by Josy Jones
This place is not like walking into an orthodox, auditorium theater. It’s intimate, it’s personal and the seating is liable to be rearranged every time you attend. It is the personification of uncertainty where you can be certain you will be expected to confront social climate, history, and reexamine self. Welcome to the Balch Street Theatre (BST).
The BST is a beautiful model for how communities and governments can help theatre thrive. The building, formerly the Jewish Community Center, is currently owned by the city and the county. Although the building is being utilized as a hub for nonprofits and the health center, the theater was vacant until 2011 when the New World Performance Lab stepped in to bring new life to this unused space.
The former Jewish Community Center is now home to Ma’Sue Productions and New World Performance Lab (NWPL), two very different theatre collectives with a similar knack for presenting the reality of untold experiences and challenging its audiences to confront them. Under the umbrella of Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture (CATAC), the two groups create a forum for community discussion.
The Balch Street Theatre is a pioneer for social awareness in the Akron community. NWPL recently participated in the Ghostlight Project, a national theatre movement for theaters to “be a light.” Balch has a light that stays on to symbolize a pledge to be an inclusive, safe environment for all, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and any other group that may experience oppression. As a participant in the Ghostlight Project, it is no surprise that the Balch Street Theatre has a ready supply of difficult subjects available for its audiences.
Ma’Sue focuses on new work that explores “the African-American cultural experience.” In February, their original production of “Or Does It Explode…?” did just that. “Or Does It Explode?” uses poetry, dialogue, Hip-Hop, and an ensemble of four men to explore social and economic pressures, tackle the current social climate, pose questions about the adverse relationships within the African American community and more, all from the perspective of Black men. No subject was too taboo for writer and director John Dayo-Aliya. After stirring up sadness, frustration, and difficulties that come with presenting such a controversial, authentic experience to a racially mixed audience, they opened a discussion with the community about what they experienced.
NWPL is turning 25 years old this year. In their 25th year they are premiering the “Devil’s Milk Trilogy,” tackling the truths about Akron’s beloved rubber industry. Unbeknownst to many, the search for natural rubber came at the cost of many lives in the Congo and the Amazon, along with mistreatment of African Americans here in Akron. Much of what we champion about the rubber industry is “built on blood,” and NWPL explores this and invites you to confront this difficult reality too.
Don’t be afraid. Leap at the opportunity to be challenged by art. Welcome to the Balch Street Theatre. Prepare yourself to confront reality.
The Devil’s Milk Trilogy
Part I: Death of a Man – March 30, 31: April 1, 6, 7, 8 at 8PM; April 2, 9 at 2PM
Part II: Goosetown – April 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29 at 8PM; April 23, 30 at 2PM
Part III: Industrial Valley – May 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20 at 8PM; May 14, 21 at 2PM
220 S Balch Street, Akron OH 44302
For more info visit: nwplab.com
Follow Ma’Sue Production at @Ma’SueProductions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for auditions and upcoming productions.
Josy is a Cleveland native, recently moved to Akron from Macon, GA. She enjoys theatre and rubber ducks.