Speak the names, tell the stories (part 1): Shining a light on DC theater history

Black history is American history; it is blended into the fabric of our nation. Introducing a series about Black theater creatives who helped shape DC theater.

By LeeAnét Noble and Lauretta Malloy

Black history is American history, it is blended into the fabric of our nation. Black theater history in Washington, DC, spans centuries: from The Howard Players, the first student-led acting group in the United States, launching in 1907 at Howard University, to the DC Black Repertory Company, founded in 1973, a few years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many more who helped to shape the landscape of theater in DC.

When I was a kid, my mother, Lauretta Malloy, an actor, singer, writer, and artist, intentionally exposed me to theater where I could see reflections of myself on stage. Whether it was her shows, rehearsals, classes, or trips to see the latest hit play, my eyes and dreams expanded with each experience. She, in turn, was inspired by her mother, Dr. Loncie Norwood Malloy, who would take her to rehearsals with the DC Black Repertory Company, concerts with Russell Woolen of the National Symphony Orchestra, and more.

The DC Black Repertory Company team. Year unknown.

This journey informed my eclectic career as a director, performer, writer, musician, and choreographer, and now as the Director of Equity and Belonging at Shakespeare Theatre Company. On this path, I’ve seen how as a community, representation within leadership, admin roles, and productions in theater has improved. There are also new directors of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility), union-mandated DEIA trainings, affinity groups, and more initiatives to support safe spaces in theater. However, there is still work to do to truly reflect our community. It is a continual process that we must commit to.

Before these initiatives were in place, BIPOC creatives sustained through horrific systemic blocks and yet shifted what theater looked like in the District. The present state of theater in DC is due in large part to the work many put into the past. I decided to join forces with my mother to celebrate a few of the Titans of DC theater who shifted the landscape and expanded what the territory of theater could be.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: DC Black Repertory Company founder Robert Hooks, LaVerne Reed Dancers founder LaVerne Reed, Howard University Children’s Theatre leader Dr. Kelsey Collie, and Duke Ellington School of the Arts Co-Founder Mike Malone.

In this five-part series, we will shine a light on the works of DC Black Repertory Company, Dr. Kelsey Collie, LaVerne Reed, and Mike Malone. We will speak with a few of the thousands of people in DC whose lives they touched to share their stories with the next generation of makers and shakers in DC theater.

In the West African culture, a Griot plays a key role in society: maintaining records and sharing history and stories. The oral tradition of passing along stories keeps the culture alive and informed. Maya Angelou once said, “The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.” We are telling these stories and speaking these names to further liberate and celebrate our beautiful theater community.

LeeAnét Noble is a world-renowned multi-hyphenate artist as well as the Director of Equity and Belonging on the artistic team at Shakespeare Theatre Company.  She currently teaches an original Black theater history course at The Academy (Graduate studies at George Washington University). She graduated magna cum laude from Howard University with a degree in theater and is certified in Equity from Purdue University. Her original play Lerato and Her Drum was a finalist in the ReImagine TYA competition. Her most recent directing project, 10 Seconds, produced by Imagination Stage, can be seen on demand via Play House Square. Her work with Rick Owens for Paris Fashion Week alongside her mother has been inducted into museums worldwide. She often joins forces with her mother, Lauretta; most recently the two served as Director and Composer/Music Director (Lauretta) for the tour of Teddy Bear Mountain produced by Cleveland Play House and were featured in Vogue magazine, Elle, and more. LeeAnét is represented by Aevitas Creative Management. Learn more at www.leeanet.com and find ​​LeeAnét on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or YouTube.

LeeAnét Noble and Lauretta Malloy. Photo by Marcos DeCastro.

Lauretta Malloy is a critically acclaimed performer, writer, vocalist, musician, and producer who has worked with Webster Lewis, Earth Wind and Fire, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Quincy Jones, BET, and more. As a research writer, she worked with the late Dr. Ralph Gomes, Howard University Chair of Sociology and Criminology.  She received her BS degree and is certified in Genealogy Research from the University of Strathclyde and has certification in filmmaking and scriptwriting from The National Film and Television School. As a musician, she was mentored by Dizzy Gillespie and studied under Grady Tate. She has performed with the National Choral Arts Society of Washington and in shows alongside her daughter LeeAnét at Feinsteins/54 Below, The Zipper Theatre, The Kennedy Center, New York Fashion Week, and more. She co-directed the viral Paris Fashion Week show for Rick Owens SS14 alongside her daughter LeeAnét. Lauretta is represented by Aevitas Creative Management. Learn more at and find Lauretta on InstagramFacebook, TikTok, and YouTube.

Speak the names, tell the stories (part 2): Dr. Kelsey E. Collie, pioneer of children’s theater in DC 
Speak the names, tell the stories (part 3): The DC Black Repertory Company
Speak the names, tell the stories (part 4): An ode to Mike Malone
Speak the names, tell the stories (part 5): LaVerne Reed, founder  of the LaVerne Reed Dance Company


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