Carl Clay—a playwright, director, and filmmaker—founded Black Spectrum Theatre Company as a traveling theatrical troupe in 1970. He is now its executive producer. Since that time, Black Spectrum has grown into a multifaceted performing arts and media company that has produced and presented over 150 plays, 30 films, and numerous works of music, dance, and performance art. Black Spectrum Theatre is the recipient of ten AUDELCO Awards and three National Black Theatre Festival Awards for excellence in African-American theatre.
Carl's organization began in a church in 1970. From there we used the basements and homes of members and their parents. As we grew in sophistication, we performed along the eastern seaboard in colleges, churches (including Cornell & Albany State), countless festivals, and event venues (including Lincoln Center in NY).
Next, we moved into a storefront on Linden in Queens, NY. It was previously an abandoned drug store, and we converted it into a 100-seat theater venue. We were there from 1977–86. Following that, we renovated, converted, and assisted in the architectural design of what was previously an abandoned Navel hospital's Officers' Club that hadn't been used since World War II. Today it is the Roy Wilkins Family Center, and the Black Spectrum Theater is inside the building.
In 1986, Black Spectrum moved into our own 325-seat, state-of-the-art theatre, located in a city-owned recreation complex in Roy Wilkins Park, just three miles south of downtown Jamaica, Queens. The theatre is equipped to double as a film and video studio. We maintain our administration offices, rehearsal space, and a small cabaret theatre within the complex as well. In addition to the executive producer, Black Spectrum employs four full-time staffers and six part-time workers, as well as many actors, writers, musicians, artists, and technicians.
Black Spectrum operates as a non-profit organization with an annual budget of over $600,000. It receives volunteer support from its board, community members, and Youth Company parents, as well as funding from individuals, government foundations, and corporations. Black Spectrum is currently carrying out a capacity-building program with the support of the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Community Trust, and the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, which has awarded Black Spectrum a two-year $60,000 stabilization grant. In 2010, Black Spectrum was awarded a $1.3 million capital grant from State Senators Shirley Huntley & Malcolm Smith to improve our facility and grow our audience capacity.
In December 1998, we were honored by Ms. Ruby Dee and Mr. Ossie Davis, who celebrated their 50th Anniversary with a gala benefit that raised $20,000 for Black Spectrum. In February 1999, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the NYC Department of Business Services awarded Black Spectrum a Community Enterprise Award in recognition of our contributions to the social and cultural fabric of New York. In May 2000, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation awarded a $20,000 grant to support our programs for young people. Since July 1999, the New York City Council has awarded $750,000 in capital grants to launch our Spectrum Theatre on Wheels.
In 2001, Black Spectrum was awarded a two-year capacity building grant from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation. During June 2000, Black Spectrum celebrated our 30th Anniversary with gala events featuring theater and music celebrities including Ruby Dee, Angela Bofill, and Roy Ayers. The event also showcased a special performance inaugurating the Spectrum Theatre on Wheels Mobile Stage and Repertory Company.
In 2010, we celebrated our 40th Anniversary with a gala event featuring Black Spectrum alumnus Iris Wilson (Principal dancer in "Fela" on Broadway) and cinema icon Melvin Van Peebles.