Sarah Norat - Phillips
Interim Artistic Director
Sarah Norat-Phillips is a founding member of Ujima Theatre Company. She recently returned to active membership following the passing of our visionary director, Lorna C. Hill. Sarah is leading a newly selected Interim Artistic Advisory Committee to help ensure Ujima's continued commitment to its long standing history of artistic excellence.
Sarah trained directly under Ms. Hill and actively worked as an actress, singer, director and producer with the company during its first 18 years. She performed in dozens of Ujima shows including the original productions of “...And Bid Him Sing”,”Yalla Bitch”,”Opportunity Please
Knock!” and “El Hajj Malik”. A multiple ARTIE Award nominee and winner, Sarah is also an experienced director having helmed several successful Ujma productions including “Two Trains
Running” by August Wilson, “The Island”, by Athol Fugard and “A Soldier’s Play” by Charles Fuller during her tenure.
Maria Ta is the Program Director of Ujima Company and a very excited new member of Ujima Theatre Company. She fell in love with Ujima from day one serving as Stage Manager for the production of Free Fred Brown! Since then her work with Ujima has opened her eyes to all the potential theater arts has to enact change, from audience minds to governing policies. Maria is looking forward to expanding the reach and depth of Ujima, spreading the magic of Ujima to young theater artists near and far. Ujima is home. Ujima is family. Love, justice, and Lorna C. Hill forever.
Margaret M. Smith
Margaret Smith, an early and long time Ujima Company Member returns to her Buffalo home as the Ujima's Managing Director during the company's transitional period over the next two years. Margaret brings with her many years in development and fundraising for the arts and various social justice movements. "I witness generosity every day. I experience the best in people giving of themselves to make the performing arts possible and accessible for everyone. I am honored to be working at Ujima."
Karen Saxon was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. She is a graduate of Buffalo State College (B.A. in Vocal Performance) and of the University of Scranton (Master of Science in Educational Administration). Currently, she teaches at the Burgard Vocational High School. Karen is an accomplished pianist, professional vocalist, and expert choral conductor. Her inspiration to create music comes from growing up in a musical family and lifelong immersion in Buffalo NY’s musical community.
Karen also was the student of Donald L. Hilliard and Alfred R. Jarrett (both former Supervisors of Music in the Buffalo Public Schools). Karen draws her inspiration from an absolute place of peace provided by vigorous, complete training and a desire to be fearless in musical interpretation. Karen plans to further her musical/artistic pursuits by teaching at the Ujima Theater’s Dunbar Project. She is committed to aiding young students in the discovery and release of their creative talents. Additionally, she continues to explore her own artistry by serving as Musical Director for various musicals for Ujima. Most notably, she will take the stage in their upcoming production of “The Gospel at Colonus”.
She also will continue to enrich the community by maintaining as the Music Coordinator for the Baptist Ministers Conference of Buffalo and Vicinity, Minister of Music at the First Shiloh Baptist Church, Director of Music for the Empire Baptist Missionary Convention, and independently contracted artist for both vocal /land instrumental projects as needed.
Technical Director/Master Carpenter
Bob Ball graduated in 1971 with a BFA in Theatre Arts in directing from Rosary Hill College. Worked at the African American Cultural Center in 1970-21. Danced with Eclectic Arts. Danced with Floorplay Company in his 30's. Married in 1973, father to three beautiful children. When they were old enough he needed to do something purposeful in theatre again. He saw the first production of In De Beginnin at Ujima and he found a home. He mostly did technical work and set building for the theatre along with whatever was needed on or off of the stage by the Artistic Director. His most beloved productions are In De Beginnin, And Bid Him Sing, and Spunk.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Naila Ansari (she/her) is an award-winning choreographer, director, and performing artist. Ansari is the Dance Director and company member of Ujima Company, Inc., a distinguished MFA graduate from the University at Buffalo in Dance and a Cum Laude undergraduate of Point Park's Conservatory of Performing Arts Program. Ansari is an original and former principal dancer for the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble. The company was named “Top 25 Dance Companies to Watch” in Dance Magazine for the 2012-2013 season, featured at Jacob's Pillow and SummerStage NYC at Central Park. Ansari has danced and performed works for the legendary Lula Washington Dance Theatre out of Los Angeles, CA. She has had the privilege of dancing works by Robert Battle, Kyle Abraham, Camille A. Brown, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Sidra Bell, and Trebien Pollard, to name a few. Ansari's choreography has been set on a host of colleges, universities, professional theatres, and commercial projects.
As an Assistant Professor in Theatre and Africana Studies at SUNY Buffalo State College, Ansari has merged artistry and scholarship to build and create works through community and collaborative processes that facilitate conversations on race and Black Performance. She has published articles in Theatre Journal, received numerous grants and awards such as the New York State DanceForce Grant. Ansari is a research assistant and assistant choreographer for AT BUFFALO The Musical and the recent AT BUFFALO TED TALK under award-winning artist and scholar Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin. Ansari's award-winning choreographed work "Mine Eyes Have Seen" was selected and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C for the American College Dance Association awards in 2018.
As an activist and artist, Ansari was the Art Director for MacArthur Fellow Rami Nashashibi and musician Drea D'Nur music video "MAMA PLEASE" serving as a national call
and intended to help pass Cariol’s Law in NY and throughout the US.
Her most recent project and a forthcoming digital series and book, The Movement of Joy, focuses on the performance of joy of Black women through the creative archiving of oral histories, movement histories, live-performance, and film.