The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Douglas Turner Ward

Douglas Turner Ward

Founder and Artistic Director of the Negro Ensemble Company, Playwright, Director, Actor
Born on Monday, May 5, 1930

Interviewed on: Friday, May 29, 2015
Location: Primary Stages Offices
Interviewed by: Casey Childs
Interview #44
"The problem run a theater... who is going to take responsibility for the FAILURES?"
Douglas Turner Ward Highlights
Video Length: 6 minutes, 8 seconds
Douglas Turner Ward Interview Part 1
Video Length: 2 hours, 21 minutes
Douglas Turner Ward Interview Part 2
Video Length: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Douglas Turner Ward in an actor, playwright, director, and founder of the Negro Ensemble Company. His most celebrated work as a playwright is HAPPY ENDING/DAY OF ABSENCE (1965), which premiered at St. Mark’s Playhouse and ran for a total of 504 performances. A versatile man of the stage, he acted in many of the productions he directed. His Off-Broadway directing credits include: THE RIVER NIGER (1973), in which he also starred and won an OBIE Award, THE GREAT MACDADDY (1974), THE FIRST BREEZE OF SUMMER (1975), in which he also acted, and ZOOMAN AND THE SIGN (1980). In 1968, Turner Ward received an invitation to write an op-ed piece for The New York Times on the state of African Americans in theater. This directly led to the forming of the Negro Ensemble Company. Turner Ward served as Artistic Director of the Negro Ensemble Company from 1968-1990. In that span, the NEC produced over 200 productions, one of the most memorable being A SOLDIER’S PLAY (1981), which ran for 468 performances; it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and starred Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, and Peter Friedman, along with a remarkable ensemble. The play won the OBIE that year for Distinguished Ensemble Performance.

Turner Ward was born on a plantation in Burnside, Louisiana. He and his family then moved to New Orleans where he attended Xavier College Preparatory High School. In an attempt to escape the racism and segregation in the south, Turner Ward chose to go out-of-state for college. He landed in Ohio and attended Wilberforce University, then transferred to University of Michigan. Later, he moved to New York City. Originally intending to study acting for more context as a playwright, Turner Ward took a job as an understudy in Circle in the Square’s production of THE ICEMAN COMETH (1956). He later took over that role, and then appeared on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun (1959).

Mentioned in Interview

Lorraine Hansberry, Jose Quintero, Roscoe Lee Browne, Paul Mann, LeRoi Jones, Negro Ensemble Company, Committee for the Negro in the Arts, THE BLACKS, LOST IN THE STARS, HAPPY ENDING/DAY OF ABSENCE, A SOLDIER'S PLAY, ZOOMAN AND THE SIGN, HOME, CEREMONIES IN DARK OLD MEN, THE RIVER NIGER