Irvington Town Hall Theater (ITHT)’s Stage Door series will present a reading of The Burning of New York by award-winning playwright Samuel Harps on Thursday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m. Now in its third season, the series produces staged readings of original works followed by a Q & A with the playwright and actors. Without the technical aspects of a fully-staged show, the series offers a compelling way to hear new voices in theater and closely observe the thought process that goes into writing a play.
The Burning of New York is based on actual events from 1741: Lower Manhattan, Broadway, Maiden Lane and Wall Street were set ablaze in an alleged slave revolt that gripped New Yorkers in fear. After an unprecedented trial, 35 innocent people were ultimately hanged or burned at the stake, while nearly 100 others were banished from the Province of New York. At the center of the controversy was John Hughson’s Bar, which was the only establishment in New York City where blacks, whites, slaves and free men were allowed to mingle.
Playwright Samuel Harps interned at New York’s New Dramatists, studying with noted playwrights August Wilson (who became his mentor), John Patrick Shanley, and Charles Oyamo Gordon. Harps was later accepted into the prestigious Negro Ensemble Company playwright’s program. His first major production, Don’t Explain, an explosive drama about the murder of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, was staged at New York’s famed Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and went on to receive seven AUDELCO Awards including Best Play and Playwright. A feature film adaptation of Don’t Explain was made in 2002, for which Harps wrote the screenplay. He has received numerous other awards for his work including The Arts Council of Rockland County Executive Award for Literary Artist.
16 actors from the Shades Repertory Theater will perform The Burning of New York, which is in many ways a courtroom drama from the perspective of the prosecutor.
Harps is currently doing research for his next project about entrepreneur and philanthropist Madame C.J. Walker, America’s first African-American self-made millionaire, who built Irvington’s Villa Lewaro in 1917 (the majestic and stately white-columned mansion on Broadway); during the height of her career, Walker and her company employed several thousand women as sales agents for its products.
“Over the last few years of my career, I have grown a keen interest in African-American history,” Harps says. “American history, really. And the wealth of history in The Hudson Valley has inspired me to seek out these stories, and write about them.” He is also working on a play about Oscar Micheaux, the first major African-American filmmaker (who wrote, produced, and directed more than 50 films).
Harps’ productions have been staged at New York City venues including the Paul Robeson Theater, National Black Theater, Billie Holiday Theater, Theater for the New City, Theater Four, American Theater for Actors, Duality Playhouse, HERE Theater, and at Rutgers University, Riverspace Arts in Nyack, and venues in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He is the founder of the Shades Repertory Theater, based in Haverstraw, and founded its youth program which he also directs.
ITHT Commissioner Marjorie Rosenfield explained that in pursuing outstanding, dramatic programming, the commission “followed a path that led us across the river to Rockland County where Samuel Harps has been cultivating and nurturing not only his own artistic skills, but those of his community. We are so pleased to present his work and look forward to a lasting relationship of mutual growth and support.”
Tickets are $10. For more information, visit: www.irvingtontheater.com.