Ray Aranha

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RAY ARANHA beloved husband, father and grandfather and consummate playwright, actor and director died on October 9, 2011at the age of 72. He was born on May 1, 1939, in Miami, Florida. He became interested in drama in the fifth grade, and pursued his dream with passion and hard work throughout his life. He earned a B.A. in drama from Florida A&M University in 1961, studying summers with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. With the FAMU Playmakers, he toured nine African countries as part of President Eisenhower's International Cultural Exchange Program in 1958; meeting Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia during this tour was a highlight he always remembered. After graduation, he taught drama at Mays High School and then worked as a Dade County, Florida juvenile probation officer. Ray continued to teach, nurture and inspire young people throughout his life. In 1968, determined to pursue a full time career in professional theater, Ray moved to New York City. For the next forty-two years, he worked as professional actor, playwright and director in theater, film and television. He was a proud member of three unions - Actors' Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He moved to Stamford in 1976. Over four decades, he took a wide array of roles, from the title characters in classics such as Othello, Macbeth, and Athol Fugard's Master Harold And The Boys, to creating new characters at theaters around the country, including the Yale Repertory Theatre, Playwrights' Horizons, the Negro Ensemble Company, Actors' Theatre of Louisville, and many others, large and small. Ray appeared in the original Broadway cast of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play Fences. He originated the role of Jim Bono in 1985 with the first Fences company at Yale University and played that part throughout the show's Los Angeles mounting and Broadway run. He also created the role of Newt Lee in Parade, the Tony Award-winning Broadway Musical/Drama at the Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre in 1998 and played that role in a national tour in 2000. Ray's singing voice can be heard on the original cast recording. Ray also worked in film, playing featured roles in City Hall (1994), Dead Man Walking (1995) and City of Hope (1990). He was a starring player in the ABC television series Married People which aired in the 1990-91 season and in the FOX television series The Heights which aired in the 1992-93 season. He made numerous appearances in a variety of other television series, including Law and Order, Ed, and New York Undercover. Perhaps Ray's greatest love was the creation of new plays. His play My Sister, My Sister was first produced at the Hartford Stage Company and then on Broadway in 1974, to critical acclaim. The play earned a Drama Desk Award and continues to be performed by theater companies across the country. Other plays include The Estate, which premiered at the Hartford Stage Company in 1976, and Remington which premiered at the Actors' Theatre of Louisville in 1980. Two of his plays were developed at Eugene O'Neill Theatre Centre: SnowPressings in 1980 which was then produced at Virginia Tech University in 1981; and Sons and Fathers of Sons in 1981 which was then produced by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1983. Ray wrote many other plays, and was always either writing, researching or thinking about future works. He often spoke of his as yet unproduced plays as "lined up and waiting their turns." In culmination of his life's work in theater, Ray founded the professional nonprofit theatrical producing entity Prometheus' Fire in 2003. Dedicated to producing new plays, Ray said that Prometheus' Fire was "inspired by the spirit of Prometheus, who defied the rules and powers of the gods and gave the fire of creation to mankind." Although many of Ray's plays explore the black experience, he was interested primarily in the human experience. Ray's mission with Prometheus' Fire was to offer new and unheard artists the opportunity to have their work professionally developed and produced with excellence, regardless of subject matter, race or controversy. He knew from personal experience that the perceived commercial viability of a piece too often dictated whether it would be performed, and he felt an urgent need to provide an open forum for new and challenging work. Using the knowledge and contacts from his long life in the theater, and giving unstintingly of his own time, resources and energy, he gathered a diverse group of professional actors, writers, musicians and production artists to work on these new plays. As those who participated in the Prometheus' Fire process can testify, he demanded much of others, but never more than he demanded of himself. The result over seven seasons was the production of dozens of new plays, by Ray and by others, as well as a Best Play Series showcasing great works not often produced. Shows were produced at the Stamford Center for the Arts, the Playhouse on the Green in Bridgeport, the Stratford Theatre, and most recently at St. Francis Church in Stamford. He particularly enjoyed working with young people on these projects, and always encouraged them to make the sacrifices necessary to follow their dreams. Anyone who wishes to hold close what was important to Ray should see and support the development of new plays. The National Black Theatre Festival honored Ray with its Living Legend Award in July 2007, and Ray received a Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO Pioneer Award in 2009 for Innovation in Writing, Acting and Directing for the Black Theatre. Ray loved his family as well as his work. He met his wife, Jean Mills Aranha, then a theatrical costumer (now an attorney with Connecticut Legal Services) at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. in 1979. She was immediately captivated by his famous smile, and they journeyed together for the next thirty-two years, marrying in 1985. Although fiercely dedicated to his work, Ray made family events, including his children's Little League games, performances and school conferences a priority, and took great joy in his grandchildren. He is survived by his son, Delaine Aranha, a student at Rogers International School; his son Marc Aranha, daughter-in-law Judy Chiu, and granddaughter Kya Aranha; daughter Teri Pauline Aranha Tate, son-in-law Daniel Tate, and grandchildren Jasmine and Malcolm Tate; his mother, Thelma Curry; siblings Sharon Washington (James), Ronald Devoe, Kelsey Devoe and Sylvia Vanover (Willie); his aunt Helen Holston (Barnette); and many other family members, friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry. He was the son of the late Charles Douglass Aranha. Ray was a longtime member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Stamford. He wrote an original script for the church's annual Christmas Show, and directed the show for two years. A true Renaissance man, Ray shared a passion for card, board and computer games with his sons. He was also an avid - and long-suffering - New York Mets and Jets fan. He was never interested in seeing an exciting close game; he much preferred relaxing and watching his team in an overwhelming victory. Wherever he went and whatever he did, he always wore his signature cap. In lieu of flowers, Ray requested contributions in his memory to help actors in need at The Actors' Fund (729 Seventh Ave. 10th Fl., New York, NY 10019) or to make college a reality for young people at the United Negro College Fund (8260 Willow Oakes Corporate Drive, P.O. Box 10444, Fairfax, VA 22031-8044). The family will meet friends at the Leo P. Gallagher and Sons Funeral Home at 2900 Summer St., Stamford, Connecticut, from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 22. Prayers will be offered there at 6:30 p.m. There will be a funeral service at St. John's Episcopal Church, 62
Published in StamfordAdvocate on Oct. 16, 2011
Ray Aranha
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