by Klaus Wildenhahn, 97 mins, 1968
presented by Maysles Cinema and The Luminal Theater
Harlem, 1968. The hope of the Black nation has been assassinated. But Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy takes center stage at the New Lafayette Theatre. This is where filmmaker Klaus Wildenhahn turns his lens Uptown to follow Harlem’s New Lafayette Theatre members as they rehearse scenes, conduct acting exercises for their upcoming season, and run politically radical workshops for the community.
Founded by actor-director Robert Macbeth, the New Lafayette Theatre was a significant institution within the Black Arts Movement, creating politically and artistically radical theatre by Black people for Black audiences. To further empower the community Macbeth recruited Ed Bullins – the former Black Panthers Minister of Culture - as the theatre’s playwright-in-residence. In addition to recording the theatre’s workshops, the movie contains lively street interviews with Harlem’s residents, and scenes from a Black Panther fundraiser held for Eldridge Cleaver, whose quotes bracket the film (though oddly read by the German filmmakers). The film also heavily profiles NLT director Macbeth, whose wit, skill, charm, and salesmanship (even among excruciating group-therapy exorcisms) spur the New Lafayette players to succeed at their craft.
Part political and historical document, part classic arts manual, HARLEM THEATRE speaks to contemporary concerns regarding justice for Black people, the instrumentality of art to bring about change, and the limited opportunities available to Black performers.
Co-presented by Rochelle S. Miller. Special thanks to archivist/collector Ira Gallen for saving and preserving the film Harlem Theatre.
Extended thanks to Jack Hardy at Grapevine Video for digitizing the print from the Ira H. Gallen Archives
This program is part of the series Made in Harlem: Class of '68