Young people who grew up in the ‘70s would most likely remember the character and face of Ted Lange (pronounced Lunge) as Isaac Washington on “The Love Boat.” He was the only African-American member of the cruise staff, a big afro-wearing dude with the million-dollar smile and the two-finger pointing thing.
The show’s 10-year run made him one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. So…what brings the illustrious actor to Memphis? And why is he partnering with Levi and Deborah Frazier Blues City Cultural Center to combat youth violence?
“Before I became famous, I was a teacher of young people in workshops where they learned to act and develop character,” said Lange. “After “Love Boat,” I returned to playwriting and directing. I have written 25 plays, actually. I teach young people the rudiments of putting together a good play. This is a natural fit for me, working with young people and improving their lives through the arts. Blues City Cultural Center is so vital to this community. “
Lange will present the young actors in a complete stage production by the end of the two-week workshop. Scheduled on Monday, April 29th, at 6 p.m., the performance will be set in the City of Memphis Office of Youth Services at the Hollywood Branch. Youngsters will showcase their playwriting and acting skills as they demonstrate what they learned about steering clear of violent behavior.
“I am one of the writing students with Peace in the House,” said Darius Smith, 16. “I really like what we are doing and all the things we are learning. Mr. Lange is real cool. I want to be a writer, but now, I want to be an actor, too.”
The Fraziers’ chance meeting with Lange on the other side of the world sounds like a movie plot. The three met in Poland last November. The couple is well known in the artistic community as proprietors of the Blues City Cultural Center.
“You might ask, ‘What are black people doing in Poland’” Lange said. “That’s because we are everywhere. Black people are everywhere.”
Both Frazier and Lange had a common interest in Poland. It is the burial place of Ira Aldridge, the first African-American Shakespearian actor in the early 1800s who became the toast of Europe. He died while on tour in Lodz, Poland. Aldridge was so revered in continental Europe that he was given a state funeral.
The two men, along with Frazier’s wife Deborah Frazier, became fast friends and convinced that more than coincidence had caused their paths to cross.
The Fraziers returned to Memphis, and wrote a grant for a project in Memphis called “Peace in the House.”
“We submitted a grant to the National Endowment For the Arts,” said Deborah Frazier. “It is what’s called a challenge grant which means it must have an artist in residence. We submitted the grant with Ted as our artist in residence, and it was accepted.”
“It is widely known that youth who engage in the creative arts are less likely to drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, or engage in inappropriate behavior,” said Levi Frazier.
“‘Peace in the House’ helps the young and old manage conflict and maintain a more peaceful environment. This program uses drama, music, dance, and the visual arts to impact the lives of youth susceptible to high-risk behavior. ‘Peace in the House’ is not new. But Mr. Lange is our most high-profile celebrity to act as artist in residence.”