Theatre: New Federal Theater

Founded by Woodie King, Jr. in 1970 The New Federal Theatre grew out of a theatre program at Mobilization for Youth. This neighborhood-based professional theatre was originally funded by the Henry Street Settlement along with a small grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.  The Theatre’s first season was launched in the basement of St. Augustine’s Church on Henry Street.  In 1974, the construction of the Henry Street Settlement’s Louis Abrons Arts Center located at 466 Grand Street was completed.  The physical plan included three theaters, rehearsal studios and modern stage equipment-all of which were made available to NFT.  In March 1996, New Federal Theatre’s administrative offices returned to St. Augustine’s Church, but maintained its production and training programs at Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center.

Specializing in minority drama, NFT brought the living stage to many who lived in the Lower East Side and provided emerging playwrights with the opportunity to have their works produced and brought minority actors, directors and designers to national attention and sponsored a variety of ethnic theatre groups and events. The vocational training workshops prepared people for employment in theatre and theatre-related fields.  Most importantly, NFT provided the multi-ethnic Lower East Side as well as New York metropolitan area audiences with first-rate theatre to different cultural groups.

Forty-two years later, it is almost impossible to turn on a television and not see a former student from NFT.  Writers first presented at NFT are now part of the literary mainstream of American playwrights.  Many plays have reached national significance and much wider audiences having been showcased at NFT.  Playwrights J.e Franklin, Ron Milner, Ed Bullins, Amiri Baraka, Joseph Lazardi, Ntozake Shange, David Henry Hwang, Damien Leake, Genny Lim, Laurence Holder, Alexis DeVeaux, have been brought to national attention. Many actors are starring in television series as well as motion pictures: Jackée Harry, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Dick Anthony Williams, Glynn Turman, Taurean Blacque, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, Garrett Morris, Robert Downey, Jr., Sam MacMurray, Debbie Morgan, Lynn Whitfield, Reginald Vel-Johnson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruby Dee, Leslie Uggams, Ella Joyce and so many more who at one time performed in an NFT production. New Federal Theatre still provides educational workshops in playwriting, and drama workshops for adults and teens.