AAPEX Interview: Richard Gaffeld of Red Harlem Readers — AAPEX Interview — AAPEX

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

AAPEX Interview: Richard Gaffeld of Red Harlem Readers

Nicole Kearney and director Fredric Michaels
in the audience discussion following the reading of her play

How did The Red Harlem Readers come about?

About 3 years ago Laurence Holder, Cordis Heard and I approached Chander Malik and Peter Sharma, the owners of the Indian Cafe, with an idea of creating an informal setting where actors, writers, musicians and singers could get together on a regular basis to present their works and talent to their friends and the community. Since then we've been joined by Associates Anne Gefell, Jerry Hassett and Ronald Wyche. As Ronald, our regular Host would say, “If it’s around 4 on Sunday at the Indian Café, it’s time for some 'Food for the Mind, Body, and Soul'.”

As far as the naming of the group, according to our neighbor, Yvonne Wakim Dennis (Cherokee / Syrian) RED HARLEM became a joking way, among Indian people who lived here 30-40 yrs. ago, to describe an active and thriving Native American community between 106th and 110th, including Morningside Heights. The Red Harlem Readers takes its name from those people who lived and worked in this neighborhood.

What is the mission?

The Red Harlem Readers is “a volunteer organization dedicated to providing a venue for established and emerging writers, actors and musicians; as well as to engage the community in the literary and musical arts through concert readings and performance of plays, poetry, essays, short stories and song. The discussion that follows intends to provide a stimulating atmosphere of networking and further collaboration.”

How are scripts reviewed and selected? What are the criteria?

Well, we choose poetry, short stories, plays, novels, songs and music as well as new and published plays for readings. The events are chosen based on professional quality, subject matter (it’s a family venue), readers needed (7 maximum), and reading time (less than 1 hr., 30 min.), and relevance to the very diverse upper west side community.

On Sundays since May 2007 we’ve presented many writers, composers, actors and musicians, including Robert Anderson, Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Gha'il Rhodes Benjamin, Michael Bettencourt, Anton Chekov, Charles Dickens, Charles "OyamO" Gordon, Claudia Hayden, Laurence Holder, Gail Wynn Huland-El, Elaine Jackson, David Johnston, Nicole Kearney, Amir Khan, Therese McNally, William Wellington Mackey, Melissa Maxwell, Alphie McCourt, Kannan Menon, Henry D. Miller, Jeanette Sena Muhlmann, Owa, Nicole Pandolfo, Harold Pinter, Lillian Pollack, Sonia Sanchez, Marsha Sheiness, Sheena Bouchét Simmons, Rahul Singh, Leslie Stoller, Alan Stolzer, Candece Tarpley, Henry David Thoreau, John Tobias, Joe Tsujimoto, Cedric Turner, Christa Victoria, Lanford Wilson, Jamal Williams Ronald Wyche and many others.

What is the relationship between Red Harlem Readers and the New York acting and directing community?

We wouldn’t be here every Sunday if not for the need expressed by the authors, actors, directors to hear their work, and express their ideas to a friendly group of friends and community members. The idea for the group came from this simple need. Laurence Holder and I were sitting at a restaurant next door, celebrating our birthdays in February, 2007, and he said he had a play about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s relationship with African Americans before his election as President he wanted me and others to hear. But his living room was too small.

You’ll remember playwrights have been inviting actors and their friends to their house every since they’ve been writing plays. Loften Mitchell, author of Black Drama, Bubbling Brown Sugar, etc., told me as one of my mentors in the ‘80s of reading and rent parties in Harlem in the 40’s and 50’s, attended by Ruby Dee, Ozzie Davis and Romare Bearden. Laurence had been doing the same at his house.

So when Lauence, Cordis and I founded the Red Harlem Readers in Spring, 2007, he was always there with a script, actors and audience at least one Sunday every month. He has developed this network as a playwright since his first play, JUBA,” was produced by Ellen Stewart in 1978. I met him in 1979 and we worked together at American Folk Theater until 1986 when I produced and directed his one-act MAN with Kirk Kirksey. His play, WHEN THE CHICKENS CAME HOME TO ROOST with Denzel Washington and Kirk Kirksey was produced by Woody King, Jr., at the New Federal Theater. Rome Neal has been performing his one-man show, MONK for years all over the country. I edited 32 of his plays in five volumes that are available at his website, laurenceholder.com.

So it was this need of the playwright that propelled us at first. Ronald Wyche provided a great boost as a playwright and actor to our talent and audience response shortly afterward by a reading of his one-man show, WHY BLACK MEN WEAR SUNGLASSES IN THE DARK, which debuted to a SRO audience at the Indian Café in November, 2007, directed by Melissa Maxwell. In the Fall of 2008 he conceived SISTUHS SPEAKIN’ SONYA SANCHEZ, with Elain Graham, Yaa Asantewa and Jacqueline Gregg reading Sonia Sanchez poems, with Sonia in the audience and coming back to read her own work. He was also leading and developing plays and playwrights from the Uptown Playwright’s Workshop which brought their work to the Café.

We are not producers, we are facilitators, presenters (sometimes creators, actors and directors) in the sense that we read the submissions, keep the schedule, send the promos, print the program, and all that, but we wouldn’t be here almost every Sunday for three years if not for the artist, sometimes AAPEX members from all over the country, including Hawaii, and audience support and networking. We have a mailing list that is used to inform those on it what is happening every week, but if there is any development benefit that occurs, it is from the hard work of the artists involved in the project.

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