July 24-28, 2020
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Salute to our Ascendants
BTN President, Andre Harrington, took a minute to remember the life of one of our own, Scenic and Costume Designer Felix Cochren, who is now with the ancestors:
“I first met Felix during my first year at Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia PA. Walter Dallas, the artistic director introduced us and asked Felix if I was ‘ok’ after Felix witnessed my work on our first play together. Felix replied, “yes, he will do….”. His jokes and light banter surprised me at first, but then I got a glimpse of his smile and felt the love, and I fell right into the world of my first black theatre mentors. Suffice to say over the years Felix and I drifted apart but I always felt he was checking up on me via our BTN family. I have loads of other stories and am so looking forward to sharing them and seeing you all in Winston Salem so that we can celebrate life, hold each other near, and press forward for another year!”
Shirley Prendergast departed this life to join the ancestors on February 26, 2019. A 1986 BTN Winona Lee Fletcher Awardee for Artistic Excellence in Lighting Design, Prendergast made history as the first African-American woman to be admitted to the United Scenic Artists’ (USA) lighting division in 1969, and the first black female lighting designer on Broadway in 1973, with Joseph Walker’s The River Niger.
In the 1950s, she received a BA from Brooklyn College, and took a lighting class at the 51st St. YWCA, housed in the Clark Center for the Performing Arts, where Alvin Ailey and other young Black dancer/choreographers performed. It was during this period that she developed her love of lighting, while studying at Lester Polokov’s Studio of Stage Design.
Over the next fifty years, her designs would be presented by such companies as the New Federal Theatre, the Negro Ensemble Company, Alvin Ailey, and on Broadway with Waltz of the Stork (1982) The Amen Corner (1983), Don’t Get God Started(1987), and Paul Robeson(1988 & 1995), in addition to regional productions. Prendergast received a 1997 Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Lighting Design, the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival Award for Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design, the 2014 United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) Distinguished Achievement Award in Lighting Design, numerous New York City AUDELCO awards, and the aforementioned 1986 BTN Winona Lee Fletcher Award. Prendergast continued to design into her late eighties, mainly with Woodie King, Jr. and the New Federal Theatre. With her favorite response of “better and better” when asked how she was doing, Shirley Prendergast was a beacon of light and will be sorely missed. -by Kathy A. Perkins