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The Ensemble Theatre Confronts the Issues of Gun Violence and Gun Control with Regional Premier of ‘BROTHER TOAD’

Houston, TX– With the recent shooting of Ralph Yarl, our Nation is once again faced with the issue of gun control, gun violence and the choices that we make as individuals.  Reminiscent of many news headlines over the last 20 years, the stage production ‘BROTHER TOAD’ confronts the harsh reality of the harm that owning and using firearms against another human being can cause.  Are we (collectively) desensitized to guns?  Are the increases in gun ownership happening due to the populations’ desire to be safe, or are people becoming increasingly scared…or both?  Do we, as individuals, realize the great responsibility alongside the tremendous burden of owning, carrying and potentially firing a weapon?  ‘Brother Toad’ poses these questions for us to ponder, without bias, and forces us to answer first to ourselves.

“In his … play, Brother Toad, … Nathan Louis Jackson addresses how we think about guns — “Americans love guns more than apple pie” — and how we live with their pervasive presence.”

-Deborah Hirsch,

Nathan Louis Jackson is known for writing plays that have strong social themes blended with politics, race-relations, economics, and even hints of mental health issues and awareness.  Jackson’s ‘Broke-ology,’ an affecting family drama about an African-American widower and his two adult sons in Kansas City, Kansas, was previously performed in 2013 at The Ensemble Theatre and was well received.  Like ‘Broke-ology,’ ‘Brother Toad’ features a depth of character and the intricacies of real-life issues coupled with decision making in which Jackson does not offer answers, only uninfluenced choice.

‘Brother Toad’ is Co-Directed by The Ensemble Theatre’s BOLD Associate Artistic Director Rachel Hemphill Dickson and Artistic Director Eileen J. Morris. 

“In any good story, there is a conflict. In this play the characters are faced with personal choices versus that of family and community.  When it comes to gun control and gun violence, it’s not only about your personal stance-it’s you walking down the street and not knowing what choice someone else has made and how their choice will ultimately affect you. Gun violence is not a distant conversation, it’s an everyday reality that we all must face.”

-Rachel Hemphill Dickson, BOLD Associate Artistic Director

The Ensemble Theatre’s ‘Brother Toad’ has a lineup of dynamic actors in this production.  Playing Marquis (a central character who while sitting in a car with a friend was shot at by a white man who is using the “Stand Your Ground” defense) is Tanner Ellis.  Tanner is an NAACP Image Award nominated actor who has guest starred in Marvel’s ‘Cloak and Dagger,’ OWN’s ‘Queen Sugar,’ OWN’s ‘Cherish The Day,’ The Purge TV series and more.  Tanner has also acted in National commercial ads for Pepsi, USAA, Starbucks, Lakewood Church, VRBO and many more.  Tanner’s latest role was a film for Lifetime Movie Network’s ‘What Happened to My Sister?’  Tanner has had a long relationship as a Young Performers Program alumni and actor with The Ensemble Theatre; he most recently co-hosted The Ensemble Theatre’s Giorgee Awards in October 2022.

Playing Marquis’ mother, Janelle,  is An’tick Von Morphixing, a multi-talented entertainer from Houston, TX. An’tick studied vocal jazz at Texas Southern University and is proud Alumni of Prairie View A&M University.  An’tick’s talents include singing, song writing, make-up artistry, script writing, filmmaking, and directing. An’tick is celebrating her 10th year anniversary with The Ensemble Theater. The 2 time Giorgee Award Nominee played roles in ‘More Than Christmas,’  ‘Da Kink in my Hair,’ ‘Satchel Paige,’ ‘Immediate Family,’ and ‘Knock Me a Kiss.’ An’tick has also appeared in various television and film roles, including, ‘The Long Grift,’ ‘5th Ward’ the series & ‘Public Library.’

Nicholas Lewis is playing Marquis’ uncle, Randall.  Nicholas is a Houston native who is a multitalented actor that also specializes in prop, set and window design.  Nicholas has been seen in other productions at The Ensemble Theatre, including, ‘Sparkle,’ ‘A Lesson Before Dying,’ and has performed in several Vincent Victoria’s plays.  Nicholas is growing in to his career as an actor and is excited to become a prominent artist alongside his peers.  Playing Shayna, Randall’s wife, is Aria Hope.  Aria is a native of Winston, North Carolina and attended Appalachian State University, where she studies vocal performance.  Aria has performed with the Winston Salem Performing Arts Alliance, the North Carolina Black Repertory Company and the 2015 National Black Theatre Festival.  Aria has performed in several stage productions since moving to Houston and has also been featured in the films ‘Cairo’s Egypt,’ ‘Access Denied,’ and ‘Deception,’ all of which can be found on Tubi.

Completing the cast is Roc Living, who plays Randall’s friend Chris.  Roc is a native Houstonian who is also a Texas Southern University Alumnus.  Roc began acting at the Encore Theater in Houston and has amassed many theatre credits including, ‘Freeda Peoples,’ ‘Sassy Mamas,’ ‘The Old Settler,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Sparkle,’ The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,’ ‘Samson and Delilah,’ ‘The Last Day of Judas Iscariot,’ ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ ‘Of Mice & Men,’ ‘Jackie & Me,’ and ‘Camp Logan.’  Some of Roc’s IMDB film credits include   ‘Love and Coffee,’ ‘The SZN,’ ‘Weekend Getaway,’ ‘Bruised,’ ‘The Foreign Exchange Student 1 & 2,’ ‘The Do’s and Don’ts of Dating,’ ‘The Friend Zone,’ and ‘Be Someone.’

‘Brother Toad’ will preview on Saturday, May 6, 2023, Sunday, May 7, 2023 and Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

‘Brother Toad’ will open on Thursday, May 11, 2023 and runs through Sunday, June 4, 2023.

‘Brother Toad’ is rated PG-13. 

On Sunday, May 21, 2023, The Ensemble Theatre will host a free EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; a part of our Celebrating the Creative Journey series) Discussion on the “Impact of Gun Violence on Communities” following the 3:00PM matinee.  We invite all members of the press and mass media, as well as our Community partners, social justice organizations and Community activists to join in on the discussion, as The Ensemble Theatre seeks to assist in providing solutions to our Community.

About The Ensemble Theatre

The Ensemble Theatre was founded in 1976 by the late George Hawkins to preserve African American artistic expression and enlighten, entertain, and enrich a diverse community. It is the oldest and largest professional African American theatre in the Southwest, it also holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s largest African American theatres that owns and operates its facility with an in-house production team. Forty-six years later, the theatre remains one of Houston’s finest historical cultural institutions.  

The Ensemble Theatre produces a main stage season of six contemporary and classic works devoted to the portrayal of the African American experience by local and national playwrights and artists. The theatre’s Performing Arts Education program provides educational workshops, Artist-in-Residence experiences, and a season of live performances for students both off-site and at the Theatre. The Young Performers Program offers intensive summer training for children ages 6 to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts.  

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