New Federal Theatre (NFT) founded by Woodie King, Jr. in 1970 grew out of a theatre program at Mobilization for Youth. This neighborhood-based professional theatre was originally funded by the Henry Street Settlement along with a small grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. The theatre’s first season was launched in the basement of St. Augustine’s Church on Henry Street. In 1974, the construction of the Henry Street Settlement’s Louis Abrons Arts Center located at 466 Grand Street was completed. The physical plan included three theatres, rehearsal studios and modern stage equipment-all of which were made available to NFT. In March 1996, New Federal Theatre’s administrative offices returned to St. Augustine’s Church but maintain its production and training programs at Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center.
Specializing in minority drama, NFT has brought the joy of the living stage to many minorities who live in the greater Metropolitan area. NFT has provided emerging playwrights with the opportunity to have their works produced; it has brought actors, directors, and designers of color to national attention and sponsored a variety of ethnic theatre groups and events. The vocational training workshops prepare people of color for employment in theatre and theatre-related fields. Most importantly, NFT provides the multi-ethnic New York metropolitan area audiences with first-rate theatre relating to the interest of different cultural groups.
Fifty years later, it is almost impossible to turn on a television and not see a former student from NFT. Writers first presented at NFT are now part of the literary mainstream of American playwrights. Many plays have reached national significance and much wider audiences through having been showcased at NFT. Because of the work of NFT, such playwrights as J.e Franklin, Ron Milner, Ed Bullins, Amiri Baraka, Joseph Lazardi, Ntozake Shange, David Henry Hwang, Damien Leake, Genny Lim, Laurence Holder, Alexis DeVeaux, and several others have been brought to national attention. Many actors are starring in television series as well as motion pictures: Chadwick Boseman, Issa Rae, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Dick Anthony Williams, Glynn Turman, Taurean Blacque, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, Garrett Morris, Robert Downey, Jr., Sam MacMurray, Debbie Morgan, Lynn Whitfield, Reginald Vel-Johnson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruby Dee, Leslie Uggams, Ella Joyce and so many more who, at one time performed in an NFT production. New Federal Theatre provides educational workshops in playwriting, and drama workshops for adults and teens.
New Federal Theatre’s Mission is to integrate artists of color and women into the mainstream of American theatre by training artists for the profession, and by presenting plays by writers of color and women to integrated, multicultural audiences - plays which evoke the truth through beautiful and artistic re-creations of ourselves.