Meet the Founders

MEET THE STAFF

The Founders

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Artistic Director
Co-Founder

Michelle Banks

Michelle, a true-hearted native of Washington, D.C., is so proud of her accomplishments on stage and screen, for she has broken down many barriers in the entertainment industry. As an acclaimed artist, she has over 40 years of experience in acting, writing, directing, producing, and choreographing. She has done all and is a great motivational speaker and a respectable drama and American Sign Language (ASL) teacher for over 30 years. Michelle completed her master’s degree in Organizational Management, specializing in Organizational Leadership from Ashford University in 2015. 

After Michelle received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama Studies from the State University of New York at Purchase, she founded Onyx Theatre Company in New York City, the first deaf theater company in the United States for people of color. Her work with Onyx for eleven years earned several recognitions, including the Cultural Enrichment Award from Gallaudet University, the Distinguished Service Award from New York Deaf Theatre, the Outstanding Achievement Recognition Resolution of 1996 from the Council of the District of Columbia, and an Individual Achievement Award from the National Council on Communicative Disorders, and a featured article in the February 1998 issue of ESSENCE magazine. In 2017, she also received the Laurent Clerc Award from Gallaudet University for her social contributions to the Deaf community.

 

Michelle starred in T.V. shows, Soul Food Series, Girlfriends, Strong Medicine, and an independent film, Compensation, directed by Zeinabu Davis. In addition to a string of her acting experiences, she also appeared in THE C.A. LYONS PROJECT (Alliance Theatre), BIG RIVER (Mark Taper Forum & Ford’s Theatre), and FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF (Henry Street Settlement Playhouse & Globe Playhouse). FOR COLORED GIRLS... won the NAACP Theatre Award for Best Ensemble in 2003.

 

Her other achievements include Director of American Sign Language (DASL) for Arena Stage, Broadway, Kennedy Center, and Centerstage, and her original one-woman show, REFLECTIONS OF A BLACK DEAF WOMAN, which received rave reviews at Victory Theatre Center, National Black Theatre Festival, the Los Angeles' Women's Theater Festival, Ohio Wesleyan University, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was one of the first two Deaf African-American actresses to interpret for the Broadway play, HAVING OUR SAY by Emily Mann.


Michelle’s first hands-on experience with filmmaking was with Jadolphus CW Fraser, an independent filmmaker who directed his feature debut, ALWAYS CHASING LOVE. Eventually, it prompted her to produce and direct a short film of A Sneak Peek of RAISIN IN THE SUN. She also has produced and directed several plays under her belt: A RAISIN IN THE SUN, LOOK THROUGH MY EYES, SILENT SCREAM, Z: A CHRISTMAS STORY, WHAT IT’S LIKE? (One Man Show) and IN SIGHT AND SOUND: DE(A)F POETRY I, II, & III.  

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Associate Artistic Director
Co-Founder

Nayte Paxton

Hailing from Flint, Michigan, Paxton's professional entertainment journal spans over 40 years performing on stage as a musician, singer, dancer, and actor.  Some of his stage performances include lead roles in RUMPLESTILTSKIN, MOTHER GOOSE ON THE LOOSE, and William Hauptman’s HEAT.  He helped introduce Dinner Theater to the island of Bermuda which included performances such as Don Evans’ IT’S SHOWDOWN TIME ; Judy Ann Mason’s  LIVING FAT, and Vernel Bagneris’ ONE MO’ TIME vaudeville revue; all productions directed by Patricia Pogson. 

His early accomplishments as a freelance sign language interpreter include interpreting for Maya Angelou and many notable civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Ambassador Andrew Young, and the late Coretta Scott-King during one of the annual celebrations of the 1963 March on Washington; adding 12 seasons with Gallaudet University's Theater Department as voice actor and Voice Director for numerous productions.

Paxton expands his talents and skills as the Co-Director for the upcoming performance of Lorraine Hansberry’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN as well as the Voice Director and voice actor for the young character, Travis Younger; the African intellect, Joseph Asagai; and the weaselly Carl Lindner.  He also co-directed the short promotional film of the performance that has become not only a highly sought-after video but has kept viewers, supporters, and followers engaged and excited about the production once it hits the stage.