a growing community.