Within walking distance from where it began more than 40 years ago, the Black Theatre Troupe opened the doors of its new facility Sunday to the public for the first time.
“We’ve somewhat come full circle,” Executive Director David Hemphill said.
Eastlake Park, just blocks away from their new location at 1333 E. Washington St., was the first performance and rehearsal space for the organization when it was founded in 1970 by Helen Mason.
The opening night of “The Running Man” — a play about a Jewish Confederate soldier and two Jewish former slaves finding strength in the post-Civil War South — on Friday, Feb. 8, will mark the first time the organization has performed on a stage of its own in more than a decade.
“The most important thing is it’s going to provide a good stable base,” Hemphill said. “Because with not having our own permanent facility, some of our programs suffer.”
The 13,500 square foot arts center, located near Washington and 14th streets, includes a 145-seat main stage area, 134-seat black box room, a set production area and a costume room.
“The first time I walked in I was jumping around. I had tears in my eyes,” said Chandra Crudup, staff member for the Black Theatre Troupe. “It’s beautiful. It’s so well-designed.”
Though originally intending to renovate their previous location on 333 E. Portland St., which was left unusable after a fire in 2001, the city wanted a less costly location.
The new city-owned $12.5 million facility was funded by a bond election from 2006, which also funded projects for Arizona Opera, Phoenix Theatre and Ballet Arizona.
Crudup said the new location opens a wide array of opportunities for the organization.
“I’ve worked with the theatre since the Portland location and this is a big step,” Crudup said. “A big, big step.”
Though they don’t have many details yet, the Black Theatre Troupe plans to start the Metropolitan Youth Ensemble and Academy this summer, teaching children age 10 to 17 how to sing, dance and perform on stage.
The program will help create a new generation of performers as well as equip today’s youth with skills that can be applied in other areas of their life, Walter Belcher said, coordinator for the youth program.
Prominently displayed at the theatre’s entrance is a mural depicting several characters from shows produced by the Black Theatre Troupe over the years.
“(It) speaks to the experience of the theatre,” Belcher said.
The artist left enough space so they could continue to paint the history of the Black Theatre Troupe, he said.
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