The Arena Players, Inc.: The Oldest Continuously Operating African American Community Theatre in the United States
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Hay (1994) gave the Arena Players the moniker, “the oldest continuously operating African American community theatre company” in the U.S. But, if Black Theatre is increasingly found in mainstream venues in regional theatre and Broadway while Black Drama is relegated to syllabi, where is the living practice of African American, or black, community theatre? And what guarantees its survival? Craig (1980) and Fraden (1994) give voice to black critics, like Locke (1925), in co-creating objectives for black theatre during the FTP which took stage as the Negro Little Theatre continued. Hill & Hatch (2003) solidify the geographical and ideological connections between the black community theatre movement and Educational theatre with its professors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Essays in Young (2013) widen the scope of black theatre history. But it is Du Bois’ (1926) Krigwa manifesto that declared black theatre must be about, by, for, and near African American audiences. Black community theatre expanded ideas of African American performative practice valuing the psychosocial well-being of black audiences while training novice practitioners. BCT fights against the U.S. mainstream practices that, sustained by a white folk culture, shut black people out from human and civil rights. In this Critical autoethnography, I establish a historical context for the self-determinative practices of black community theatre supplemented by oral histories from members of the Arena Players in Baltimore City, Maryland, founded in 1953. My Baltimore City roots provide me insider-outsider access to comment on the innerworkings of a company beset by loss and obsessed with survival. Refocusing on the culturally-specific practice of black community theatre also reassesses the U.S. theatre’s concentration on creating a hierarchy of theatre genres. Notably, for black theatre practitioners, this would mean claiming self-determination and community connectivity as their condition for creativity.
Skinner, Alexis Michelle, "The Arena Players, Inc.: The Oldest Continuously Operating African American Community Theatre in the United States" (2021). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 5521.
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