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  Media Release
CONTACT:  Robert Ross
  July 31, 2014 
(713) 807-4306/ 713-520-0055
  Immediate Release

      Anchor of Inspiration

Actor Hal Williams Receives The Ensemble’s Legacy Award

HOUSTON (July 31, 2014) – The Ensemble Theatre celebrates its 37th uninterrupted season as Houston’s premier African American performing arts institution with a gala themed: Anchor of Inspiration Saturday, August 16, 2014, 6:30 PM at the Hyatt Regency – Downtown Houston, Imperial Ballroom, 1200 Louisiana, Houston, TX 77002.

Hal Williams will be honored with The Ensemble Theatre’s Legacy Award. Although his acting career started much earlier, he was the highly recognized television dad “Lester Jenkins” opposite Marla Gibbs in the 1985 comedy series “227.” His career spans more than 25 years as a stage, film, and television actor, appearing in both comedic and dramatic roles. He is one of a few African American actors who have played regular or recurring roles in nine television series and more that 100 guest-starring roles.

Robert Townsend will receive the Director of the Year Award. He is an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer and former CEO of (BFC) the Black Family Channel. He launched his career in film with Hollywood Shuffle, a satire depicting the trials and tribulations of black Actors in Hollywood. The film was a self-funded project that Townsend wrote, directed, produced, and starred in. Another film that brought Townsend the credit of a lifetime was the popular soul musical The Five Heartbeats, reminiscent of the 60’s R&B male groups and the ups and downs of the music industry. He made history by being nominated for 30 NAACP Awards and continues to work on projects in film, humanitarian efforts for underrepresented youth through his own 501 (c) 3 The Robert Townsend Foundation, and touring as a guest speaker at colleges and universities.

LeToya Luckett will be recognized as this year’s Rising Star Award recipient. She is a Houston native and two-time GRAMMY Award winning artist with ties to The Ensemble Theatre as a young girl. She was an integral member of the group Destiny’s Child where she co-wrote gold certified singles “Bills Bills Bills” and “Say My Name.” Her star continues to rise as she peruses her solo career. Luckett is currently working on her third album “Until Then…” set to be released later this year 2014. Her star continues to rise as she takes on stage, film and television projects including the Warner Premiere film Preacher’s Kid and the third season of HBO TV series “Treme.” Luckett is also starring alongside Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson and Tom Felton in From the Rough, the story of Dr. Cantana Starks, the first female head coach of an NCAA Division 1 men’s golf team.

Jerelyn and Reverend DeFarris Gooden are the recipients of this year’s Founder’s Award. The couple began their support of The Ensemble Theatre during the lifetime of founder George W. Hawkins. Jerelyn Gooden, a prominent designer and Texas Southern University Professor worked on many of the theatre’s special events and galas. She was also appointed to the Cultural Arts Council Houston (CACH), now the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA), where she served for six years. Two of those years she served as President, becoming the first African American to serve as president of CACH. She played a pivotal role in helping the council understand and access the financial needs of minority and emerging organizations. Reverend DeFarris Gooden, an Army Veteran and 30 year retired Chaplain for the Houston VA Hospital began his journey with the theatre as a volunteer and patron in support of his wife, but later became an Ensemble Theatre board member where his service to the organization continues in support of the theatre’s fundraising and community outreach initiatives.

The Audrey and Reverend William “Bill” Lawson Family will received the President’s Award. The Lawson family’s support of The Ensemble Theatre spans generations. Audrey is the theatre’s president emeritus, recognized for spearheading the theatre’s first capital campaign to assist with the building renovations and purchase of the building at its current location. Reverend Bill Lawson volunteered his artistic talents painting the attention grabbing marquees and influencing community support. Their four children Melanie, Cheryl, Eric, and Roxanne follow in their parent’s footsteps with their service to the theatre and throughout the Greater Houston Community. Granddaughters Robyn and Raven grew up in the theatre’s Young Performers Program, a performing arts education program for youth, where they later returned as interns and instructors. Both are currently pursuing careers in Los Angeles California.  Robyn was also the winner of the 2007 “My Grammy Moment” where she performed with Justin Timberlake. Audrey and Reverend Lawson celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at the theatre January of 2014 along with their family and a host of friends.

BP America will be recognized with the Community Partner of the Year Award. BP America, Inc. is a long-time strategic partner of The Ensemble’s youth programs. Iris Cross, BP General Manager of External Affairs volunteers her time and talents as an Ensemble theatre board member where she has led the charge in support. Other BP employees are also seen annually volunteering their time to the theatre’s special projects and events.  This provides a platform for shared voices to be impactful. 

McConnell, Jones, Lanier & Murphy LLP will receive the Community investor Award. MJLM’s support for The Ensemble Theatre has remained strong since forming the business 15 years ago; from helping to start the annual golf tournament to underwriting and participating in a variety of the theatre’s programs and events. MJLM partner Sharon Murphy is an active board member who most recently co-chaired the theatre’s past two galas. Collectively, partners Wayne McConnell, Thomas Jones, Odysseus Lanier, Sharon Murphy, Tenë Thomas, and Eric Ernest serve on boards or volunteer their time and expertise to over 20 organizations representing education, health and wellness, and the arts.

The celebration continues at The Ensemble Theatre on Sunday, August 12, 2:00PM with the community subscriber’s party and “Giorgee Awards,” The Ensemble’s own version of the Tony’s, affectionately named after the theatre’s founder George W. Hawkins. The Giorgee Awards are presented in recognition of the best actors, designers, and overall productions seen at The Ensemble Theatre the previous year. 

The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain and enrich a diverse community. In addition to being the oldest and largest professional African-American theatre in the Southwest, it also holds the distinction of being one of the nation's largest African-American theatres that owns and operates its facility with an in-house production team.

The Ensemble Theatre produces a main stage season of contemporary and classic works devoted to the portrayal of the African American experience by local and national playwrights and artists. The theatre’s Performing Arts Education program provides educational workshops, Artist-in-Residence experiences and live performances for students both off-site and at the theatre; and the Young Performers Program offers intensive summer training for children ages six to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts.