Helen Whitelowe, a trained theater actress, established Soul People Repertory Company in Indianapolis in September 1975. She structured the organization “to provide Greater Indianapolis and Central Indiana audiences with the many cultural facets and forms for enlightenment through theatre from a black perspective.”  

Helen Whitelowe leans on a piano. Three people stand around her and one person sits at the piano.
Soul People Repertory Company held a rent party at Pearl’s Lounge to raise funds for their spring production (Johnny Williams, Helen Whitelowe, Bernie Hall, Glenn White, and Vera Mae Swanigan), 1981 Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Whitelowe came to Indianapolis after graduating from Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, to take a job at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1953. She befriended Reverend Mose Laderson, pastor of Hillside Christian Church and subsequently performed in his theatrical group, the New World Players, a small near-northside group of performers. New World Players evolved into the Laderson Players, and then the Hillside Cultural Group, after Laderson received funding to start the Hillside Cultural Center, Inc.

While Laderson did production for the theater company, Whitelowe taught acting classes. She and John Gibson, who taught creative writing at the theater company, discussed the possibility of creating a radio show that would feature a restaurant or barber shop as the center of activity for a cast of African Americans. Their collaboration spawned Soul People, a series broadcast on radio.  

Three actors are on a stage. Two actors are standing and appear to be talking to each other. The other actor is seated in a chair and watching them.
Soul People Repertory Company perform the play ” Hour Glass,” 1981 Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

The 15-minute soap opera that aired from 1970-1971 ran for a few episodes on WTLC-FM. WIBC-AM and WNAP-FM picked up the series, broadcasting it on Sunday mornings from 9:15 AM to 9:30 AM.  Gibson scripted, introduced, and acted in the show until WIBC terminated its production to remain neutral about controversial topics the show confronted, such as adoption, drugs, and crime. Although WIBC invited the actors to produce the show themselves, Whitelowe and Gibson could not find funding to continue its broadcast.   

In 1975, Gibson, Whitelowe, and several of the radio show’s actors formed the Soul People Repertory Company, a full-fledged theatrical troupe. The group retained the name “Soul People” in hopes of keeping its radio audience as a support base for the theater company.  

Often the theater company performed original works of drama, comedy, and musical theater. Ticket sales, fundraising projects, and grants paid for all production expenses.   

Funding and a permanent rehearsal space for the group were constant problems, though the performers did call the Central Avenue United Methodist Church home. In February 1982, a new board of directors changed the theater’s vision and asked Whitelowe to step down from her directorship position. Glenn White, a veteran Indianapolis actor, replaced Whitelowe, but Soul People struggled to support its work. In 1986, the organization did not produce a single performance. The theater company officially closed in 1995.

Revised November 2023

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