Farewell To The Queen of Houston Theatre
Written by Isaiah Robinson on December 16, 2019
Photo via Forward Times
By: Isaiah Robinson
HOUSTON—As she walked on stage, her mocha smooth skin began to illuminate off the stage lighting, the audience instantly gazed at her. The radiation of her light was as of a single lit candle in a dark room.
As she began to perform, she commanded and hunted the attention of the crowd as of a praying leopard with her deep resonating voice, as they stared into her cat eyes and faint freckles that lightly spotted her face.
Whether it was the sweet precious words of wisdom she spoke through women she played or through the affluent and passionate poetry of Shakespeare she portrayed, characters she played traveled through the ears of the audience; softly playing through raw nerves like a harp, feathering through each deep emotional chord.
Through her years of hard work, dedication, perfection, and later mentorship, she bestowed admirable words of encouragement, empowerment, and positivity unto to those around her; giving her peers the feeling of elevation to soar through any turbulence or tribulation to be the best person that they could be.
Yet, through her years of sparking a light in others, it seems that her own light has now faded out. Houston’s very own distinctive and distinguished actress Detria Ward passed away at the age of 57 on November 17. Ward’s incredible work in media, theatre, teaching, music and performance is what has garnered her as Houston’s own theatric jewel.
Love, faith and family created Third Ward’s very own beloved South Union belle. Ward left her handprint at Whidby Elementary School, Cullen Middle School, Jack Yates School of Communication, and Texas Southern University.
Once Ward stepped foot on the historic Tiger Walk of TSU, the theatre bug lit a flame in her candle; as she performed in a leaf pile of plays for TSU like Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” said TSU’s Dean of Thomas F. Freeman Honors College and Professor of Theatre Dianne Jemison Pollard. The South Union belle nurtured, developed, and cultivated her “God given gift” through her rigorous studies as a Bachelor of Fine Arts major; becoming only one of two students from the historically black college to graduate with a BFA in theatre.
Ward’s ability to study, understand, become, and master the characters she portrayed, was a rare craft, but rather more a gift of theatric divinity. Jemison Pollard said the code to the matrix of acting is being, and that’s is what Ward bought and laid her foundation into.
“She really studied the craft. As she learned and grew as she developed from role to role, she got better at it,” Jemison Pollard said. “Being that she could embrace the character she played physically, socially, morally, and psychologically; she made it believable to the audience because she became more than a stick figure of that character.”
Further, after graduating from TSU, is where the historic campus became more than a permanent fixture, but rather an eternal enshrinement for her as she began to put her Midas touch on KTSU 90.9 FM. Ward became well-known at the radio station for her innumerous efforts for crashing through multiple barriers and bringing lasting memorable quality for several years as program coordinator for KTSU.
Ward’s work with her Friday afternoon program called the “Five o’clock Blues Cruise” she hosted with Slick Rick Lauderdale played a significant role in the sum of the seeds she sowed in KTSU; but, the Kids Jam Program, a high school project between Yates High School and KTSU; then, later incorporated college students, was her biggest endowment at the KTSU.
KTSU Operations Manager Charles Hudson says the Kids Jam Program was Ward’s legacy at the radio station not only because of her work to resurrect the program, but mainly how she lit a flame in the mist students she came across in the project.
“She really singled-handedly brought back the program in late 80’s,” Hudson said. “But how influential she was to so many students who are adults now in the industry, is how her legacy will be remembered here at KTSU.”
Furthermore, once the late legendary George Hawkins, founder of the Houston Ensemble, deemed Ward as a natural, the Ensemble theatre became Ward’s theatrical sanctuary. Ward performed in a telephone book worth of productions for the Ensemble that showcased the sophistication and soigné of her artistry.
Ward’s performances in plays like August Wilson’s “Fences” and Pearl Cleague’s “The Nacirema Society” garnered many awards, nominations, and accolades in her unique career. Ward’s impactful and infectious presence as an actress in the Ensemble will be missed in the hearts of those she worked alongside with.
The Ensemble Theatre actress, director, educator, and playwright Rachel Dickson said Ward’s presence saturated around others she worked with; so, as she strived to perfect her craft, her colleagues did the same.
“She was insistent upon focus and perfection. She took her craft very seriously and that permeated her presence with others,” Dickson said. “She held everyone accountable and forced you to be better.”
Moreover, Ward was an impactive woman whose passion, congeniality, competitive spirit, positivity and work-ethic rubbed off on those around her. Assistant Dean and Journalism Professor Serbino Sandifer-Walker says she loved and will remember the friendship she shared with Ward working together in friendly competition.
“I loved us working together because we had this comradery,” Sandifer-Walker said. “We were kind, complimentative in so many ways and competitive; but, friendly as well too because we celebrated one another in positive ways. I have nothing, but praise for her as a wonderful actress and human being.”
Ward’s flame may have faded away, but the spark Ward ignited in the souls of many she crossed paths with as an actress, teacher, mentor, and friend is a permanent mark that no man can put asunder. Through the mountains she climbed, the barriers she shattered, and the souls she touched, is the sublime blueprint to live life; and, to depart leaving behind footprints in the sands of time.
Farewell to the queen, the heiress, and the jewel of Houston theatre.