A 45-YEAR LEGACY

OUR STAGE. OUR STORY.

The late 1960s has been noted as a time of turmoil and upheaval, as the soul of a nation began a powerful pivot away from a past of inequity on which it was founded.  In the late 1960s, Bedford Stuyvesant, encompassed much of Clinton Hill (including Pratt Institute), most of today’s Crown Heights, and some of Ocean Hill. It also included Weeksville, including the Hunterfly Road Houses.  

At the turn of the 20th century, six million people of African descent voted with their feet and left the southern parts of the United States, migrating to western and northern states.  Harlem is famous as a hotspot destination for the “Great Migration;” however, Bedford Stuyvesant became one of the most prominent communities for the city’s black population.

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By the 1960s, the outlook of Bed-Stuy was bleak.  450,000 residents occupied just 653 blocks, making it the second-largest black community in the country. The area’s high schools had a 70% drop-out rate.  Infant-mortality, delinquency, and unemployment rates were twice the city average. Underemployment was at 28% — astounding even today, but especially so when you consider the city’s unemployment rate was just 3.7%. Many of Bed-Stuy’s brownstones had fallen into disrepair. Crime was high; race riots broke out.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy visited on February 4, 1966 to walk the streets of Bed-Stuy.  While Kennedy was meeting with community members, he “was challenged by neighborhood activists to go beyond speeches and help produce something tangible.”  Ten months later in December of 1966, Kennedy, along with Mayor Lindsay and Senator Javits, presented a plan for the Bedford-Stuyvesant Development and Service Corporation.  Kennedy told residents, “The program for the development of Bedford Stuyvesant will combine the best of community action with the best of the private enterprise system. Neither by itself is enough, but in their combination lies our hope for the future.”  

In 1967, 33-year-old lawyer, Franklin A. Thomas was appointed the first president of the newly created Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.  Thomas established The Billie Holiday Theatre in 1972  “to expose the second largest black community in America to the arts while providing an outlet for local talent.”   Herbert Scott Gibson, was the founding Executive and Artistic Director of The Billie Holiday Theatre.  Marjorie Moon worked with Mr. Gibson for a few years and was later appointed Artistic and Executive Director of the Theatre.  Under Moon's leadership that spanned over 4 decades, “the theatre built a community audience by placing Bedford Stuyvesant citizens on the theatre’s board.” Moon is responsible for establishing the Billie Holiday Theatre as a dynamic destination in the heart of Brooklyn. During her tenure, Ms. Moon produced more than 120 productions there including "Inacent Black and the Five Brothers" by A.Marcus Hemphill, starring Melba Moore, which went on to be the first Broadway production to derive more than 50% of its financing from the Black community.  Her long-standing tenure was followed by several seasons under the helm of Artistic Director Jackie Alexander who also served the theater as a playwright and director.

In 2015, the theatre broke ground and began a complete renovation under the leadership of Dr. Indira Etwaroo, who was tapped as The Billie Holiday Theatre's Executive Director. On May 9, 2017, The Billie Holiday Theatre completed a $4.1 million dollar renovation and re-opened  it's doors.  The first event was the reading of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, directed by Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago Hudson, adapted by Arthur Yorinks.

Many of today's successful actors, writers, designers, and musicians developed their craft at The Billie Holiday Theatre. Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Allen, Tichina Arnold, Bill Cobbs, Jerome Preston Bates, Michele Shay, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Carol Woods, Elaine Graham and Ebony JoAnn to name but a few.

 

 

OUR FOUNDER | RESTORATION

RestorationART (formerly The Center for Arts & Culture at Restoration) promotes the rich legacy of the African and Caribbean Diaspora while using the arts as a vehicle for creative place-making, community enrichment and presenting art that seeks to strengthen democratic values, promote social justice and take on dialogues that inform and impact our community. 

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IN THE NEWS

 

MEET THE BILLIE HOLIDAY THEATRE TEAM

Wayne Winborne

Board Chair

Colvin Grannum

Board Member

 

Toni Yuillie-Williams

Board Member

 

 

Depelsha McGruder

Board Member

 

 

Dr.Indira Etwaroo

Executive Director

Dr. Indira Etwaroo, producer, educator, scholar and non-profit arts leader, has worked with institutions across the country and the world.

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Indira’s passion is exploring the complex intersections between community, performing and visual arts and the topics-of-our-time. Indira has received many awards and honors for her work, including being named one of the “40 under 40” national Black leaders by The Network Journal. Indira Etwaroo also serves as Executive Director for The Center for Arts & Culture at Restoration.

 

Kristen Calhoun

Producing Manager

Kristen's professional experiences are in the areas of performance, arts management, production, and logistical planning.

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Hollis King

Creative Director

Hollis A King is former vice-president and creative director at the Verve Music Group the largest jazz record label in the world.

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He studied advertising and design with legendary artist Milton Glaser. King joined the Verve Music Group, a division of Universal Music Company, and worked with some of the greatest musicians of all times.

King has received numerous achievement awards and citations as well as five Grammy Nominations. Currently Hollis runs his own creative company, sits on an executive board, and regularly lectures at FIT, SVA, Art Directors Club and Society of Illustrators.

 

Marjorie Moon

Executive Director Emeritus

Renowned theater pioneer who led the Billie Holiday Theatre through extraordinary growth for 42 years. 

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Marjorie produced hundreds of plays and launched the careers of theater artists all over the country who have gone on to remarkable careers in film, TV and on Broadway. Marjorie made history when the theater transferred the hit play Inacent Black to Broadway with fifty percent of the financing being derived from the Black community; a first in the theatre world (as cited inThe New York Times), and unheard of prior to Inacent Black.