Backstage with Sandy Kenyon: Free summer theater in Harlem

HARLEM, New York City (WABC) -- Once again, the Classical Theatre of Harlem is lighting up the summer stage with free entertainment for one and all.

"This is Euripides' Bacchae," director Carl Cofield said. "It's a story about Dionysus and all the mythology, but it's really a family drama."

The play was written in Greece more than 2,400 years ago, but as performed by CTH, it doesn't seem ancient.

"What's important to me about it, and what speaks to the political climate now, is, you know, one of the tenets is fear of others," Cofield said. "And I think that will resonate in the 21st Century context, like what's going on in our political climate: Fear of others, building walls, so everything that Euripides is talking about 2,000 years ago is somehow resonating now."

And this company mirrors the vitality of the community it serves.

"CTH has played in integral part in seeing the resurrection of Harlem itself," Producing Artistic Director Ty Jones said. "Whenever a community has been depressed, if you introduce arts into it, you see that community thrive. And we thrive because of the people. They're the ones who decide that we matter. They're the ones to show up. And if they come every single night, then I know that we're doing the right thing."

Each performance, outdoors at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, is free.

"You have 1,500 people here, and in a strange way, this is how Greeks would have been going to theater," Cofield said. "So you're sitting next to the butcher, you're sitting next to a general on one side, so to me, that really is important. You know, we're bringing our community together."

And as the community goes, so goes its Classical Theatre.

"Over the time, we've served thousands and thousands of theatergoers and new theatergoers, which we're proud of and we can hope to continue to build on and get more people in here who may not have ever been to a theatrical event," Cofield said. "We want to say this is a prime time to come. It's free. It's 70 minutes. So just come and enjoy and let's have a conversation about it."

The Bacchae is performed Tuesday through Sunday at 8:30 p.m. until July 28.

For more information on the show, and the Classical Theatre of Harlem, visit CTHNYC.org/summer/.

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