by Genea L. Webb
For New Pittsburgh Courier
While many businesses were obliterated by the COVID-19 pandemic, New Horizon Theater Inc., found unique ways to battle through and has come out stronger to celebrate its 30-year anniversary.
“We’re excited about our 30th anniversary. This is a big one for us,” explained Joyce Meggerson-Moore, who has served as Chairperson of the Board of Directors for New Horizon Theater since 1997 when the company received its official nonprofit status. She has volunteered with the company since its inception. “We have five events this season instead of four and we have all the clearances from all of the playwrights and their blessing to put the plays on. That’s probably a first for New Horizon. Usually, we have to get all of that one play at a time, but we were able to get all of it and are able to announce our full season and be ready to roll. We’re coming out of this pandemic strong.”
Its premier production for the 30th anniversary season, “Kings of Harlem,” written and directed by Layon Gray, is inspired by the 1939 Harlem Rens basketball team. It tells the story of seven men who overcame adversity to win more than 2,000 games throughout the segregated parts of America in the 1930s even though they were not accepted professionally or socially. The play will run, August 20-22, in a yet-to-be-determined outdoor setting.
“The pandemic is still going on, so we want to let our audience know we are watching and planning for you and we’re being really safe about it,” Meggerson-Moore told the New Pittsburgh Courier.
The theater will be sanitizing the outdoor seating between performances and sanitizing stations will be on hand. Social distancing will also be enforced.
The rest of the 30th anniversary season’s productions are: “de Moor,” written and directed by Layon Gray, which tells the story of Sir Morein, a Black knight and his plight with King Arthur and his knights of the roundtable’s quest for the mythical Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. “de Moor” will run, October 29-31. “The Green Book” will be New Horizon’s Black History Month production. Written by Calvin Ramsey, the play sheds light on a time in America when “Separate but Equal” and “Jim Crow” were the rule. Travel and accommodations for Blacks were complex and full of uncertainties. “The Green Book” will run for 12 performances, February 4-27, 2022 (12 performances).
The theater’s annual special event is tentatively scheduled for May 7, 2022. The event will feature a one-night-only performance by a national or international individual or group.
The final play of the season, “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show,” will run from May 20-June 19, 2022 (12 performances). Written by Don Evans and directed by Eileen J. Morris, “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” is a clash of values between middle-class and working-class African Americans.
New Horizon Theater Inc., was started in 1992 by Elva Branson who saw the lack of Black theater in the Pittsburgh community and made it her duty to fill the void. Its mission is to bring to the Greater Pittsburgh community high-quality, cultural events reflecting the African American point of view and to provide an ongoing venue for ethnic writers and performers to further their development.
The theater’s first production, “Home” was performed at the Old Kingsley in East Liberty. The theater added another play each season and held the productions in various venues throughout Pittsburgh including Ramsey’s II, Homewood, Grey Box Theater in Lawrenceville, and East Liberty Lutheran Church Wolf Hall before branching out to four productions a year and a special annual event held in May at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, which features a national or international music artist.
“I became involved because Elva wanted to have a reception around that first play and she asked me to get the reception together and to be a part of that and then when she moved out of state about five years after it started I took over as chairperson,” recalled Meggerson-Moore, who holds a B.A. in Theater from Hendrix College in Arkansas.
One of New Horizon Theater’s major accomplishments has been to manage board and operations functions with an all-volunteer core. It has provided opportunities for more than 400 persons in all phases of theater production.
“As a Black, female, actress and director, it is important to tell stories of the African American experience and New Horizon Theater continues to tell those stories despite not having its own location and despite COVID-19,” explained Eileen J. Morris, artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, who has either directed or performed with the company over the last 21 years. “I believe in their mission and their artistic commitment to the community. Joyce has dedicated her life to New Horizon.”
During the pandemic, New Horizon Theater’s dedicated core of volunteers didn’t sit on their laurels. To keep the theater and its mission on the minds of its patrons, more than six virtual events were held. However, Meggerson-Moore estimates that $100,000 was not received from ticket sales alone during that time.
“We had a full season during the pandemic. We lost some of our people. Once we talked to them, they said they didn’t want to go online; they prefer live theater and would be looking forward to our live productions,” Meggerson-Moore said. She anticipates that 75 percent of the audience will return during this season and 80 percent to return in the 2022-2023 season, but it still won’t be back to full capacity.
Despite the challenges, New Horizon Theater Inc., continues to forge ahead.
“New Horizon Theater has panache and style and that is due to Joyce Meggerson-Moore. She and the people behind the scenes who don’t get any credit is keeping New Horizon Theater afloat. New Horizon Theater is in Joyce’s blood,” said Ernest McCarty, who served as the theater’s artistic director from 1994 to 2009. “It’s important that a theater company is hooked up to the community and New Horizon is. These are difficult times and strange times and New Horizon is still doing good things. For it to last 30 years is a miracle. Thirty years of hard work and dedication is wonderful.”
(For more information on New Horizon Theater Inc., or its productions, visit www.newhorizontheater.org or call 412-431-0773.)