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Release: Immediate

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee will meet the press from 3-3:20 p.m. Dec. 9 in the UI Theatre Building. Reporters are invited to remain to observe their 3:30 p.m. presentation to students in the department of theatre arts and the African-American world studies program.)

Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee kick off UI Black Action Theatre 30th anniversary Dec. 9

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, one of America's legendary theatrical couples, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary by helping to launch the 30th-anniversary celebration of the University of Iowa Black Action Theatre (BAT) in a free event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9 in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the UI Theatre Building.

A landmark in Dee's career was the 1959 Broadway debut of Lorraine Hansberry's award-winning play, "A Raisin in the Sun." BAT will mark its 30th anniversary by celebrating the 40th anniversary of that premiere with a production of "A Raisin in the Sun" Feb. 25 through March 7 under the direction of faculty member Harriette M. Pierce.

In the Mabie Theatre event, Davis and Dee will read from their new joint memoir, "With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together," which was recently published by William Morrow and Company. Following the reading, they will answer questions from the audience.

A booksigning reception will follow in the Theatre Building lobby, sponsored by the Prairie Lights bookstore. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Free tickets are required. Tickets will be available 1-4 p.m. Dec. 7-9 at the Theatre Building main office and at Theatre Building box office beginning at 5 p.m. Dec. 9.

Both Davis and Dee began their acting careers in Harlem in the 1930s, but they did not meet until after World War II when they were cast in the same play. Their careers took them to Broadway and Hollywood, where they have appeared (together and separately) in more than 50 films, including a series of features by Spike Lee -- "School Daze," "Do the Right Thing," "Jungle Fever" and "Malcolm X." Davis was a star of the TV series "Promised Land" and "Evening Shade."

Dee and Davis have won recognition not only as actors, but as writers, producers and directors. In 1995 they were invited to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

Dee has written plays, musicals and several books of poetry. For her acting she has won an Emmy Award, an ACE Award and a Drama Desk Award.

Davis has directed "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and three other films, and has written three plays, including 1961's "Purlie Victorious," in which they both performed. One of his books for young people, "Escape to Freedom," won the Jane Addam's Children's Book Award. He received Emmy Award nominations for his TV work in "Teacher, Teacher," "King" and "Miss Evers' Boys."

Through the decades Dee and Davis became known for both their artistry and their commitment to humanity. "The struggle for freedom in this country is over and done," says Davis, who was friends with both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. "But the struggle for equality has hardly begun."

"With Ossie and Ruby" includes accounts of their encounters with McCarthyism and their experience in the civil rights movement, and descriptions of the many artistic and political figures with which they were acquainted, including Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson, Sidney Portier, Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, Alex Haley, Burt Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Lorraine Hansberry, Walter Matthau, W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Robeson.

Sydne Mahone, visiting playwright in the UI Playwrights Workshop, was the editor of the memoir.

BAT was founded in 1969 as an outgrowth of classes in African-American World Studies. Through the work of the late Darwin Turner, and his colleagues and successors, the UI has been acknowledged as a pioneer in African-American studies.

Pierce says she has learned that BAT is widely known and respected: "People tell me that it's so important that out here in the Midwest there is a beacon of African-American theater. It is a precious thing to me, but I have also learned that it is precious to and appreciated by people throughout the country."

A course jointly listed by the department of theatre arts and the African-American world studies program, BAT has produced many of the most famous plays in African-American dramatic literature.

Productions of classics and popular hits have included Amiri Baraka's "Dutchman," Joseph Walker's "The River Niger," Charles Fuller's "A Soldier's Play," Adrienne Kennedy's "Funnyhouse of a Negro," Langston Hughes' "Tambourines Go to Glory" and "Simply Heavenly," Ntozake Shange's "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf," and George C. Wolfe's "The Colored Museum."

But BAT has also staged works that are more obscure, including "The Escape," a pre-Civil-War abolitionist play that was written by a former slave. In the rousing "Escape" production, the audience was invited to play the part of mid-19th-century abolitionists, cheering the heroes and hissing the villains of the melodrama.

In addition, BAT has developed original scripts written individually or collectively by UI students, including, in recent years, "Bought With Our Baggage," "Enemies in the Promised Land," "When Black Angels Fall," "Beneath the Skin," "The Chil'rens Tale" and "Young Black Male."

As part of its anniversary celebration, BAT is touring James Weldon Johnson's "God's Trombones" to Iowa communities through the UI Arts Share program with a grant from USWest.

Procter and Gamble is the corporate sponsor of BAT.