the american theatre of harlem
Artistic Director's Message
Keith E. Johnston
As a founding member I came to ATH a professional actor/musician, to study with founder Hal DeWindt in 1990. I found what I had been missing in my training and in the business of the arts. There was a deep sense of love, integrity and responsibility as an artist that came right down from the leadership of Hal. He took me under his wing and cast me in everything he did.
When he passed in 1997, there was a void of that special spirit, that safe environment that came out of a healthy practice that developed our humanity. I realized that was even greater to me than my career. I had a desire to share it with the world and so a few of us decided to keep it going and build on that foundation.
As we moved around the city from space to space, the question of changing the name came up but we never changed it since it is the foundation of our philosophy. Harlem, during the Renaissance, had become a world known community indicative of the creative genius of the oppressed. This concept is no longer confined to the region of Harlem but now a universal village representing a high standard of artistic expression that has entertaining and educational value for everyone, regardless of origin. So wherever we are in the world we are The American Theatre OF Harlem, the people’s theatre.
The question for me lately is “Why continue to do theatre with all this film and technology?” It's necessary. Good theatre raises questions, provides answers and exercises the imagination. Theater is collaborative and incorporates all art forms, demanding great skill and ethics with love and passion as its core. This practice gives license to exercise all the senses connected to the mind, body and spirit regardless of genre. It is a where the actor is most productive, demanding a plethora of skills for live performance and transference of energy with a live audience. Sometimes it is presentational and other times it is participatory. Either way the power of love and generosity amongst people involved is heightened to building communities.
Now that people have better relationships with machines than with human beings in the twenty-first century community is extremely important. Technology and screen addiction has caused a social arrested development that has dissipated our humanity. As generations become dependent on virtual communication and non-participatory exchange it is crucial for live interaction. Theater is live, and the excitement of the moment is always present. It allows the "limitless child" in us to play, learn and evolve.
Good art has the ability to heal, edify and stimulate action. When art is pimped by capitalistic motives it can produce the opposite - affecting our humanity in negative ways. How do we counteract all the debauchery in the media and in the arts that has filled our society in the name of capitalism?
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