PHOENIX — One of the longest-continuously running black theaters in the nation is celebrating its 50th season. But they're doing so a year later after COVID forced the Black Theatre Troupe in Phoenix to cancel its shows last year.
In March, ABC15 spoke to the company's executive director, David Hemphill, about how the theatre was trying to stay alive during the pandemic.
Wednesday, Hemphill said they're picking up right where they left off.
“The milestone of those 50 years of continuous performance," said Hemphill.
The company started in 1970 as a response to some of the social unrest happening around the country. The founder created a program for restless youth.
"Like a drop-in center where they could come in and talk," said Hemphill. "But one of her rules was if you wanted to talk about the racial unrest in Phoenix or segregation -- a pertains to the city of Phoenix -- her requirement was that you do it in song, a poem, and interpretive dance.”
Fifty-one years later, the theatre's mission is to share the African American experience.
"It focuses on African American stories, but what people don’t remember is that African American stories have been influenced by many different cultures," said Hemphill.
Hemphill said they bring 80 to 90 actors from all over the country each year. They perform dramas, comedies, and musicals, incorporating all cultures and backgrounds.
"Our productions are specifically made to build a bridge between cultures," he said. "Enlightening people, acting as a mirror to reflect what was going on in the country.”
Actor Toni Robinson has been with the theatre since 1994.
“I think the beauty of coming to a show at the black theater troupe is that you see that the black story is the American story, that you see that the African American experience may not be so different from experiences that you may be familiar with in your own communities," she said. "The shows that you see here are the ones that make your spirit come alive. Their shows that will leave you laughing and thinking and talking for days and weeks and months and years to come.”
She said the shows have universal themes and stories everyone can relate to.
"There are stories that will make you think, that will provoke you’re thinking in some ways, but they are also uplifting, they will stir your soul and really just have you feeling engaged and alive in a different way," said Robinson.
The theater's first show is Sistas the Musical, which starts September 10.
Capacity at the theatre will be normal, but audience members are required to wear masks.