How it all began
Arena Players has provided continuous performances of live and exciting community theater in Baltimore since 1953 when the founders—Jimmie Bell, Bernard Byrd, Doris Dilver, Aurthur Thurogood, Irvin Turner, Joe Wilson, Julius Wilson, and Sam Wilson—took their final bow for “Hello Out There,” William Soroyan’s one act drama. Arena Players is now one of the oldest theater groups in the country and boasts an unbroken string of periodic performances, which grows annually.
Arena Players began as an outgrowth of “The Negro Little Theater.” Nomadic for the first ten years, this group performed in a variety of Baltimore locations, including Coppin State University, the Druid Hill Avenue Branch of the YMCA, the Great Hall Theater of St. Mary’s Church in the Walbrook neighborhood, and the Carl J. Murphy Auditorium at Morgan State University. In 1962 the group moved into its present location at 801 McCulloh Street and established the Arena Playhouse. In 1969 the group purchased the building by using box office receipts and contributions from the founding members.
This volunteer organization has grown significantly over the years. Participants in Arena Players programming come from all walks of life and a variety of vocations.
In 1965 Arena Players initiated its annual banquet for the presentation of awards to persons responsible for excellence in the perpetuation of the performing arts. These awards have gone to members as well as non-members of local and national vintage. Recipients of awards and honors have included Langston Hughes, Cab Calloway, Ed Bullins, Richard Long, Ellen Stewart, Edward J. Golden, Lola Miller, Harvey Denmark, Elbert Wilson, Joseph Wilson, Mary Carter Smith, Irv Turner, Damon Evans, Catherine Adams, and Donald Evans.