{ In 1974 – 75 Karamu House alums, Lauren BoxleyDebra Byrd, Reyno Crayton, Wayne Elbert, Jean Ford, Dale Ricardo Shields, Janice Marie Singleton, Gina Taylor, and Robyn Trussel all left Cleveland, Ohio for the Big Apple. We were the Karamu House class of the 70s ]

Karamu House was the training foundation for all these future artists

Karamu House in the Fairfax neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, United States, is the oldest African-American theater in the United States. Many of Langston Hughes’s plays were developed and premièred at the theater. In 1915, Russell and Rowena Woodham Jelliffe, graduates of Oberlin College in nearby Oberlin, Ohio, founded what was then called The Neighborhood Assn. at 2239 E. 38th St. establishing it as a place where people of all races, creeds, and religions could find common ground. The Jelliffes discovered in their early years, that the arts provided the perfect common ground, and in 1917 plays at the “Playhouse Settlement” began. The early twenties saw a large number of African Americans move into an area in Cleveland, from the Southern United States. Resisting pressure to exclude their new neighbors, the Jelliffes insisted that all races were welcome. They used the United States Constitution; “all men are created equal”. What was then called the Playhouse Settlement quickly became a magnet for some of the best African-American artists of the day. Actors, dancers, printmakers, and writers all found a place where they could practice their crafts. Karamu was also a contributor to the Harlem Renaissance, and Langston Hughes roamed the halls constantly. – 

Copyright: YUANSHUAI SI – Courtesy Karamu House

Reflecting the strength of the Black influence on its development, the Playhouse Settlement was officially renamed Karamu House in 1941. Karamu is a word in the Kiswahili language meaning “a place of joyful gathering”. It is a place where families can gather, share stories, feast, and enjoy. Karamu has a tradition of allowing the audience to meet, and greet actors in a reception line, the “gathering place” extends itself into the community through such face-to-face encounters.

Karamu House had developed a reputation for nurturing Black actors having carried on the mission of the Gilpin Players, a Black acting troupe whose heyday predated Karamu. Directors such as John Kenley, of the Kenley Players, and John Price, of Musicarnival — a music “tent” theater located in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb — recruited Black actors for their professional productions., 

Karamu House is a place of joyful gathering (the meaning of ‘Karamu” in Swahili), where people from different races, religions, and economic backgrounds come together through the arts. Recognized as the oldest, producing African American theatre in the nation, Karamu House is continually cited as one of Cleveland’s top four treasures—and featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture and listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.


Reyno Crayton, and Margaret Ford-Taylor.                                              Karamu House (Cleveland, Ohio)

Karamu House credits include Fortune and Men’s Eyes, Tambourines to Glory, and  Inner City. 

He was the Stage Manager for The Dream on Monkey Mountain,

directed by and starring Ron O’Neal and Clayton Corbin.


From 1988 to 1990, Reyno returned to Karamu House as its Theatre Manager,                                                          until his untimely passing in 1990.

He died of a cerebral aneurysm in Cleveland Ohio.