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Essay on Dr. Barbara Ann Teer interview conducted by Kathy A. Perkins

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Since 1981, I have been conducting research on black women behind the scenes in the American theatre. As a black female lighting designer, I am aware of our invisibility within the larger American theatre and have made an effort to expose these women to a wider audience. I have interviewed numerous black women who have made significant contributions to American theatre. These women include designers, producers, directors, playwrights, artistic directors, and other individuals working behind the scenes. Dr. Teer (1937-2008) was a professional actress, director, producer, and visionary. Born in the predominantly black city of East St. Louis, Illinois, Teer was surrounded by a family of community activists, entrepreneurs, artists, and educators. Her family and community environment shaped her future in the arts. Considered a genius, she graduated from the University of Illinois at the age of 19. Having had a professional career both in dance and acting on Broadway, off-Broadway, film, and television, she became disillusioned with the roles available for black women. As an entrepreneur, Dr. Teer founded the National Black Theatre (NBT) in 1968, making it the first revenue-generating black theatre complex in the U.S. She believed it vital that NBT be situated in Harlem, where it would serve and empower the black community. Dr. Teer began to develop her own acting methods, breaking from traditional western styles. She called her theatre a temple and her actors liberators. She broke the fourth wall to include the audience. She created NBT as a cultural institution – a place where one could be educated and entertained simultaneously. She travelled to Africa and brought back many aspects of the culture to incorporate into her productions. Dr. Teer was indeed a pioneer. In 2016, NBT celebrated 48 years as an institution.

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