Heralds of Hope Theater is an artistic and social convener. The Laytonsville-based theater, founded in 2005 by Dorothy Phaire and Charles Daye, offers individuals a space to explore some of society’s most deep-seated challenges. The theater presents 3 to 4 plays annually, each focused on a social issue, such as slavery or gun control.
Phaire and Daye founded the theater as an outgrowth of their work at the Sharp Street United Methodist Church in Sandy Spring. In 2007, they incorporated as a separate nonprofit, later transitioning leadership to fellow church member and playwright Percy Thomas, artistic director, and his wife Alice Thomas, executive director.
Under the Thomas’ leadership, Heralds of Hope employs actors from a range of ethnic backgrounds, realizing the theater’s mission of creating “performing arts opportunities for culturally diverse populations.” Most recently, programming has centered around past and present issues for African Americans.
“A lot of education can occur from people [coming to the theater] to be entertained,” said Percy Thomas. “We operate from a philosophy that you can learn a lot about life from quality, socially-focused theater productions.”
Percy Thomas writes a majority of the theater’s plays. His latest work, “Fire in My Eyes,” which ran June 22-July 21, examines African American justice issues. According to the theater’s website, it explores “the painful conflicts within a community, between police, politicians, and African Americans.”
Thomas hopes the work, among others, will inspire audiences through greater insight and connection to one another. “All people, no matter what their ethnic group, will find something at the Heralds of Hope Theater that will move them emotionally,” said Percy Thomas.
The theater’s upcoming program is its most diverse and its largest. On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10, Heralds of Hope will present its first Wheaton Ten Minute Play Festival, a free event featuring 16 different plays lasting 10 minutes each. Works are sourced from playwrights around the country. As of the Sept. 30 submission deadline, they received nearly 90 plays to review.
The Festival, which is part of a larger initiative to support and grow the Wheaton Arts and Entertainment District, is organized around the theme “relationships.” Each selected play explores the complexity of a human-to-human connection — with family, friends, significant others, even with oneself.
For Percy, one submission is particularly resonant: a play exploring Alzheimer’s Disease. The short work examines a relationship with someone suffering from the disease. It offers insight into characters’ emotional experiences by showcasing the relationship’s benefits and challenges. It addresses societal issues by looking at relationships: one of the Festival’s primary goals.
The Festival has a couple of other overarching goals, another being to ignite new creative work. Heralds of Hope wants to use this as an opportunity for new play development, giving artists’ a place to present their work. In this way, the theater serves artists, as well as audiences.
“It’s a chance to encourage audiences from all over the county to participate in something that will allow artists to produce their work,” said Alice Thomas. “I think that’s important work.”
And, as a contribution to the Wheaton Arts and Entertainment District, the Festival also aims to establish the District as a go-to arts community. As a developing destination that prides itself in its ethnic and cultural diversity, the Arts and Entertainment District strongly aligns with the theater’s values. The Festival gives Heralds a Hope the chance to further connect with this community, and to support its growth.
Following the Festival, four plays will be selected as part of the theater’s 2020 season, giving several writers the chance to gain greater community visibility.
For Heralds of Hope Theater, true success means uniting people from all backgrounds around issues that matter. Through the Wheaton Ten Minute Play Festival, Percy and Alice Thomas hope to offer this.
“Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, we are human beings. And if art can help us come closer together regardless of prejudice and bias and harmful behaviors, I think that’s a great benefit,” said Percy. “And I think theater can do that. It has a great ability to move people.”
Heralds of Hope Theater Company will present the Wheaton Ten Minute Play Festival from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10, November at Hughes United Methodist Church, 10700 Georgia Ave, Wheaton. Admission is free. Learn more about Heralds of Hope Theater: https://heraldsofhopetheatercompany.com.