As part of our Q&A series, Morningsider brings you exclusive interviews with neighborhood “Insiders.” This week, we caught up with Pat Cruz, Executive Director of Harlem Stage, one of the nation’s leading art organizations devoted to the development of new works by performing artists of color. In its nearly thrity years, the organization has hosted entertainment legends including Harry Belafonte, Max Roach, Bill Cosby, Maya Angelou, Tito Peunte and many others. And while this beloved organization rode some tough waters, we are so proud of Pat, who during her 13 years as director took the reigns and has revitalized the organization. Under her leadership, she made the difficult decisions, created original programming and attracted the right supporters to not only keep the organization afloat, but also to make it one of the true success stories of arts organizations. Congratulations Pat and the Harlem Stage team!
Congratulations on Harlem Stage’s 30th Anniversary. What is the key to the organization’s longevity?
For 30 years Harlem Stage’s unique focus has been to identify visionary artists of color and support them by commissioning, presenting and producing their vital works that respond to the social and political conditions that shape our lives. I believe our longevity is due to our dedication to this mission, and a lot of hard work on the part of our board, whose current president is actress Tamara Tunie, and staff. We’re one of the country’s leading producers of new, challenging works by artists of color, and are proud to have nurtured early works by some of the country’s best-known artists, including Bill T. Jones, Ronald K. Brown and Urban Bush Women. We’ve also presented iconic, social justice-minded artists like Harry Belafonte, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln and Tito Puente.
What are some highlights of the activities you have planned for the remainder of the celebration?
This fall and next spring, Harlem Stage presents three world premiere performances by the next generation of extraordinary artists:
- “Holding It Down: the Veterans Dreams Project” and “Sleep Songs,” acclaimed pianist Vijay Iyer and renowned poet Mike Ladd’s two-part musical and poetic distillation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ dream narratives, and the response from those affected by the conflict in Iraq (“Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project” Sep. 19-22; “Sleep Songs”, Nov. 30-Dec. 1)
- “Pavement,” a dance/theater work inspired by John Singleton’s seminal film “Boyz N The Hood,” by choreographer Kyle Abraham and focused on the current state of the black male in America, in the age of “stop-and-frisk” and Treyvon Martin; (Nov. 1-3)
- “Makandal,” an ambitious new contemporary opera, written by Carl Hancock Rux, composed by Yosvany Terry, and inspired by the life of the revolutionary 18th Century Haitian leader and the relentless pursuit of freedom by generations after him (June 2013). To purchase tickets or for further information on any of our shows please visit our website, www.harlemstage.org.
How did Harlem Stage come to be and who were some of its more notable early supporters?
Originally founded as Aaron Davis Hall and located on the campus of The City College of New York, our organization was renamed Harlem Stage when it became an independent non-profit in 1983. We moved to our new, award-winning home, The Harlem Stage Gatehouse, in 2006. The venue is a special, one-of-a-kind, 200-seat venue, where artists and audiences share an intimate experience inside a historic landmark. Here, artists of color can develop their art over time and have their unique voices heard. Our early supporters have been our board of directors led by past chairman AC Hudgins, the Upper Manhattan Economic Development Corporation, elected officials, Including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Department of Cultural Affairs, Time-Warner and the Lu Esther Mertz and Booth Ferris foundations.
What have been some of your favorite performances?
Some of my most beloved musical presentations have been our recent sold out tribute performances to and by Cecil Taylor, and earlier tributes to Max Roach and Duke Ellington. I was also moved by “Chapter/Chapel” by choreographer Bill T. Jones, and by soul singer Van Hunt, who participated in our Uptown Nights nightlife series. These are just a few. There are truly too many to mention.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am a fan of great performances more than an arts administrator. I love work that inspires me to think and discover the “new”, something that I did not know before the performance. Each of Harlem Stage’s presentations strive to give audiences lots of meat on the bone, and with our new “Dig Deeper” campaign, we’re also seeking new ways to extend the experience of seeing one of our shows at the Gatehouse. We invite readers to visit our web-site, www.harlemstage.org, to learn more.