Resurrection of Black Theater in NOLA

In the start of the century, Anthony Bean created a black theater for the city of New Orleans known as the Anthony Bean Community Theater and Acting School (ABCT). At this acting school, he sculpted talent, preparing actors and actresses for the stage. However, after 15 years of serving the community at his location on 1333 S. Carrollton Ave., Bean had to close the doors to the theater, when St. Matthew United Church of Christ ended his lease.

St. Matthew United Church of Christ told Bean in November of  2015, that his lease was up. The church had plans to take the space that Bean was leasing, and turn it into a charter school now called, Lycée Français De La Nouvelle Orleans.

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Old Anthony Bean theater Location

“They said that they needed the money. They said they were broke. They found someone to offer them money four times the amount we were paying. You cannot blame them. Money talks,” Bean said.

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Anthony Bean

There are several theaters in New Orleans, that offer talent to the community. Yet, Bean believed that his theater stuck out because it served black audiences and black talent. “I am the only African American theater here. They have troupes and people that are about doing shows once a year. I am the only consistent one here.”

Over the years, Bean worked with acting students, who pursued careers in entertainment. Asia Nelson, an ABCT kid who started training at the age of 11 years old, said that people outside of the African American community often under estimated the work created by black theater.

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Asia Nelson starring in the Wiz (2009)

White people who go to a black theater, their bar is not raised high. Their expectations are already low when they get through the door,” Asia said. “Then when the performance is amazing, you can tell how shocked they are. They act as if something amazing could not be pulled off.”

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Asia Nelson

However, Samantha Beaulieu, an actress in New Orleans said that there are theaters with white audiences, that are now very inviting of black talent. “We have a lot of black talented actors. Southern Rep just casted Martin “Bats” Bradford in Southern Rep’s Tennessee William’s Sweet Bird of Youth as Chance Wayne, which is a white man,” Beaulieu said. “He will be playing opposite of Leslie Castay, a white lady.”

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Samantha Beaulieu

Though black talent is allowed on stages everywhere because it is 2016 and America is no longer segregated, both Beaulieu and Nelson find a need for black theater because it is comforting. “Black theater is fun, it is not strict.  It feels like home because it feels family-orientated.” Nelson said.

In May of 2016, Bean found a new location to restart his theater. The new Anthony Bean Theater will be located on 3728 Paris Ave. This was the site of the St. Raymond Catholic Church, closed and never rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.

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New Anthony Bean Theater located on 3728 Paris Ave.

Now, Bean is in the phase of raising money for renovations to be done. “There is no one giving money to theater period.  Theater is lower on the totem pole in funding,” Bean said. “We are trying to raise one million dollars to renovate everything. I’m really working on trying to get money.”

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Statue of Mary outside of New ABCT Location

This summer, Bean will continue his tradition of hosting a summer acting intensive for students from ages 8  to 16 years old. “This summer’s show will be Ol’Skoo , a play with music featuring songs from early R&B,” Bean said.

Bean is looking for students who are eager to learn and have talent, to participate in this year’s intensive. He wants to teach kids about the history of performance in New Orleans. Bean said, “The camp’s theme this year is, It’s more than Camp… It’s Culture.”

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ABCT staff at Essence

Interested in being a part of the Anthony Bean Community Theater and Acting School?

Click here.

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