By Maria Jose Subiria
The nine actors who make up the Riverdale Players will put on the group's first-ever show Friday.
The Riverdale Players will perform "Zooman and the Sign," Friday and Saturday, and again May 8, at 8 p.m., each night at the Frank Bailey Senior Center, at 6213 Riverdale Road, Riverdale.
The play's plot involves a strong community torn apart by fear, in the wake of a tragic crime.
"There wasn't any community theaters in Clayton County, and the city," said Lonnie Ballard, assistant city manager for the City of Riverdale. "I felt this is a great marketing niche for the city ... we want our residents to be attracted to the art form."
Ballard said he was intrigued by the play, because it relates to issues that local communities are grappling with.
"Instead of dealing with issues in the community, people move further and further out. At some point you'll have to solve your community's problem," Ballard said.
Though Ballard was brainstorming the idea of a local theater troupe for a while, it didn't begin to evolve until he met Orlando Strozier, who later became the director of the Riverdale Players.
According to Ballard, he and Beverly Banks, a Riverdale playwright, were doing a production of "True Love" that took place on Valentine's Day weekend. Both Ballard and Strozier were cast in the play, which was written and directed by Banks.
"He knew my background, and told me he worked for the City of Riverdale," said Strozier. "I told him I wanted to be part of that [the troupe] if he ever wanted to get it off the ground."
Arts Clayton granted the City of Riverdale approximately $1,300 earlier this year through the Grassroots Arts Program, explained Ballard.
According to the Arts Clayton web site, the Grassroots Arts Program provides every county in the state with an opportunity to qualify for a grant. Grant awards are determined by local citizens of the designated agency for the area. The Grassroots Arts Program is supported in part by the Georgia Council for the Arts, and through appropriations by the Georgia General Assembly, and administered by Arts Clayton, the designated agency of the GCA.
"It's a competitive process, and Arts Clayton evaluates, and they determine who gets the grant and who does not," said Ballard. He said he believes the Riverdale Players were selected because they presented "a great opportunity for the city."
Strozier said he approached Ballard with "Zooman and the Sign" as a possible play for the Riverdale Players' inaugural performance.
"It's a play I did back in college, and it's probably one of my favorites. The play was written in 1979, but it's really relevant to today," said Strozier.
While growing up, Strozier recalls members of his community correcting youths when they made mistakes.
"Now, it's like, there's a bad apple, and there's no help for them," said Strozier.
Strozier, who hails from Carrollton, Ga., said he enrolled in the University of Maryland and began his college journey as a math major in 1992, while he played for the university's football team as a defensive back, and quarterback.
He said he majored in math, because if his goal of being in an NFL player failed, he wanted to teach math, and be a high school football coach.
According to Strozier, math would shortly be replaced by an unknown love to the arts, that became a permanent part of his life.
"I was looking for an elective, and enrolled in Acting I," he said. "I guess the first time I ever acted was in an acting class. I was bitten by the acting bug."
Strozier said he dropped out of Maryland to pursue a career in the NFL. After his attempt, he said he enrolled in the University of Maryland once more, and graduated in 2005, with a bachelor's degree in theater.
"I am really, really excited about it," he said of the Riverdale Players. "We've gotten a lot of positive feedback."
"I am expecting to bring a sense of awareness to the audience," said actress Diane Thomas. "I love the arts, and theater, and I would love to take on roles that will empower other people."
For Thomas, her experience with the Riverdale Players has been a positive one.
"Instead of work, it feels like a hobby. I love it, and I've grown so much personally," she said.