Douglas Turner Ward

Celebrating Black History Month in Theatre
Posted on 02/24/2021
Image of Douglas Turner Ward(from Mark Zimmerman, theatre arts director Firestone CLC and Akron School for the Arts)

Douglas Turner Ward was an actor, playwright and director who co-founded the celebrated Negro Ensemble Company, a New York theater group that supported Black writers and actors at a time when there were few opportunities for them. He passed at 90 on Saturday, February 20, 2021, at his home in Manhattan.

As an actor, Turner made one of his first performances in "The Iceman Cometh" in 1956. Three years later, he made his Broadway debut in a small role in "A Raisin in the Sun."

His first significant artistic achievement would be as a playwright. "Happy Ending/Day of Absence," a program of two one-act plays written by Douglas Turner Ward, premiered in 1965. That same year, Ward authored an opinion piece in The New York Times titled "American Theater: For Whites Only?"

Douglas Turner Ward was one of the founders of the Negro Ensemble Company in 1967, and served for many years as its artistic director. It notably produced "The River Niger," which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1974 and was adapted as a film of the same name two years later. Ward himself acted in and directed that play, receiving a nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play. The company also produced "Home" (1979) by Samm-Art Williams and "A Soldier's Play" (1981) by Charles Fuller.

Image of Douglas Turner Ward
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