John O’Neal Doris Derby
In 1963 actor John O’Neal, Doris Derby and Gilbert Moses founded the Free Southern Theater, which was designed as a cultural and educational extension for civil rights movement in the South. John O’Neal earned a BA degree from Southern Illinois University in 1962. Upon graduation he became a Field Secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From this involvement came the Free Southern Theater, which began as the Tougaloo Drama Workshop, founded by O’Neal and Gilbert Moses at Tougaloo College in 1963, and grew to become a theater of national significance.
This was closely aligned with the Black Arts Movement and more specifically aligned with the Black Theater Movement. Several of the members of the theater were very prominent figures. The purpose was to introduce the theater to the deep south free of charge to the communities, which had no theater in their communities and little in the way of culture production. Another purpose of the Free Southern Theater was “to use theater as an instrument to stimulate the development of critical and reflective thought among Black people in the South” and to support the efforts of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
At the time the Free Southern Theater was founded , O’Neal and Derby were both field directors for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Jackson, Mississippi. The Free Southern Theater’s interconnectedness to the civil rights movement and ambitious goals are reflected on one of the fundamental documents drawn up by group leaders. In “ A General Prospectus for the Establishment of a “Free Southern Theater” the leaders outline their key objectives:
“Our fundamental objective is to stimulate creative and reflective thought among Negros in Mississippi and other Southern states by the establishment of a legitimate theater, thereby providing the opportunity in the theater and the associated art forms. We theorize that within the Southern situation a theatrical form and style can be developed that is as unique to the Negro people as the origin of blues and jazz. A combination of art and social awareness can evolve into plays written for a Negro audience, which relate to the problems within the Negro himself, and within the Negro community.”
Under financial duress, the Free Southern Theater moved to New Orleans in late 1965, hoping to attract financial support from New Orleans’ burgeoning African American middle class. However, this move caused some discord among members who felt that the move to New Orleans abandoned their initial cause of developing culture within poor rural communities to the rural poor. The Free Southern Theater expired in 1980. That same year O’Neal organized Junebug Productions, an arts organization based in New Orleans, which he now serves as Artistic Director. Junebug Productions operates a nationally acclaimed touring theater company, a presenting program and a community
cultural development program in New Orleans.
“ Free Southern Theater Timeline”
1963 – In winter 1963, Derby, Moses, and O’Neal constructed a prospectus for the Free Southern Theater and enlisted the support of white Tulane University professor and TDR editor Richard Schechner. Schechner came on board initially as an advisor but within months joined O’Neal and Moses as a directing producer for the company. Free Southern Theater members often performed a variety of off- and onstage roles, but by 965 Moses and O’Neal had the titles of executive producers …
1964 – For the first touring season of the Free Southern Theater in 1964, it was announced that the company would tackle a range of plays that reflect the inte- grationist tendencies of the board of directors. These were never produced by the Free Southern Theater;Langston Hughes’s Don’t You Want to be Freer; John O. lens’s Than the Angels; Douglas Turner Ward’s two one-act plays, Day of Absence and Happy Ending; Ann Flagg’s Great Getting’ Up Mornin’; and an adaptation …
1965 – Settling in New Orleans in 1965, the Free Southern Theater combined a touring repertory company, a community engagement program in New Orleans, and training workshops in Black Theater. (Often, communities touched by the touring Theater developed their own Black Theater programs.) FST’s purpose was “to use theater as an instrument to stimulate the development of critical and reflective thought among Black people in the South” and to support the efforts of those involved.
1969-May 12, 1969 – Mrs. Carter got the Job of supervising the Saturday “soul food” gala when a friend, Brock Peters — board chairman of the Free Southern Theater — asked her to do t often prepare that kind of food, but I guess I still remembered something about it because it seemed to turn out fine. …
1980 – Critically dependent on the Movement for it’s access to audiences and resources, the Free Southern Theater finally dissolved in 1980. A few members remained in New Orleans. “Don’t Start Me To Talking or I’ll Tell Everything I Know, Sayings from the Life and Writings of Junebug Jabbo Jones” was the last production of the Free Southern Theater and the first of Junebug Productions.
Fabre, Genevieve. “The Free Southern Theater, 1963-1979.” Black American Literature Forum 17.2 (Summer 1983): 55-59. Harding, James M., and Cindy Rosenthal. …
www.amistadresearchcenter.org/archon/?p=creators/creator&id… – Cached
Salinas, Andrew. “Free Southern Theater,” KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. Joyce Miller. 28 Mar. 2011. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. 10 Feb. 2011 <http://www.www.knowla.org/entry.php?rec=664>