The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Arthur French

Arthur French

Negro Ensemble Company, Actor, Director
Born on Friday, November 6, 1931

Interviewed on: Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Location: Primary Stages Offices
Interviewed by: Casey Childs
Interview #9
"There were so many Off-Broadway places… I took whatever. My answer was ‘Yes.’"
Arthur French Highlights
Video Length: 5 minutes, 36 seconds
Arthur French Interview
Video Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Arthur French is an actor and director whose theater career has spanned over 50 years. He is a founding member of the Negro Ensemble Company, which focuses on themes in black life. His Off-Broadway acting credits include: RAISIN’ HELL IN THE SON (1962), HAPPY ENDING/DAY OF ABSENCE (1965), KONGI’S HARVEST (1968), BLACK GIRL (1971), THE BROWNSVILLE RAID (1976), JULIUS CAESAR (1979),DRIVING MISS DAISY (1987), TWO TRAINS RUNNING (2006), DIVIDING THE ESTATE (2007), THE LITTLE FLOWER OF EAST ORANGE (2008), and THE PICTURE BOX (2012). As a director, he has worked with the New Federal Theatre, the Classical Theatre of Harlem, African Arts Theater Company, and The Morningside Players. Some of the plays he has directed are ONE LAST LOOK (1967), MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2002), A RAISIN IN THE SUN (2013),and FENCES (2015). In 1997, he received an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance. He was bestowed two AUDELCO Awards (Best Director and Best Production) for MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM. He also won a Lucille Lortel Award for TWO TRAINS RUNNING. In 2011, French was bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Coalition of Theatres of Color and, in 2015, received a Paul Robeson Citation from the Actors’ Equity Association.

French was born and raised in New York City. In addition to Off-Broadway, he has also worked on Broadway and in film. His Broadway credits include: Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1971), The River Niger (1973), The Iceman Cometh (1973), Death of a Salesman (1975), You Can’t Take It With You (1973), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984), Dividing the Estate (2008), and The Trip to Bountiful (2013). His film credits include: Car Wash (1976), ‘Round Midnight (1986), Crooklyn (1994), and Red Hook Summer (2012). He is currently one of the instructors for the New Federal Theatre’s Workshop.

Mentioned in Interview

Woodie King Jr., Douglas Turner Ward, August Wilson, George C. Scott, Peggy Feury, Coalition of Theatres of Color, Negro Ensemble Company, New Federal Theatre, Negro Ensemble Company, St. Mark’s Playhouse, Old Reliable, Black Arts, Provincetown Playhouse, RAISIN’ HELL IN THE SON, HAPPY ENDING/DAY OF ABSENCE, BLACK GIRL