New Freedom Theatre is celebrating 50 years of excellence in arts education, professional productions and community engagement. We continued that tradition with the introduction of Guest Artistic Directors in 2014.
Ozzie Jones served in that position for one year. We then appointed Rajendra Ramoon Marahaj as Guest Artistic Director in 2015 and Artistic Director in 2016.
“Freedom showed that theater is not about bright lights and big budgets, but rather the stories through which we find the ability to discover ourselves.”–Philadelphia Weekly
Today, New Freedom celebrates its 50th anniversary with a renovated facility, Barrymore Award winning programs and Barrymore Nominated productions.
The bus route is now 4 and 16
Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj is an Indo-Caribbean American artist, educator and activist. He was hailed in the New York Times as “one of the most talented directors in New York these days”. He is the Artistic Director of New Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia. He is a member of Theater Philadelphia Board of Directors.
Regional selected Directing/Choreography credits include: New Freedom Theatre (The Ballad of Trayvon Martin – World Premiere, Jamaica, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, The Colored Museum, Walk Through Time – World Premier by Pulitzer Prize Recipient, Lynn Nottage) Passage Theatre (Little Rock – 2015 Barrymore Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Play), TheatreWorks (Little Rock), Signature Stage (Sweet Tea), Syracuse Stage (Godspell, Putting It Together starring Lillias White and Chuck Cooper), Actors Theatre of Louisville (Nightswim and Classyass), St. Louis Black Rep (Damn Yankees), Arkansas Repertory Theatre (Dreamgirls, Intimate Apparel, Little Rock, A Raisin in the Sun), Crossroads Theatre (History of the Word, The Colored Museum), Alabama Shakespeare Festival (Sanctified), Prince Musical Theatre (From the Hip), Theatre of the Stars (Dreamgirls: The 25th Anniversary Production starring Tony Award Winner Jennifer Holliday), The Goodman Theatre (The Black Nativity) and Portland Stage Company (Master Harold and the Boys).
New York City selected Directing/Choreography credits include: The Public Theatre (365 Days, Memphis Minnie workshop), Classical Theatre of Harlem (Marat Sade), Lark Play Development Center (Man Measures Man, Breathe), New Federal Theatre (Diss Diss and Diss Dat), Rebel Theater (Mother Emanuel – NY International Fringe Festival), Othello: The Panther, Black Footnotes, Ghosts, Salome: Da Voodoo Princess of Nawlins, Trail of Tears, R+J: An Uncivil Tale – Choreographer), Making Books Sing (Band of Angels, Shelter in my Car, Chachajis Cup), Amas Musical Theatre (Bubbling Brown Sugar, Damn Yankees, Mamma I Want to Sing, Magpie).
As a playwright, Maharaj has authored several plays, including Little Rock – a historical drama about the Little Rock Nine, Daisy, inspired by the life and legacy of the indomitable Daisy Lee Bates, Grey and Twenty-Five, Hansberry/Baldwin (Semi-Finalist for the Eugene O’Neil Playwright Festival.)
Other Commissioned work includes: Diss Diss and Dis Dat, a new hip hop musical inspired by the music of the Funkie Natives; Grey and Twenty-Five; Black Footnotes (Sloan Grant/Ensemble Studio Theater); Little Rock (TCG/NEA New Generations Grant); Children of the Dream.
Co. Written and Co. Conceived work: The Ballad of Trayvon Martin (Co-Authored by Thomas J. Soto), Mother Emanuel (Co-Authored by Adam Mace and Christian Lee Branch – Winner of the 2016 NY Fringe Overall Excellence Award for Musical), History of the Word, a new spoken word play with music; Exposures, an urban spoken word choreopoem.
Adapted work: Othello: The Panther (Adapted from Othello: The Moore); Ghosts by Ibsen “Jamaican adaptation” ; Abortion by O’Neill “Mississippi Night”; Black Nativity by Langston Hughes “Darfur Nativity”; Straight Outta Denmark (Adapted from Hamlet).
Maharaj started Voices at the River in 2010, a program designed to support African-American and Latino playwrights both nationally and in Arkansas. While at Redshirt Entertainment, he began the annual Rooftop reading series of new 10 minute plays and the Holocaust Remembrance series (covering the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, the Trail of Tears, and Bosnia).
He has held artistic residencies with Freedom Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Kennedy Center, Crossroads Theatre, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Amas Musical Theatre and Nuyorican Poets Cafe. He is also the recipient of The State of New Jersey, the Senate and General Assembly Joint Legislative Resolution and Mercer County, New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders Certificate of Honor as well as the City Council of Philadelphia Citation for his work on The Ballad of Trayvon Martin. He is the recipient of the Woodie King Jr. Award for Outstanding Direction and four Vivian Robinson AUDELCO awards for his direction and choreography. Maharaj also received a nomination for the New York Innovative Theater Award and S.A.L.T award nomination for Director of the year. He received grants for the Van Lier Directing Fellowship, Brooklyn Arts Council Grant, Winthrop Rockefeller Grant, Doris Duke Charitable Grant, Andrew W. Mellon Grant and Time Warner Diverse Voices Grant. Maharaj is an alumni of Lincoln Center Directors Lab and TCG Young Leaders of Color in the American Theater.
Board of Directors
Board Chair, Derek Hargeaves
Chris Perks, Philadelphia Parking Authority
Nakea Hurdle, Esq. Gabriel & Hurdle, LLC
Damion Sammons, Esq.
Executive Producing Director
Ms, Sandra Norris Haughton, is a graduate of the internationally esteemed Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and Preservation Fellow of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ms. Haughton is a nationally respected and much sought after cultural affairs expert and producer who excels at organizational and resource development. Because of her expertise in cultural arts strategic and developmental planning, she is known as an extremely successful “turn around” professional. Ms. Haughton has time after time taken on the responsibility of evaluating and implementing new strategies for cultural institutions in distress and developed transformational strategies to redefine and make them viable. She has raised millions of dollars over the span of her career for performing arts institutions including Philadanco! The Philadelphia Dance Company; South Jersey Performing Arts Center, National Ballet of New Jersey and served as Executive Director of Bailey Concert Hall in Fort Lauderdale Florida where she served as producer for works by Vinnette Carroll, the first African American female to direct on Broadway.
Ms. Haughton’s work at Freedom Theatre has been nothing short of miraculous. Despite severe financial shortfalls, physical plant issues, public perception and negative images of the theatre, she was able to put together a team of professionals who ensured that the theatre stayed open while successfully retiring almost $6 million in debt. Some of the highlights of her tenure include:
- Preparing an organizational assessment and creating a recovery plan that resulted in new funding and programming
- Restoring all required nonprofit registrations on the state, local and federal level
- Creating and executing a debt elimination plan which included retiring all IRS and Bank debt
- Developing new performing arts seasons from 2010-present
- Securing funding to make repairs on Freedom’s National Historic Landmark building including roof, HVAC and interior repairs
- Managing the development and implementation of a professional repositioning plan from the Community Design Collaborative for the building which resulted in new operation layout, allowing the Theatre to share the building with other organizations to generate new streams of revenue
- Implementing the creation of the Guest Artistic Director position from 2014-present
Producing five seasons of top notch professional productions, including: Home For the Holidays staring Dee Dee Sharp, Home, directed by Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. Celebrate! A Holiday Production 2013-2014; Opera Soup, and the entire 2014-2015 season including The Last Jimmy starring Dice Raw of the Roots; and Project I Voice readings of such plays as Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play
- Creating new programming and facilitating new artistic and community collaborations for the theatre
- Reorganizing the Performing Arts Training Program to ensure that it had a vibrant summer and fall/winter season
Her future plans, approved by the board of directors include:
- Launching a capital campaign
- Celebrating the theatre’s 50th anniversary with a full season of activities
- Completing renovation of the Edwin Forrest Mansion
- Organizing new artistic initiatives including commissioning new works for upcoming seasons
As Freedom Theatre celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Ms. Haughton’s unparalleled leadership continues to place this historic organization on the path to greatness with the selection of a new Guest Artistic Director, Rajendra Ramoon Maharesh, who has planned an exciting season with such landmark productions as The Ballad of Trayvon Martin. All of Ms. Haughton’s initiatives are established to ensure the longevity of New Freedom Theatre, this iconic national treasure based in Philadelphia.
Ms. Haughton’s motto is:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”