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Last modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Two stage legends and civil rights leaders to help dedicate Theatre/Neal-Marshall building

On Jan. 18, Indiana University will formally open a new state-of-the-art home for theater performances, for the education of theater scholars and artists, and for African American cultural and arts centers. The dedication of the Department of Theatre and Drama Center and the Marcellus Neal and Frances Marshall Black Culture Center will feature a joint keynote address by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, noted authors, actors and activists.

The dedication ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. in the building's Ruth N. Halls Theatre. The public is invited to the ceremony and to two other events scheduled for the same day: a theatre workshop in the morning and a free program that evening.

The building has been a dream for IU Bloomington for many years. It will provide the Department of Theatre and Drama with innovative and much-needed performance spaces for theatre and dance in a setting that's commensurate with its talents and its array of offerings. It will also gather under one roof the campus' African American arts organizations, cultural library and student and academic services, providing a collaborative environment that is at the heart of the academic enterprise.

For more than half a century together, Davis and Dee have enriched American life as actors, writers, directors, producers and advocates for social justice. "We are honored that Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee will play a part in this historic event in the life of our university," said IU President Myles Brand. "They embody the same commitment to theatrical excellence and equal opportunity that is represented by this beautiful facility."

The Department of Theatre and Drama bid goodbye to the University Theatre in November with its final production there, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and its T300 Studio Theatre stage soon will darken. Productions of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman will inaugurate the new Wells-Metz and Halls theatres. The department's performance program will benefit from new theatres that are commensurate with its talents and its array of offerings.

"This long-awaited new home for Theatre and Drama will set the standard for new theatre education facilities in the nation, while at the same time challenging this nationally ranked program to new heights of excellence in theatre and drama education, scholarship and art," said Leon I. Brauner, chairperson and professor of theatre and drama.

The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, named for the first male and female African American graduates of IU, likewise will celebrate the building's opening with a series of special events. On Jan. 15, a new exhibit on the history and contributions of African Americans at IU will open. The campus' annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Lecture will be presented there four days after the dedication, and three other major lectures will take place there in February. The Black Student Union and other student organizations will offer a variety of educational and social programs throughout the spring semester.

"The dedication of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center marks an important milestone in the university's history of creating a climate that supports the academic and personal success of African Americans and other under-represented students. It fulfills the vision of many former student leaders, administrators and alumni," said Charlie Nelms, vice president for student development and diversity and Bloomington vice chancellor.

The new building offers more than 97,000 square feet of usable space, including performance facilities, traditional classrooms, lecture halls, rehearsal studios, costume and scene shops, a library and administrative offices. Its need became evident during the 1990s when the IU programs were in danger of losing their nationally-acclaimed reputations because of their obsolete facilities.

The Department of Theatre and Drama will share the new building with the African American Arts Institute and its performing groups -- the IU Soul Revue, the African American Choral Ensemble and the African American Dance Company. The activities of the former Black Culture Center and the offices of Diversity Education and Community and School Partnerships will be housed there.

During their visit, Davis and Dee will participate in several events with IU students and faculty. In addition to the building dedication, they will conduct an acting workshop with students and faculty at Willkie Auditorium and will discuss their lives in the theatre, in television and film, and as social activists in a free program at the IU Auditorium. All will take place on Jan. 18 and are open to the community free of charge.

Since meeting on Broadway in the 1946 production of Jeb, Davis and Dee have excelled as collaborators and as individuals (they married in 1948), and they often broke new ground for African Americans. They made their film debuts in 1950 in No Way Out with Sidney Poitier, then starred together on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun.

Davis, an alumnus of Howard University, has performed in many Broadway productions, including No Time for Sergeants, I'm Not a Rappaport and Anna Lucasta. He first electrified television audiences in 1965 in the title role in The Emperor Jones. He received Emmy nominations for Teacher, Teacher, King and Miss Evers' Boys. He was a regular or recurring player on TV series such as Evening Shade, B.L. Stryker and The Client.

Young people may recognize Davis and Dee from their appearances in several Spike Lee films, including Malcolm X -- in which Davis played himself, having delivered the eloquent eulogy for the slain black leader in 1965 -- Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing and Get on the Bus. More recently, Davis starred as Eddie Murphy's father in the 1998 comedy, Dr. Dolittle, was the voice of a lemur in the 2000 Disney animated film, Dinosaur, and was in 1993's Grumpy Old Men.

Dee, an alumna of Hunter College, first attracted national attention in 1950 for her performance in The Jackie Robinson Story and broke ground in 1965 as the first black woman to play lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival. She won an Obie Award for the title role in Athol Fugard's Boesman and Lena, a Drama Desk Award for her role in Wedding Band and an Ace Award for her performance as Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night.

On television, Dee has been nominated seven times for Emmy Awards and was a winner in 1991 for Decoration Day. She and Davis recently starred in Showtime TV's adaptation of the Anne Rice novel, The Feast of All Saints. Both received NAACP Image Awards for their 1996 CBS series Promised Land. Dee's other recent TV films have included Finding Buck McHenry and Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First Hundred Years.

In 1961, Davis wrote and starred with Dee in the acclaimed Purlie Victorious, a satire on the historical and psychological significance of segregation. The play later was adapted into a film and a musical. In 1970, he directed his first feature film, Cotton Comes to Harlem, for which he also wrote the screenplay and songs. In 1976, they produced the first American feature film to be shot entirely in Africa by black professionals, Countdown at Kusani, with Davis directing.

As close friends of Martin Luther King Jr., they served as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 march on Washington. Early on, they risked their careers resisting McCarthyism. Davis' and Dee's activism has led to their arrest for protesting the killing in New York of a Guinean immigrant, their suing in federal court for black voting rights, and their speaking out for citizen involvement in democracy and in support of sickle cell disease research.

Davis and Dee were celebrated as "national treasures" when they received the National Medal of Arts in 1995. In 2000, they were presented with the Screen Actors Guild's highest honor, the Life Achievement Award. They received the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle Award in 1994 and are inductees in the Theater Hall of Fame and the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.

They are co-authors of a joint autobiography, With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2000).