Reference Entry

Henderson, Stephen McKinley

Meron Langsner

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Henderson, Stephen McKinley

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actor, director, and educator, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Elihue Henderson and Naomi Johnson. His father was employed at various jobs, one of which was making ice cream for the DeCorcey company of Kansas City, Kansas, after military service during the Korean conflict left him partially disabled. His mother was a hairstylist for a funeral home, a nightclub waitress, and finally a receptionist for Swope Park Community Medical Center.Henderson attended school in Kansas City, Kansas, prior to integration. After graduating from Sumner High School in 1967, he briefly attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, a historically black institution founded by the Black Cavalry. After a year as a member of Lincoln's resident stage ensemble, the Stagecrafters, Henderson moved to New York City and joined the Juilliard Drama Division, where John Houseman, Michel and Suria Saint-Denis and other distinguished theater professionals were establishing a tradition of classical training. Henderson was at Juilliard from 1968 to 1970, during which time he was introduced to Amiri Baraka, a central figure in the Black Arts Movement. Henderson transferred to the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA), where he served as president of the student government. He received additional training at the Rose Bruford Academy outside London in the summer of 1971. After receiving a BFA in Acting in 1972 from NCSA, Henderson worked professionally before entering Purdue University Graduate School, where he served as director of the Black Drama Workshop for Purdue's Black Cultural Center from 1974 to 1976. He received his MA in Theatre Arts from Purdue in 1977. Henderson married Pamela Reed Henderson in 1978 and had a son, Jamal Stephen Henderson, in 1981.Henderson was a resident member of the Loretto-Hilton Repertory Company (now the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis). This was a turning point in his development as an actor. As a direct result of that association, he took part in the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1981, where he performed in the Loretto-Hilton company's production of Athol Fugard's The Island. The company then went on to perform the play for several years throughout the Midwest. Other training included work with William Esper at his New York studio in the summer of 1991, and later in his career, the Teachers Development Intensive at the Actor's Center and work with Lloyd Richards as a Fox Foundation fellow from 2003 to 2005.Henderson has enjoyed a distinguished career as an actor, an early example of this is his role in Harold Scott's production of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun from 1982 to 1987. The cast was assembled through several regional productions and then brought to New York City by the Roundabout Theatre Company in 1984. The subsequent Kennedy Center production with Esther Rolle and Delroy Lindo was an important production for the Eisenhower Theater, because it broke existing box office records. When the Public Broadcasting Company's American Playhouse broadcast this work with Rolle and Danny Glover, the director Bill Duke used the entire cast from Harold Scott's stage production.Other highlights in Henderson's acting career include performances in August Wilson's Jitney, which began his collaborative relationships with both Wilson and Marion McClinton. He originated the roles of Turnbo in Jitney and Stool Pigeon in King Hedley II, both under the direction of McClinton; for the former he won a 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. Other notable productions included The Last Days of Judas Iscariot for the LAByrinth Theater Company at the Public Theater in New York City, the HBO movie Everyday People (2004), and the Broadway productions of Dracula, the Musical and Drowning Crow. He also acted in Signature Theatre Company's 2006 production of Seven Guitars in the first installment of its season in honor of August Wilson.As a director, Henderson's accomplishments include ALI! by Geoffrey C. Ewing and Graydon Royce, which was his New York City directing debut. The play, an homage to the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, ran Off-Broadway during the 1992 season, transferring from the John Houseman Studio to the Sheridan Square Theatre. The production garnered two Audelco Awards honoring outstanding achievement in African American theater Off-Broadway and an Obie Award for Ewing's Outstanding Performance. In the summer of 1993 Henderson traveled to London to direct ALI! for the Mermaid Theatre. The play also was revived for the National Black Arts Festival in 1994 and the Olympic Arts Festival in Atlanta in 1996. Henderson also directed The Meeting by Jeff Stetson for the St. Louis Black Repertory Theater. This production was presented at Kennedy Center as part of its 1993–1994 Imagination Celebration in the Theater Lab.Henderson joined the faculty of the theatre and dance department of the State University of New York at Buffalo as an assistant professor in 1987 and received tenure as an associate professor in 1993. He headed the acting program from 1994 to 1998 and served as department chair from 1999 to 2000. Henderson was installed on the faculty of the Actor's Center in June of 2006 and has had multiple residencies with various organizations through the years.Among Henderson's many awards are an Obie Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Audelco Award, a FOX Foundation Fellowship, an NAACP Theater Award, a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Purdue University, a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, a Helen Hayes Nomination, a citation from the XXVI Olympiad, and numerous regional awards in the Buffalo area.Stephen McKinley Henderson has made a lasting impact on the American theater on several levels. Though renowned as an actor and director, he may very well have made his greatest contribution as a teacher.

Reference Entry.  958 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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