This evening the City of Rockville will honor Street 70 director June Allen for 25 years of service in the performing arts. The ceremony will be part of a reception sponsored by the Rockville Cultural Arts Commission at the Civic Center Mansion from 8 to 10 p.m.
British by birth, Allen combined training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts with an undergraduate degree in philosophy and psychology. In the United States, she added an advanced degree in human development and special education. Most important, however, according to Allen, was baseball.
"Baseball," she said, "has had a profound effect on the way I look at theater."
She came to America in 1946 to marry the man who is still her husband. On her second day in this country she went to a baseball game with her future father-in-law.
"I was fascinated. I guess I made an assumption - I hadn't thought about it before, but yes, I did - that Americans were energetic and had team spirit," Allen recalled.
With that assumption in mind she began working toward a goal of adapting England's regional theater system to the United States. She began with children's dramatic classes in Rockville.
"Rockville was very young then - about 30,000 people, I think. The theater work I did grew with it," she said.
She expanded her classes to include summer theater programs on the playgrounds.
"In six weeks I had more kids playing in playground theater than in baseball," she said.
The demands of the growing city and of her growing students prompted further developments. In 1965 she became Rockville's first cultural employe when she was appointed the city's performing arts supervisor. In 1969 the Rockville Arts Council presented her with its "Man of the Year" award for service to the arts.
To train teen-agers, Allen started an apprentice program.
Performance opportunities were increased with the staging of full productions and the creation of smaller touring shows.
With help from the Rockville government and private funds, she established the Street 70 company in 1970. Allen sought to develop a core of multitalented individuals who could share their talents in a variety of teaching and performing situations. In Allen's would have economic as well as artistic benefits.
"I was thinking about baseball with its farm teams and training areas," said Allen. "You see actors being waiters, but you don't see baseball players doing that. Our biggest stumbling block is creating the opportunity for actors to keep on working."
In 1973 Allen came Montgomery County's first arts coordinator and Street 70 became its performing arts division. Under a special contract, the company continued to provide services to the City of Rockville while expanding its activities throughout the county. This association with two governmental levels - city and county - is one of Street 70's more unusual features, according to Allen.
As the company and its programs developed, the need for a permanent home dominated Allen's thinking. If the company was to last, it had to have its own theater, said Allen, adding, "My favorite quote is - 'How long would religion have lasted without churches?'"
Early this month, the new Round House Theater, built with $170,500 in county funds, opened in Silver Spring as the permanent home for the Street 70 company. It was the culmination of Allen's drive to develop an economically viable model for local professional theater in America.
"It's so exciting," said Allen as she showed off the new theater. "They let me pour the first bucket of cement."
She pointed out the closeness that exists between the stage and audience from every part of the theater.
"This theater is so much a part of the community," she added. "The people (in the company) live where they work."
Nearly two dozen persons now work with the Street 70 company which receives inquiries about its local government ties from all over the country. As far as Allen and her staff can determine, the theater is unique in being the home of a local resident company of theater professionals who are supported by local government.
"I'd like to see very county in the nation have something like this," said Allen, "with well-trained people sharing at the community level while developing art as an intrinsic part of life."