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Theatrical veteran Israel Hicks succumbs

Juliana D. Norwood | 7/7/2010, 5 p.m.

Israel Hicks, founding artistic director of Ebony Repertory Theatre (ERT), Los Angeles' first African American Equity theatre company, died July 3, after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 66.

Israel Hicks was born in Orangeburg, S.C, and was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Boston University, earned his master's at New York University and obtained his law degree from Harvard. He also played professional football for the New England Patriots and ran his own restaurant.

In 2007, Hicks co-founded and became artistic director of Ebony Repertory Theatre (ERT), the resident company and operator of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. The company just recently hosted ERT's annual "Celebration of Black History: A Journey in Four Parts: History, Love, Men, and Women."

Hicks received the 2009 NAACP Theatre award for his direction of ERT's inaugural production of August Wilson's "Two Trains Running" (Ovation Award winner, best play, and best production) and also directed the critically acclaimed Los Angeles premiere of the hit musical, "Crowns."

"The American theatre has been made better because Israel Hicks lived. Words cannot express my depth of love for this extraordinarily brilliant man," said Wren T. Brown, founder and producer of Ebony Repertory Theatre. "He was a masterful, collaborative maker of theatre. The entire ERT family has been immeasurably blessed and fortunate to have worked alongside this gifted man of grace, generosity, gravity, vision and profound artistry. His love of actors was unparalleled. He was an artist whose work will live on through the many actors, students and designers with whom he worked and taught. The humanity in his artistry and commitment to his profession has left an indelible impression on the artistic and educational landscape of America and beyond."

Hicks was dedicated to bringing diverse, high standard, professional performing arts to the Los Angeles community through ERT and the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

In addition to his role at Ebony Repertory Theatre, Hicks was chair and artistic director for the Theater Arts Department at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. In 2001, he began his work at Mason Gross by forging a year-long residency program at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London and arranged for the school to enter the Theater Consortium, which is a group of American theater programs that work in partnership on national auditions.

"He was about being true to yourself and really bringing that out in your work," said Marshall Jones III, an assistant professor in the Theater Arts Department at Mason Gross. "I think his size, he was six-four, was a little intimidating to some people but really he was a like a big bear once you got to know him and he let you in."

Hicks was the associate director at the Denver Theater Center Company and made history at the company in 2009, when he became the first director anywhere to do August Wilson's entire 10-play, 10-decade exploration of the Black experience in America.

Hicks served as dean for the Conservatory of Theater Arts and Film at Purchase College and the State University of New York as well as guest director for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center from 1996-1999.

"We've lost a giant," said actor Charles Weldon, who appeared in eight of the 10 Wilson plays at the Denver Center. "I think he was the greatest director in the world, and I'll preach that to anyone I have the chance to preach it to."

Israel Hicks is survived by his second wife, Renee Harriston-Hicks.