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The Re-birth of the New Freedom Theatre: Finally Home

Students of the New John E. Allen Jr. Theatre sings a production number to open up the show!

Written By Webster Riddick

In the heart of North Philadelphia at Broad and Master Streets, the Gala Opening of the John E. Allen Jr. Theatre was an exciting event. Large sky tracker lights lit up the night sky, numerous stretch limousines were pulling up at the front doors of the New Freedom Theatre. It was a sight to behold, after numerous delays and major financial problems the dream has finally came true. The former historical Edwin Forrest mansion built in 1852, has been owned by Freedom Theatre since 1982. The late John E. Allen Jr. and Robert Leslie founded Freedom Theatre in the basement of the Forrest mansion. It has grown into a professional theatre company and Performing Art Training Program which gives classes to over 900 students annually and has more than 15,000 alumni.

Renovations of 13 million dollars went into the John Allen Jr. Theatre.
Walter Dallas is the artistic director of Freedom Theatre and he is picking up where John Allen Jr. left off in 1992. Allen died on February 25,1992 following a courageous bout with lung cancer. Dallas is a widely sought after director. He directed the world premiere of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Dallas other accomplishments include a National Endowment for the Arts Directing Fellowship at Center Stage in Baltimore.

Freedom Theatre is Now a Major Player in the Arts!

" This feels great! I am so overwhelmed. The whole community has came out to celebrate with us and that made it even more special. We are fulfilling a dream that John Allen Jr. and Robert Leslie started many years ago. It has taken $13 million dollars and 10 years to complete the renovations. This theatre belongs to the community, to Philadelphia and to the United States. The old theatre had very limited space, so we couldn’t get certain stage productions to perform here because their sets were often too large. Now its no problem. The new Freedom Theatre is ready to be a major player in the Arts." Said a proud Dallas.

The John E. Allen Jr. Theatre will be the centerpiece of the Freedom Theatre building. The 17,000 square-foot theatre will seat 299 people in comfort on three levels. It will feature the finest quality lighting and sound system. In addition to the main theatre, all the dressing rooms, box office, patron services area and green room for performers are all brand new. The building will also house 10 one-bedroom and loft apartments for visiting artists and low to moderate income individuals. Also renovated are classrooms and training facilities for acting and dance students. And parking is no longer an issue now, because there is three well lit parking lot with guarded security. The Theatre will become one of the nation’s most complete facilities for theatrical productions and training.

Family of the late John Allen Jr. with Mayor John Street.
Some of the special guests that attended the Gala event was former mayor Ed Rendall and current mayor John Street, Actress - Lisa Summerour, Playwright- Ntozake Shange and the family of the late John Allen.

"This is a very wonderful and special occasion for me. I am home. Me and my children first learned how to dance here. When I first started coming to Freedom Theatre, I use to meet John Allen at the back door trying to sell kerosene heaters. John was a visionary way back then, he would dream about stuff like this. But he never gave up, he always wanted Freedom Theatre to get the recognition it deserved. I was fortunate to see the impact that Freedom Theatre had on the community. Thousands of young people that have came through the doors has gone on to greater things. Our city is more than just tall buildings and stadiums. It’s about institutions, communities and our young people. This building has blossomed from a small neighborhood theatre into a national treasure." Said mayor Street.

Mayor John Street, Robert Leslie and Director Walter Dallas cuts the ribbon, to open the new theatre.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony, everyone was allowed to enter the theatre. All you heard was Ohh’s and Ahh’s from the guests, the facilities was simply breath-taking. The front balcony decorations consist of traditional West African designs. The walls surrounding the theatre has a cherry wood stain finish and warm earth tones. The seats in the audience area slopes down to a 35 by 35 foot stage. Every seat feels like your on top of the stage.

The show opened with the cast members of Black Nativity, singing "We’re glad you’re here". Later during the show, the family of John Allen Jr., his wife Joyce Ojo-Allen and daughter Adenrele, spoke about John and the fond memories they had of him and his work with Freedom Theatre. Starting Feb.25 and running to March 19, the production "Desire Under The Elms" will open. Do yourself and your family a favor, catch this sensational play and re-discovered the magnificent brand new Freedom Theatre.

" I want people to come out and see the brand new Freedom Theatre. Please take advantage of this tremendous jewel sitting in the middle of our community. We are here, our doors are open and we want the community to experience what our children are doing and the wealth of talent we have in this city. This is a re-birth!" Said Walter Dallas.

For more information and calender of upcoming productions.
Please call: (215)765-2793 or write to Freedom Theatre 1346 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA. 19121

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