Dancers perform in a production by the Black Theatre Troupe

The Black Theatre Troupe

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This week’s episode of The Art in the 48 podcast dives into the origin of Phoenix’s Black Theatre Troupe. David Hemphill, executive director, said the troupe was founded as a way to alleviate the tension caused by riots around the country coming toward Phoenix in the 70’s.

The foundation set by the Black Arts civil rights movement set in motion a troupe which is still around and strong today. In response to police brutality, segregation and racially motivated crimes, protests and riots were held around the nation.

Helen Katherine Mason saw states on the east overrun with violence, and did not want to see Phoenix end up that way. This motivated her to form the Black Theatre Troupe with a group of inner-city students who loved to write and recite poetry. She was the granddaughter of who is thought to be the first African American woman in Arizona.

While working for the city with a degree in recreation from Arizona State University, Mason believed that it had become particularly important to serve the communities of color in Phoenix, who had been watching the violence and discrimination across the country while experiencing their own racial discrimination in their own lives.

Mason’s hope was to provide an alternative to violence for people of color in Phoenix.

Mason established the Black Theatre Troupe in 1970, described as an oasis for showcasing the cultural diversity through the performing arts, and giving a voice to the rich legacy which comes from people of color. Although the African American community was small in Phoenix at the time, many other marginalized communities supported the troupe, and continued to do so over the years as the African American population grew.

Mason was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015 for her work as a humanitarian and outstanding citizen of the state.

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