The Arena Players, Inc., located at 801 McCulloh Street in Baltimore, has a legacy unmatched by any other in the country. This community theatre, now celebrating its sixtieth season, is the oldest continuously running African American theatre in the nation. It touts a three-pronged program which includes a main stage upon which attendees can get up close and personal with local talent; a youth theater, the largest of its kind on the east coast and Studio 801, a training center where adults can learn and grow in the performing arts.
The Arena Players, Inc. is one of the many hidden treasures in the Baltimore area. There were some patrons, such as Necola Jefferson, who had never visited this particular venue before. Many of the shows performed at the theatre, which was founded in 1953, are based upon the traditions of the Black Church.
However, on Sunday October 6, 2013 this writer was privileged to have attended the closing performance of Langston Hughes' musical play, 'Tambourines to Glory'.
The play, presented in two acts, is set in 1960's Harlem and centers mainly around the characters Laura and Essie, who decide to start a street-corner church since both have come upon hard times. Laura, having been recently evicted from her living quarters, moves in with Essie, a booze drinking, backslider of a woman who loves making money.
Essie is eventually overcome by the temptations of the devil - a womanizing character named Big-Eyed Buddy Lomax, who basically uses her for his own selfish purposes. Buddy encourages Essie to become involved in sordid and illegal activities within the walls of the new church she and Laura establish. Essie complies until she takes matters into her own hands.
Additional characters in the play serve in minor roles such as that of the choir.
Intertwined within the storylines are several gospel selections which propel the cross-generational audience into singing and clapping along. The play takes a realistic look at the human character while poking fun at the inner workings of the church.
The cast included Veronica Lockett (who steals the show as Laura), Monique Jones, Artartus Jenkins, Tish Rogers, Alesia Roy, Sandra meekins, Daniel Carter, Maurice Brown, Betty Singletary, Kim Wilder-Walker, William Fisher, Althea Clark, Zaire Rogers, Shannon Grant, Lucille Washington, Charles Rinehart, Donald Owens (who is also the artistic director), Aaron Androh, and Austin Grant.
The music director and stage manager are Grafton Gray and Felicia Chapple. The play was directed by Carolyn White.
The majority of the talent in this production is from the Baltimore area.
'Tambourines to Glory' had its run from September 13 - October 6, 2013.
The Arena Players, Inc. is funded by the community, patrons, the Robert Deutsch Foundation, The Maryland State Arts Council and Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.
For information on additional productions being held at The Arena Players, Inc., call 410-728-6500 or visit the website at www.thearenaplayersinc.com.