Vera J. Katz and Liz Lerman in Conversation
(Saturday, October 24, 2015) It was standing room only at the Potter’s House in Adams Morgan in Washington, DC when E. Ethelbert Miller opened the conversation between master teachers in theater and dance, Vera J. Katz and Liz Lerman. It was the first conversation between the two women, both inspiring and influential figures in Washington, DC’s arts scene and around the globe. The conversation covered arts education, the role of exploring identity, race, aging in practicing and learning dance and drama, the challenges of mentorship, making choices for a career and second chances, serving communities in need, and working with and within institutions. The event was produced and presented by E. Ethelbert Miller, Mosaic Theater Company of Washington, DC, and Michon Boston Group Ltd.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION:
Vera J. Katz arrived on the Howard University campus in 1969 to teach drama. It was a turbulent time of public grief, outrage, and protest on and off campus following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968; not the time when Howard’s theater students could eagerly embrace a Jewish American woman professor.
“Katz and Lerman continue to touch lives and shape history. There is much to learn from these women. They are teachers whose contributions extend beyond the classroom, workshop and stage. An afternoon of reflections and memories might just be the beginning of a new cultural blueprint.” E. Ethelbert Miller
Nearly 10 years later Liz Lerman was completing her Master of Arts degree at George Washington University. She was also putting together a unique modern dance company and named it Dance Exchange. For Lerman, the MA degree was a way to get a stipend. The company was, in her words, “holding commitment to concert and community.”
Today Katz is professor emeritus of Howard, gives private coaching, and teaches drama at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts to a new generation of thespians. Katz has been called by former students Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad for dramaturgy and creative counsel. She is also putting the finishing touches on her memoir to include her unique techniques that have brought success to many African American actors appearing on stage, television, and film today: Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”), Anthony Anderson(“Blackish”), Chadwick Boseman (“42,” “Get On Up,” upcoming MARVEL’s “The Black Panther”), Wendy Raquel Robinson (“Steve Harvey Show”), just to name a few.
Lerman’s vision broadened the reach of dance beyond the studio and stage. Her dancers toured nationally and internationally. They were multi-generational tapestry engaging the public in shipyards, synagogues, playgrounds, street corners in motion with geneticists and physicists, as well as health care workers and patients. In 2002 Lerman received a genius award from the MacArthur Foundation, and published a collection of essays, Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer in 2011. Harvard University invited her to be an artist in residence, initiating new projects including the National Civil War Project, and the Healing Wars. Both projects explore the impact of war on humanity through arts and science. After 34 years Dance Exchange has been turned over to a new generation and Lerman has moved her life to Baltimore, Maryland.