About the Black Theatre Troupe
The Black Theatre Troupe, Inc. has been providing training, employment and performance opportunities for multi-ethnic and underserved artists since 1970 and acts to make significant contributions toward fostering the arts, specifically theater, within the State of Arizona. It operates to enhance the cultural and artistic awareness of the community by providing productions that illuminate the African-American experience and culture. It is our purpose and mission to educate, enlighten, and entertain a diverse, multi-cultural audience by using local, regional and national talent with the emphasis on providing exposure to black culture and ideology.
On February 1, 2013 BTT celebrated the opening of their new home in downtown Phoenix, The Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center.
With a mission of educating and entertaining a diverse community, with an emphasis on people of color, the Black Theatre Troupe (BTT) was born out of a need to serve the community during racial tensions in the 1970s. In an effort to give voice to people of color and avert impending racial unrest, Helen Katherine Mason, a city of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Deputy Manager, started a series of open door community forums at Eastlake Park where opinions and frustrations could be expressed in poetry and improvisations. From those proud but humble beginnings, the Black Theatre Troupe was formed and is now a highly recognized professional company that continues to be an important part of the cultural fabric of Phoenix.
During its fledgling years the company performed in several city facilities before getting its first home in 1976.One of the most important facilities that the City of Phoenix provided during those times was a meeting room at Eastlake Park in downtown Phoenix. Eastlake Park has served the inhabitants of Phoenix since the late 1880’s. Originally known as Patton’s Park, it was developed by the Phoenix Railway Company to serve as a recreational area for the white patrons of the city’s trolley system. The park eventually became a place where people of all races could meet to relax and celebrate special events without violating separatist laws which existed in the nation and state during the first half of the 20th century. After moving from that community room at Eastlake Park the company used various locations in the City, until 1983 when they purchased the historic Temple Beth Hebree Synagogue in downtown Phoenix, in the heart of what is now the Roosevelt Row District. After an electrical fire in 2001 the company again used multiple facilities. In 2006. a city of Phoenix Bond Election awarded the company $2.5 million for a new home. On February 1, 2013, after a long and successful capital campaign to raise additional funds, BTT celebrated the opening of their new home, The Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center. This new state of the art facility is located at Washington and 14th Street in downtown Phoenix – exactly two blocks from where it all began: the historic Eastlake Park.
At the beginning of the long hot summer of 1970, a City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Supervisor named Helen Katherine Mason noticed the distinct absence of one rich and resonant voice within the arts communities of the Valley and the State of Arizona at large. She dedicated herself to giving that voice a platform from which it could be lifted and heard by all.
From her simple dream, The Black Theatre Troupe, Inc. was born and is now a nationally celebrated company. It was founded as a vehicle for providing a creative environment in which restless, talented young “rappers” could realize their creative potential as writers, dancers, artists and actors while promoting cultural understanding throughout the community.
It has since grown to be an important cultural bridge between races and ethnicities through its productions. Beginning as a humble “grassroots’ organization The Black Theatre Troupe, Inc. has evolved into a highly respected company that has promoted excellence in the performing arts with an emphasis on people of color. As the only professional African-American theatre company within the four-corner states, The Black Theatre Troupe conducts educational workshops and produces quality plays which reflect the African-American experience and help to illuminate the culture to the Phoenix metropolitan area and throughout Arizona.
With the February 2013 opening of our new facility in downtown Phoenix come the added expectations and responsibility to expand and enhance our youth, educational, and outreach programming.
BTT’s educational outreach programs focus on low-income, underserved communities fostering more effective teaching and learning among our youth, their parents, their teachers, and the communities in which they live.
Under the direction of Walter Belcher, The Black Theatre Troupe outreach programs include:
The Metropolitan Youth Ensemble offers performance opportunities for young people who, for whatever reasons, do not have the opportunity to develop their performance skills or have a performance outlet specifically addressing their cultural needs and interests. The company of young artists participates in productions that speak to the diverse community the Black Theatre Troupe is such an important part of.
The Metropolitan Youth Academy offers extensive classes and workshops I theatre, dance and vocal performance for young people ages 10-17. These classes provide a safe and nurturing environment for multi-ethnic young people. The curriculum is age, ability and experience based and in addition to artistic skills it develops social skills which include cooperation, self-esteem and sharing.
Books Alive! is a weekly program that uses the arts to explore and interpret books in new and exciting ways. Students ages 5-10 explore and experience a book in new and exciting wayswhile: The program makes reading fun by “bringing the page to life.”