Mayfair, a neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, was historically known for having a strong Irish-American culture.
Recently, African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Middle Eastern immigrants have moved into the neighborhood, shaking up the area’s historical roots.
As Mayfair continues to diversify, so does its arts and culture scene, starting with the opening of its first theater, the Mayfair Black Box Theater. Kate Brighter, a 2017 theater alumna, is the driving force behind the venue, on Frankford Avenue near Robbins Street, which opened on March 15 with its first production, “Almost, Maine.”
This theater is part of the Wings of Paper Theatre Company, a nonprofit theater and community arts company that supports local artists by holding artist-in-residency programs, producing plays and promoting local artists in Northeast Philadelphia.
The Mayfair Black Box is the only theater in the neighborhood, Brighter said, and it emphasizes encouraging community members to visit the theater and get involved in the performances.
The theater will host Mayfair’s Got Talent on April 6 to encourage local singers, dancers, comedians, musicians, magicians, acrobats and other performers to showcase their talents and come together, Brighter said.
Brighter joined the team as the director of operations last October when a friend connected her with John Cambridge, the company’s artistic director. Brighter reached out to Cambridge, and they immediately started working together, she said.
“John was the one that started the company, but together we literally built the theater from scratch,” Brighter said.
Cambridge started the company because of his fascination with the “complexity” of theaters and how they merge several artforms into one place, he said.
“It was really exciting to create something where we are involving performing artists, visual artists, sound designers and lighting designers,” Cambridge added.
Spending six months simultaneously building a theater and putting together a show proved challenging for the company, Brighter said, but it was also her favorite part of the job so far.
“Almost, Maine” is a romantic comedy centered around the residents of the fictional town Almost inexplicably falling in and out of love in strange ways under the northern lights one Friday night.
Michael Berbano, a 2018 theater alumnus, starred as one of the lead actors and said he was excited to be part of a new company.
“Not a lot of people have the opportunity to be involved in the beginning of a new theater,” Berbano said. “Being able to see the theater being built was just a really incredible experience and definitely a very unique one.”
The theater’s next production is “A Flight of Feathers,” which features a 60-minute show with six different 10-minute plays by Philadelphia playwrights. It has seven showings between April 11-20 and will rotate through 18 plays. This way, audience members can attend three nights in a row and see a different play each time, Brighter said.
The theater will also host a comedy night on April 27, where local comedians can perform in a two-hour show. Brighter hopes the event will draw crowds to the 100-person-capacity venue and the theater will host more comedy nights moving forward.
“We are excited to continue to work with local artists who want to try something that might be a bit outside of their comfort zone,” Cambridge said. “It is just exciting to continue to grow and really foster the community aspect in this area.”
As the theater grows, Brighter and Cambridge aim to expand throughout Philadelphia and get the entire city involved in their productions.
“We want people to come and perform their art on our stage,” Brighter said. “We love working with people and getting to know others. We just love people’s art.