By Rita Charleston
The Stagecrafters Theatre will present its final offering of the season, “Trouble in Mind,” written by Alice Childress and directed by Yaga Brady, June 10 to June 26 at 8130 Germantown Ave. The play centers on a slice of theatrical life along the fault lines of the black/white divide. The action takes place on an empty stage of a Broadway theater around 1957, where a group of black and white actors and their (white) director are rehearsing an interracial melodrama set in the rural deep South.
Wiletta Mayer, played by Philadelphia native Vanessa Ballard, is an aging, talented yet struggling black actress. She has just been cast in an anti-lynching play titled “Chaos in Belleve,” which is soon to open on Broadway. Wiletta has had her share of shows with demeaning scripts and stereotypical roles, and she’s hoping this play will be different. She must work with her white director to get this show up and running and successful, but it’s not always easy.
Growing up, Ballard originally planned on becoming an attorney, eventually graduating from North Carolina Central University School of Law. However, she explains, she never practiced law because the pull toward the arts was just too strong. “I sang all my life in my family church and with various groups, including a gospel group at Germantown High School, which I attended.”
Additionally, she performed for years with Opera Ebony (now Opera North) and has been a member of more than a dozen vocal groups and choirs, including the Ballard Family Singers. “I also loved to read and write poetry and act, although I never really thought of myself as an actress.”
That changed, she adds, when after graduation from law school, she joined a group of thespians known as “Actors for Christ.” While performing around the area, Ballard suddenly believed enough in her abilities to start auditioning for local theaters. And as the years went by, her talents began to be more and more appreciated, garnering roles at Stagecrafters, Old Academy Players, Playcrafters of Skippack and others.
Thoroughly enjoying her current role, Ballard says she’s able to relate to her character. “At one point in the show, Wiletta says she always wanted to be an actress. And although she has a lot of credits, that means she still has not gone as far as she wants to go in her craft. And even though I’ve been acting for quite some time, I also feel the same way. I feel as though I’m just scratching the surface, and just like her, there’s still so much more I want to do.”
When she is not acting, singing or writing poetry, the 50-something Ballard supports herself as a senior member service representative at an insurance company. Meanwhile, she says, she’s always looking for the next good role. “I’m looking for a piece that speaks to me. I’d also like to develop a one-woman show where I could play a historical black character. The fact is, I’m really enjoying all the people I meet at various venues. And I thoroughly enjoy the creative process, which is fascinating to me. I feel as though I’m bringing something from infancy to maturity. And to feel appreciated is wonderful.”
Single tickets are $17 online and $20 at the door. For more information call 215-247-9913.