Places that Matter

Billie Holiday Theatre

200-seat theater in Bedford-Stuyvesant offering an alternative to Broadway
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Begun in 1972 as a part of Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation’s Arts and Culture Program, the Billie Holiday Theatre brings affordable, quality theater to a community with few venues for live performance.

Housed in the Restoration Plaza complex from its inception over 30 years ago, "The Billie" (as it is known locally) has made it a priority to reach out to its local community with accessible, low-cost, relevant entertainment. Its founding reflects the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation's belief that arts and culture are as central to community redevelopment as social and economic services. And clearly there is strong community support for the theater--it now regularly attracts over 30,000 audience members during its 40-week season.

The Billie has also been a refuge for black actors, playwrights, designers and other creative individuals in the theater industry, providing them an opportunity to work and nurture their talents in a field that has not always been friendly to black actors and artists. "You can turn on the TV," Edna Fulton of the Restoration Corporation's Customer Service Department, says, "and you are likely to watch someone who has been a part of the Theater." The Billie staged Smokey Robinson's first musical and Tony Award-nominee Samm-Art Williams' first play. Other alumni include Debbie Allen, Carol Woods, John Amos, Ebony Joann, and Samuel L. Jackson, who participated in at least three shows, one of them as a member of the stage crew.

The 200-seat theater that hosts all this activity has not changed much since it was built as a state-of-the-art facility in 1972. Production Stage Manager Avan Littles says the theater has had the same lighting board, speakers, and carpet since its inception. This does not keep audiences from flocking to the theater's productions, however; in fact many who see a performance at The Billie are coming to the theater for the first time.

For more information about the Billie Holiday Theater and its performances call 718-636-0918 ext. 12 or visit http://www.restorationplaza.org/arts-and-culture/billie-holiday-theatre or http://www.thebillieholiday.org/

Sources:

Freedman, Samuel G. "At Brooklyn's 'Billie' Black Theater Thrives." New York Times, July 21, 1986.