The Negro Theatre Workshop (NTW) was established in London in 1961 with the aim of producing dramas, revues and musicals. This was to give black artists experience and writers a chance to see their work performed, as well as developing and improving standards amongst black artists and technicians in every branch of theatre. As an ensemble of professional and amateur actors, directors and writers, the NTW performed original works in community centres, town halls, churches and cathedrals up and down the country as well as representing the United Kingdom at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (Senegal).

Founding members included Pearl Connor-Mogotsi together with Lloyd Reckord, Bari Johnson, Horace James, George Brown, Bobby Naidoo, Nina Baden-Semper, Tony Cyrus and Ena Cabayo. The driving force was Pearl Connor-Mogotsi who, as Administrator and Honorary Secretary, used her energy, commitment and contacts to forge links with a broad range of organisations, individuals and movements such as the Movement for Colonial Freedom, War on Want, West Indian Standing Conference, The Church Army and The Council for British African Relations. The NTW had an impressive list of Patrons including The Archbishop of Canterbury, Joan Littlewood, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Learie Constantine. Trustees included The Earl of Listowel, Andrew Salkey, Christian Simpson and David Pitt. The NTW was supported by major figures in show business such as Sidney Poitier, Spike Milligan and Tony Richardson.

A sea of hands raised towards George Browne, playing Jesus, as he stands on stage before the kneeling crowd.
Rehearsing The Dark Disciples in the Africa Centre in London: (c) unknown.
Photo (b/w) showing dancers in foreground, with George Browne on the Cross behind, flanked by two further crosses.
Performing The Dark Disciples in St Mary-le-Bow Church, London: (c) unknown.

NTW's activities were run by an Organising Committee of Pearl Connor (Honorary Secretary), June Baden-Semper (Assistant Secretary), Tanya Morgan (Treasurer) and June Leach (Assistant Treasurer) with Christian Simpson of the BBC as Artistic Coordinator together with the actors and theatre directors Bari Johnson and Horace James. With the support of Michael Slattery, who arranged for the NTW to have free use of the Africa Centre for rehearsals, a number of productions - many touring - were organised between December 1964 and December 1965. These included Bethlehem Blues, The Dark Disciples and The Prodigal Son. Most of these productions were performed in churches throughout London because they offered their facilities free of charge. In January 1966, The Prodigal Son was performed at Lewisham Town Hall and Hackney's Baths Hall and a BBC television production of The Dark Disciples, subsequently selected as the British entry for the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (Senegal), was broadcast at Easter 1966.

Throughout its life, the NTW's development was restricted by lack of funds and a permanent base. Negotiations for an annual grant from the Arts Council, Trusts and charities were handicapped by their lack of a permanent home and performance space. Negotiations with the GLC for a lease to occupy Wilton's Music Hall looked promising but in the end came to nothing.

Although the NTW was comparatively short lived, it was a seminal organisation in several ways. Through its productions it helped to train numerous actors, dancers, writers and directors, built the reputations and raised the profiles of many in the profession and in this way enabled them to obtain their equity cards.


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