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Arena Players: Historical landmark still standing

Kimberly Brown | 1/31/2014, 6 a.m.
Sam Wilson was the founding artistic director of Arena Players established in 1953 as a venue for African American Theater. Arena Players is the oldest continuously operating African American theater in the United States. Arena Players run several productions throughout the year, as well as jazz and comedy shows. The next production, “Black Diamonds” begins on February 14 and runs until February 23, 2014. For more information about the new production or to purchase tickets, visit: http://arenaplayersinc.com. Courtesy Photo: Arena Players Theater

— Baltimore City is a town filled with invaluable landmarks including the legendary statue of the late jazz singer Billie Holiday, which sits on Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore.

Though the location of Holiday’s statue is known nationally, there is also another historic landmark nearby— The Arena Players Theatre located at 801 McCulloh Street. It is the oldest continuously operating African American theater in the United States.

Arena Players, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization was established in 1953 and has served as a venue for African American Theater.

Founding Artistic Director Sam Wilson was instrumental in the success of the performances as well as the popularity of the theater. Wilson’s legacy and presence is still felt by those who had the opportunity to work with him.

Today, as black actors have more opportunities to perform at various venues, the theater is working hard to keep its doors open. Managing Director Rodney Orange who has worked at the theater for over 25 years said, ”It’s important for people to know that we are open, still exist and we have shows as well as programs running throughout the year. Arena Players has been a part of Baltimore for over 60 years and we not only desire for the surrounding communities to support the productions, but for persons who visit this city and want to see a great performance at a historic landmark.”

The theater runs several productions throughout the year as well as jazz and comedy shows, which take place every other month. It also offers programs for both children and adults who wish to perform. The Youth Theatre for children between 4-18 years old, offers performing arts classes such as drama, music and dance as well as theater production. Arena Players also offers its Studio 801 Program, a training and community outreach program for adults who want to perform.

Artistic Director Donald Owens who has been with the theatre since 1976 says that the theater’s stage has been graced by a multitude of dedicated actors throughout the years. “We have seen so many talented individuals come through here that are passionate about their craft and interestingly there have been a number of casts who travel from other cities to perform at this theatre,” he said. “Everyone on board is dedicated with the mindset that no matter what, it can be done. The key, however, is to give them something they can believe in.”

The next production to take place at the Arena Players is “Black Diamonds,” which will run February 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23, 2014. The production is a showcase of dramatic presentations about heroic and noteworthy African Americans who should never be forgotten— a look at everyone from sports figures to scientists and great thinkers.

To purchase tickets, to make a donation, or to volunteer at Arena Players, visit http://arenaplayersinc.com.