Celebrating 70 Years of Community Theater: A Letter from the Theater Artistic Director

April 10, 2023

This year, Allens Lane Art Center is celebrating its 70th anniversary as an institution dedicated to bringing the diverse community of Northwest Philadelphia together through the arts. What has always made the theater at Allens Lane special is its adventurous nature, with productions that are wonderfully eclectic and delightfully challenging to our audiences.

Sidney Poitier visiting Allens Lane Theater’s 1963 production of Lillian Hellman’s A Raisin in the Sun. Front row left to right: Sidney Poitier, Kate Shaffmaster (Artistic Director), Dottie Brown (Ruth Younger), Betty Ward (Lena Younger). Second row: Ed Bernard (Walter Younger).

The names of the rest of the cast are unknown. Please contact Allens Lane Art Center if you have further information about this production. Thanks to Lisa Shaffmaster for the photo and story. 

The History of Theater at Allens Lane

Looking back at the history of the theater at Allens Lane, we have plays that are titans in 20th-century American drama such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Death of a Salesman. There are also classic plays from the Greeks and Shakespeare juxtaposed with avant-garde works that were very outside of the box for a community theater: The Bald Soprano, Cloud Nine, Waiting for Godot, and The Balcony to name a select few.

The theater at Allens Lane has from its founding, been dedicated to presenting plays from African-American playwrights who write powerfully about the Black experience in the United States. Notable productions include The River Niger by Joseph A. Walker, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, Blues for Mister Charlie by James Baldwin, and for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange.

In 1963, the production of A Raisin in the Sun, had a very special guest in the audience. The Oscar Winning actor, Sidney Poitier, attended the opening night of A Raisin in The Sun, directed by long time Theater Director, Kate Shaffmaster and starring Dottie Brown, Betty Ward, Ed Bernard. Poitier was in Philadelphia promoting a recent film, and after being invited to the opening night at Allens Lane, he came to see the show and posed for pictures with the cast and director.

Coming to the Theater at Allens Lane This Spring: Alice In Wonderland, The Poetic Playground, and Twelfth Night!

In April of 2023, Allens Lane will present a new production of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale Alice in Wonderland, created in collaboration with The Hum’n’bards Theater Troupe, which will feature original music and songs.

On April 22nd, in celebration of Jazz month, we will host The Poetic Playground, a Poetry and Jazz event with Bernard Collins, Nzadi Keita, and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble!

In May, we will present Twelfth Night – our first Shakespeare production in over twenty years. This hilarious play will also mark the return of Allens Lane’s “Café Theater,” where audience members are invited to bring their own food and drink to enjoy before the show.

With such an incredible past and an exciting present, the theater at Allens Lane Art Center welcomes you to a great future of unforgettable and joyous theatrical experiences that will continue to bring the Northwest Philadelphia community together through the arts, seventy years and counting.

Josh Hitchens
Theater Artistic Director

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Mount Airy, Philadelphia

Since 1953