Founded in 1967, the concept of the Negro Ensemble Company originated in 1964 while actor Robert Hooks was teaching an acting workshop for youth in the inner city. Modeled after The Group Theatre started by Harold Clurman, one of the most influential theatre directors and drama critics in the United States, Hooks created the Group Theatre Workshop (GTW). Hooks’ tuition-free workshop would become a haven for minority, especially Black, actors interested in Black theatre.
Creating this space was essential for Blacks who wanted to be professionally and personally involved in theatre. Before the 1960s, the opportunities, ranging from acting and playwriting to direction and production, for Blacks to be involved in theatre arts were practically nonexistent. The few roles that were available were often miniscule and rarely developed beyond negative stereotypes of Black life.
However, change came in 1959 when A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway. Ultimately nominated for four Tony Awards and named “Best Play” by The New York Drama Critics’ Circle, A Raisin in the Sun was pioneering. It was the first Black drama on Broadway; the first on Broadway written by a Black playwright: Lorraine Hansberry; and the first play on Broadway directed by a Black director: Lloyd Richards!