HOUSTON, Aug. 21, 2008 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Ensemble Theatre celebrated its 2008 Black Tie Gala weekend by taking guests on an adventurous journey down the yellow brick road at the Hilton Americas-Houston, August 15, 2008. This year's gala raised more than $375,000. The Gala serves as the theatre's major fundraiser which supports its annual $1.6 million operating budget, mainstage season, and initiatives directed toward youth.

This year's celebrity honorees included: Actor of the Year, Ella Joyce, best known for her television role as "Eleanor" on TV's Black family sitcom "Roc"; the Director of the Year Ted Lange, widely known as "Isaac" on the original Love Boat series; and Rising Star, Je'Cayous Johnson, who is a Houston native and former Ensemble artist.

"Out of all the honors I've received, this one meant the most because it came from home," said Johnson. "I feel privileged to come home to Houston and be recognized."

The Ensemble Board President Hasting Stewart and Board Chair Argentina James presented the 2008 awards to: Corporate Partners KRIV Fox 26 received by Vice President and General Manager D'Artagnan Bebel, and SYSCO Corporation received by Vice President Industry Relations and Diversity Albert Gaylor. The Community Partner Award was presented to True Blue Community Endowment accepted by Jackie Pope, True Blue Board Chair and Jewel McGowen.

An amusing satire of "The Wiz", one of the productions from The Ensemble Theatre's "Passport to Adventure: Embrace the Journey" 2008-2009 Season lineup, was used to highlight the evening.

Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Lion led a promenade of more than 500 attendees down the yellow brick road to their tables following the Mayor's Reception, Hosted by Mayor Bill White. Gala Chairs Merele Yarborough and Melissa and Bill King were joined in celebration by: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; Council Members Wanda Adams, Melissa Noriega, and Sue Lovell; City Controller Annise Parker, Raquel A. Bone - JP Morgan Chase, Winell Herron - H-E-B, Jane-Page and James Crump, Jonathon Glus - Houston Arts Alliance, Iris Cross - BP, and a host of other community and corporate citizens.

"The Ensemble Theatre is truly one of Houston's historic cultural gems and I'm happy Melissa and I had the opportunity to work as honorary chairs for the 2008 Gala," said Bill King.

The Ensemble Theatre board of directors honored Argentina James with the President Emeritus designation. James joins Audrey Lawson who received this covenant designation in 1999.

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. In addition to being 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. 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 live performances for students both off-site and at the theatre; and the Young Performers Program offers intensive summer training for children ages seven to 17 encompassing instruction in all disciplines of the theatre arts.

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Ensemble Theatre
Robert Ross
(713) 807-4306
rross@ensemblehouston.com