Arden Theater celebrates 30 years by returning to its roots and paying it forward

 (image via Arden Theatre)

(image via Arden Theatre)

This fall, the Arden Theater in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood turns 30 years old. To mark the occasion, it has brought on a small, startup theater company to be its artist in residence this season.

 

The Arden is paying forward an opportunity it received thirty years ago.

In the mid-1980s, Terry Nolan, Amy Murphy and Aaron Posner wanted to start a new theater company, but had no space, no audience, and not very much money. They got a big shot in the arm at the Walnut Street Theater, which offered them a 2-year residency in its third floor black-box theater.

“It was incredible,” recalled Nolan. “We could focus on what we were doing and the relationships we were creating with artist and audiences, but when it came to space and rehearsing and performing, audiences knew where to find us.”

The Arden has since become one of Philadelphia’s most popular theaters. In 1995 it built its own theater on 2nd Street, with two stages. In 2013 it opened a second building – the Hamilton Family Arts Center – a few door down.

This fall it will debut a third a third performance space, the Bob and Selma Horan Studio, a flexible black box with about 80 seats.

Two decades ago, when it first opened its new home in Old City, the Arden invited a then-upstart theater company 1812 Productions to be in residence. 1812 has since established itself as an all-comedy company with year-round programming.

For its 30 anniversary, the Arden is bringing on another theater company that could use a boost.

Kashmir Goins founded GoKash productions a decade ago, and has kept it floating on little more than his own energy. He acts as writer, producer, director and performer – sometimes simultaneously.

“I had this burn in side me. There would be no peace if I didn’t explore it,” he said.

He also works in the pharmaceutical industry, has a carpet installation company, created a child day care, and has owned and managed several real estate properties.

“I like to be maxed out,” said Goins.

A few years ago he quit his pharmaceutical sales job to focus to make a run at making theater full-time. But it didn’t work out – not because he couldn’t handle it. Rather, he didn’t have enough balls in the air.

“At the end of that two years, I found I don’t like this full-time theater thing,” he said. “I like it when I’m working, and I do this when I can. It was a weird thing.”

He has been producing theater semi-regularly for a decade, in various locations around town – mostly the Adrienne Theater, Plays and Players, and his alma mater, Lincoln University. Every show is a hustle for available space and time.

The residency at the Arden gives him something his theater career never had: stability. He knows where he is going to be for the next year. He knows he will have rehearsal time, and time to get the sound and lighting. He knows the box office will be taken care of, and the marketing.

“By being here, I have a home,” he said. “I’m not scrounging for rehearsal space. I’m not moving in the day before the first show.”

He even gets to have preview performances, the first of which begins Wednesday: “Seventy IV Seconds….to Judgement” is an original play about a courtroom jury hearing a second degree murder case. To break their deadlock, they decide to re-enact the crime to get a better sense of what happened, in the process revealing their individual prejudices about race and class.

After two previews, it will open Friday for a three-week run. 

In the spring, Goins will re-stage, “Five to Ten,” an original script concerning African-American prison populations.

“Five to Ten” was the play that first got Nolan’s attention when he saw it at Plays and Players a few years ago. After seeing it, he started talking to Goins about the possibility of a company residency at the Arden.

“He doesn’t have to focus on box office, keeping the place clean, turning the lights on,” said Nolan. “Audiences will be attracted by the opportunity to come to this exciting new company doing work on our stages.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.