Exhibit chronicles impact of African-Americans in New York theater

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As part of Black History Month, Rob Nelson has the story of an exhibit, "Harlem is Theater". (WABC)

February is Black History Month. Most people don't realize just how big of an impact African-Americans have had in the theater.

There is an exhibit which looks at the history of black theater in Harlem and New York.

Along the walls of the New York Public Library for Performing Arts, it's theater history now taking center stage.

"The richness, the perseverance, the talent, the amazing stories, that a lot people don't know," said Barbara Horowitz of Community Works.

The free exhibit, called 'Harlem is Theater', has moved and evolved over the last decade, and until May will call the library at Lincoln Center home.

Through pictures, playbills and video, the exhibit, organized by the group Community Works, chronicles nearly 200 years of black theater throughout Harlem and New York.

"Harlem and Harlem theaters were the training ground for some people who are now major stars, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee," said Horowitz.

Thursday, some 6th graders got to walk the now history-lined walls.

"Even though black people in the past didn't have a lot of rights, they still pushed for what they wanted and now they have theaters named after them," said student Erica Hall.

George Faison doesn't need to brush up on theater history. That's because he's part of it. Dancer, producer, director, and one of the first African-Americans ever to win a Tony, for choreography in "The Wiz."

"I don't think we stay as connected as maybe we should, to the history," said Faison.

15 years ago, he opened the Faison Firehouse Theater in Harlem, a way of raising up the next generation of talent.

"I bought the theater to give the kids of Harlem a stake in their own community," said Faison.

We talked to one little girl at the exhibit, and she said that seeing all that history meant so much more to her than just the stage and the bright lights.

"It made me more proud of the way I am and changed my mind about certain things," said Naijanee Jackson.

Even a standing ovation can't beat that.
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societyAfrican Americanstheaterblack history
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