OUR HISTORY

The Obie and AUDELCO Award-winning Billie Holiday Theatre is a state-of-the-art creative campus located at Restoration Plaza in the historic Black cultural mecca of Bedford Stuyvesant, home to such artistic luminaries as Lena Horne, Max Roach, Eubie Blake, Stephanie Mills, Ben Vereen, Jay Z, Yasiin Bey, and more and the only multi-platform performing arts center with a 22-year old education program led by, for, and accountable to people of African descent in the heart of the largest African American community in the nation: Central Brooklyn. For 48 years, The Billie has elevated and promoted the critical voices of Black artists, and the stories of the complex journey toward freedom for people of African descent, a journey that is far from over. The Billie has been an influential platform for many Black theater artists for close to 50 years, including Sonia Sanchez, Ruby Dee, Debbie Allen, Wendell Pierce, John Amos, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, Omari Hardwick, Stephen McKinley Henderson, John David Washington, Nelsan Ellis, Ruben Santiago Hudson, Roger Robinson, and more.

OUR VISION: The world looks to The Billie as the indisputable host of Black American Theater.

OUR MISSION

To shatter all obstacles and injustices and convene legacy and new unapologetic voices to make American Black Theater a rigorous space that forces social change.

The Billie is one of the last remaining theaters forged in the aesthetic and sociocultural kiln of America’s Civil Rights/Black Arts Movements. Founded in May 1972 by Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation’s inaugural president, Franklin A. Thomas, The Billie is a beacon for world-class art rooted in racial justice in the heart of Bed-Stuy: producing, presenting, and commissioning new and classic works and festivals in theater, dance, music, visual arts, and film; providing artistic and institutional residencies, including Ronald K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company, Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop, and CUMBE Center for African and Diaspora Dance; and serving ages 3 to 103 with educational programming. For bold and daring artists and audiences from around the corner and around the world who look to The Billie as a rigorous artistic space that tackles racial injustices, presents legacy and new unapologetic voices, and imagines a world where all people can flourish...welcome home.

The 200-seat Billie Holiday Theatre finished its first major, multi-year $4.1 million renovation in 2017 to modernize the theatre with new lighting, stage rigging, and audio and visual equipment, as well as improve ADA accessibility. The stage was extended to accommodate dance. There was also the conversion of 5,282 sq ft storefront space within the Restoration Plaza into two new studio/performance spaces with a sprung floor, a wall of mirrors and large storefront windows where over 1.5 million people who visit Restoration Plaza can witness art-in-motion.

The Billie has a history of exemplary leadership, beginning with Founding Artistic Director, Herbert Scott-Gibson, a renaissance man who founded the Fort Greene Historical Society, spoke six languages, and worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His initial tenure was followed by American Theater pioneer, Marjorie Moon and the theater’s President and Executive Director who led the theater through almost four decades of growth, producing over 150 productions with a landmark moment of moving Inacent Black, a play originally produced at the Billie Holiday Theatre to Broadway, starring Melba Moore, with funding raised by the Black community. Writer and director, Jackie Alexander, served as Artistic Director from 2013 to 2015 and his work garnered critical acclaim with 17 AUDELCO award nominations and 9 wins. Dr. Indira Etwaroo, seasoned arts leader, has led The BIllie through unprecedented audience growth of 105%, budget growth of 85% and doubled the staff with the launch of signature programming, including 50in50:Writing Ourselves into Existence and the Black Arts Institute. The artistic work under her leadership has garnered 23 AUDELCO Award nominations with nine wins, including the 2017 and 2018 Best Play of the Year.

Like too many other small arts organizations that serve communities of the global majority in America, The Billie’s history has been sustained through extraordinary creative innovations, yet one marked by a struggle toward economic stability and thriveability. Of all the hundreds of Black theatres forged in the aesthetic and sociocultural kiln of the Civil Rights/Black Arts Movements in the 1960s and 1970s, we are one of the few remaining as a staggering 87% of Black theaters shut down by the mid-90s. Based on the Helicon Collaborative’s research this statistic is no surprise. An estimated $4 billion dollars in philanthropic support is given by foundations to arts organizations. Almost 60% of that support goes to the largest 2% of organizations, all predominately white-led and serving predominantly white audiences. The other 98% of organizations split the last 42% and arts organizations serving communities of color shared only 4% of those investments.

Today in 2020, after decades of uncertainty, The Billie’s current position is strong and growing stronger. The Billie’s role continues to expand and deepen as Central Brooklyn’s preeminent artistic anchor led by, for, about, and near the nation’s largest African American community.

Today, many Black-led arts organizations in New York City and beyond are still struggling. As one of the rare survivors with the promise of thriveability, The Billie Holiday Theatre has been committed to finding new ways to forge forward with the broadest cohort of organizations and artists of African descent in every discipline, including working in partnership with both local and national arts organizations, fellow theatres and cultural institutions in other spaces, those from fellow Black institutions to historically white-led institutions, from the newly-founded to the well-established, all with an eye toward creating a sustainable infrastructure to help re-envision the role arts and culture organizations that are by, for, about, and near people of African descent can play in the lives of historically disenfranchised communities across New York City and the nation