By Denise Koch

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Arena Players has been putting on plays in Baltimore for 64 years and is the oldest, continuously operated African-American community theatre in the country.

Many now famous actors have graced the boards there. But, every arts institution has to work to stay current — and for Arena Players, that means partnering with the new, edgy Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS).

Together, they’re staging two short, original rock operas. Each has a historical African-American person at the center: bluesman Robert Johnson and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.

For Arena Artistic Director Donald Owens, it’s a chance to show work out of his comfort zone.

“They’re looking for a new audience, and we’re looking for a new audience, and we’re also looking for good work and what I’d seen of theirs I thought was really good, really different and I did not have the nerve to do it but it was really good,” Owens said.

BROS is made up of 300 volunteer artists, crafts people and musicians who “get together and create the biggest, most rocking collaborative, original, live musical theatre that we possibly can,” according to Artistic Director Aran Keating.

Both theatres are 100 percent volunteer non-profits.

For veteran actress Valerie Lewis, who was operatically trained at Peabody and has acted at Arena for 30 years, this is a healthy collaboration.

“They’re energetic, they’re bringing new life and I think new energy to this space which is so soaked with history of community theatre, of African-American community theatre here in Baltimore as an icon,” Lewis said.

The evening is called “Constellations and Crossroads” and it’s being performed at Arena Players through this weekend.

“A lot of people who come for this are going to see things they’ve never seen before and hopefully they walk out and say, ‘Hey, that was interesting,'” Owens said.

Interesting, in the arts, is a very high bar.

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