Infobox_nrhp | name =Karamu House
lat_degrees = 41 | lat_minutes = 29 | lat_seconds = 37 | lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 81 | long_minutes = 37 | long_seconds = 25 | long_direction = W
December 17, 1982
governing_body = Private
mpsub=Black History TR
refnum=82001368 cite web|url=http://www.nr.nps.gov/|title=National Register Information System|date=2007-01-23|work=National Register of Historic Places|publisher=National Park Service]
Karamu House in
Cleveland, Ohiois the oldest African-Americantheater in the United States. Many of Langston Hughes's plays were developed and premiered at the theater.
In 1915, Oberlin graduates Russell and Rowena Woodham Jelliffe opened what was then called Settlement House as established a place where people of different races, creeds and religions could find a common ground. The Jelliffes discovered in the early years, that the arts provided the perfect common ground, and the work of the Playhouse Settlement began.
The early twenties saw a large number of African Americans move into an area from the south. Resisting some pressure to exclude their new neighbors, the Jelliffes insisted that all races were welcome. What was then called the Playhouse Settlement quickly became a magnet for some of the best African American artists of the day. Dancers, print makers, actors, writers all found a place where they could practice their crafts.
Reflecting the strength of the Black influence on its development, the Playhouse Settlement was officially renamed Karamu House in 1941. Karamu is
Swahiliword meaning "a place of joyful gathering."
Karamu House had developed a reputation for nurturing black actors having carried on the mission of the Gilpin Players, a black acting troupe whose heyday predated Karamu. Many directors such as
John Kenleyof the Kenley Players and John Price of Cleveland's Musicarnival regularly recruited black actors for their professional productions from Karamu ranks. These actors include Norma Powell and Mary Dismuke and Sue H. Johnson.
Karamu acting alumni come from all races and include Ron O'Neal who appeared in many blaxploitation movies in the 1970s, Broadway actress Minnie Gentry, and Dick Latessa who has starred on Broadway in "The Will Rogers Follies" and "Hairspray."
Throughout the years Karamu House has gone through many changes, some profound. With the retirement of the Jelliffes in 1965, and the social shifts of the
sixtiesand seventies, Karamu was predictably impacted in many ways: diminished funds, increasing political and social urgency, and uncertain purpose. But, people still poured into Karamu drawn by the energy of a new political and cultural presence for African Americans. White patrons that had served on the board were purged. Karamu turned to funding not generally reserved for the arts to survive. During this time, Margaret Ford-Taylor, valiantly sheparded the drama program. Karamu's current artistic director is Terrence Spivey. Since Spivey's arrival in the Fall of October 2003, Karamu has risen to an unexpected pace artistically with a constant challenge of daring and provocative works for artist and audience alike.
Today, Karamu offers art experiences for people of all ages through a variety of programs. The three primary program areas are the Early Childhood Development Center, the Center of Arts and Education, and the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre. Karamu House, Inc. is listed in the
National Register of Historic Places, and received an Ohio Historical Marker on June 16, 2003.
* [http://www.karamu.com/ Official website]
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