The Arena Players have been apparent for...

PROBLEMS FACING

April 08, 1996

PROBLEMS FACING the Arena Players have been apparent for years. An audience survey taken in 1993 showed a median age of 56. The theater company has to attract younger audiences and must be able to market what it has to offer.

Those things take money. The theater has a $120,000 deficit, including $60,000 in back mortgage payments. Arena Players is trying to get help from the state. But the general public must first help, if it is to survive.

The state earlier had agreed to provide Arena Players a $75,000 grant, but the troupe couldn't raise $16,000 in a required match. The public can and must do better than that.

Arena Players has historic significance to Maryland as the nation's oldest continuously operating African-American theater. It was founded in 1953 by Samuel H. Wilson Jr. and a small group of fellow theater-lovers who also just happened to be black.

Mr. Wilson died a year ago, a creative talent who left the company's financial problems for others to solve. Ticket sales have been declining the past five years, as regular patrons get older and older. The competition for audiences, now that African-Americans have many more entertainment alternatives, is difficult -- especially when it comes to attracting young people.

Arena Players must offer programs more relevant to a younger audience, an audience that might come its productions if these plays were promoted so effectively that people knew about them. It also must develop an on-going fund-raising program, perhaps a new play subscription package, that will keep it from ** again falling to the financial depths it now finds itself. While Arena Players makes itself healthy, the public should contribute to the efforts to keep the theater company alive.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

Arena Players must be saved; Historic troupe: Public should come to the rescue of important area theater group.

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