August 11, 2016 (WPVI) --New Freedom Theatre is Pennsylvania's oldest black-owned theatre and this year, the company is celebrating a huge milestone. Known commonly as Freedom Theatre, it has been a staple in North Philadelphia for 50 years and finding new ways to continue to shape and strengthen the community through the arts.
The theatre was founded in 1966, an outgrowth of the Black Power movement.
"We're really what they call a cultural anchor in North Philadelphia but we have national impact," says Sandra Norris Haughton, Executive Producing Director of New Freedom Theatre.
Co-founders John E. Allen Jr. and Robert E. Leslie created a performing arts training program that the theatre has become famous for.
"The two of them always felt they were building an institution," says Haughton, "which means we have to stay viable and relevant, you know, for the future generations."
Leslie Odom Jr., who skyrocketed to fame for his Tony Award-winning performance in the musical Hamilton, is among the more than 10,000 performing artists who've honed their skills at New Freedom Theatre.
"It literally has become a hamlet and a haven for African-American artists to bloom, to have their voice," says Guest Artistic Director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.
The theatre puts on both light-hearted comedies and serious dramas. This year, they did an original play, documenting Trayvon Martin's final hours and his legacy in the Black Lives Matter movement.
"We work on structuring a season that can appeal to multigenerational and also committed to our mission. which is like African-American stories, expanding the diaspora of people of color that deal with issues that speak to who we are now," says Maharaj.
The theatre itself is a National Historic Landmark, housed in the former mansion of 19th century actor Edwin Forrest.
"Now we have two theatres, classrooms, dance studios, apartments, a beautiful lobby," says Haughton who adds that they're adding newly designed acting, dance, and vocal arts classes, this fall.
"We had that generation that opened up the door for us; we opened it for them, and they're going to open it for another," says Maharaj.
New Freedom Theatre is hosting an open house September 17th. For details, visit www.FreedomTheatre.org.