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Author Topic: History of Theatre Jacksonville  (Read 884 times)

stephendare

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History of Theatre Jacksonville
« on: May 11, 2013, 10:45:07 PM »
http://archive.org/stream/curtainsgoingup007877mbp/curtainsgoingup007877mbp_djvu.txt

Jacksonville, Florida. By-product of the World War.

During the World War, an organization to provide entertainment for  soldiers, called the "War Camp Community Service," was created in Jacksonville. It existed for some time after the war as "Community Service." Then, in the autumn of 1920, at the suggestion of its president, Leed Guest, a branch was formed called "The Community Players." Captain Basil Stephenson was its first president and Miss Maude Francis was brought to Jacksonville to direct its presentations.

The first presentation of the Community Players was "A Marriage Has Been Arranged," by Alfred Sutro, given at the Mason Hotel in December, 1920. During their first season of productions, and in the years following, a score or more people gave much of their time and energy in creating a theatre for Jacksonville.

From 1920 to 1926, The Community Players went through the ordinary good times and bad that Community Theatres experienced during this post- war period. In 1926, however, the name of the group was changed to The Little Theatre of Jacksonville, and a state charter as a non-profit organization was secured. In the years to follow, the Little Theatre was so fortunate as to have a number of highly skilled professional directors.

For several years after the Little Theatre's inception, productions were given in the Women's Club Building on Duval Street. Then came a period in which the Little Theatre found itself bouncing from the Metropolitan Club to the Playhouse, to the auditorium of the Chamber of Commerce, the Morocco Temple, the Arcade Theatre, and then back to the Women's Club.

In 1927-28, when the membership had reached a high mark of six hundred subscriptions, hopes of building the theatre ran high. A lot was purchased and plans were drawn. But the succeeding years proved so progressively disappointing that the idea was abandoned and the lot was sold. Recession in membership kept pace with the general depression (there had also been a Florida depression before 1930) and had reached a point in the fall of 1936 when two attempts to bring together the necessary quorum for an election of officers failed. It became apparent that the organization would collapse unless some new stimulus could be found. A few of the die-hards made a personal canvass of those most interested, and assembled a small but determined group which elected officers, revamped policies, and sent the organization hopefully forward under the capable leadership of its president, Martin Sack. At the suggestion of the new Chairman of the Membership Committee, Carl S. Swisher, the inauguration of a limited seasonal membership of three hundred and fifty was adopted.

This plan proved so successful that for the 1937-38 season the membership limitation was raised to seven hundred, which was fully subscribed long before the first production.

Under the leadership of Sack and Swisher, thoughts of a new home revived. With membership of seven hundred and possibilities of more, it did not seem impossible that the Little Theatre might acquire a permanent home.

At that time Carl Swisher, Chairman of the Membership Committee, advanced a proposal to finance personally a new Community Theatre building, providing the Little Theatre could increase its membership by a respectable number. The ticket selling committee plunged enthusiastically into the work and secured a total of nine hundred and sixteen 1937-38 subscriptions. This surge of energy so impressed Mr. Swisher that he gave the word to go, and estimates for a new theatre building were considered. The original estimate was only $15,000, but development of a complete building plan satisfactory to the organization revealed need for an investment of more than $40,000. Then Mr. Swisher made another notable civic gesture: first a gift of $20,000 outright, and further a loan of $20,000 secured by mortgage without interest.

This theatre is of modern design and built in a new and attractive suburb. The main entrance, on the most prominent boulevard of the community, leads into a large semi-cirailar foyer with an arc-shaped dome. The auditorium seats three hundred and thirty-two people and the sight lines are perfect.

The acoustics, scientifically worked out, and the intimacy of the entire house incite the actors to their best work. The stage is fifty-one feet across, with a proscenium opening of forty feet The front of the stage consists of three different floats permitting rapid scene changes; all that is necessary is to move each set secured on one of the floats into the desired position. Moving time is less than twenty seconds. On the second floor, readied by a graceful winding staircase, is a large lounge, beautifully decorated, where all assemblies of the organization are held.

The theatre was opened January 18, 1938, with the dedication of a plaque in honor of Mr. Swisher, and nine plays were produced in the space of less than nine months, an extraordinary record for any community theatre in theatrical activity and interest.

Mr. Swisher, elected president at the end of the season, soon afterward held his first board meeting to plan for 1938-39. A strenuous campaign for membership was undertaken and set a new record of fourteen hundred and fifty paid memberships.

A summer school sponsored by the Little Theatre was opened in 1938.

One hundred and forty students enrolled, and classes running three nights a week for four weeks were held in diction, fencing, stage craft, acting and make-up. Short plays, including "Back From Reno," written by the director, Huron L. Blyden, were given as a final presentation of the season.

The Jacksonville Little Theatre has contributed its bit toward American literature by sponsoring playwriting contests from time to time. Among some of the entries that have received production as rewards for excellence in these contests are

"Garden Varieties" and "Ten Years Old," by Elaine Ingersoll Minick;

"The Green Eyes of Eros" and "Slender Strings," by Miss Isabelle Williams;

"The Conqueror/' by Mrs. Willis M. Ball;

"Raw Meat," by Miss Birsa Shepard;

"The Shenstone Emeralds," by Mrs. Irene C. Tippett;

"The Woman of Magdala," by Phillip Devlin (adapted from the story by George Creel) .

Jacksonville is extremely fortunate that Carl Swisher happened to be just a little stagestruck, for without his love of the theatre it would have missed the opportunity it has now of developing one of the finest and most important Community Theatres in America.

During an interview with Mr. Swisher in the oflice of the large corporation of which he is president, we had a shining example of the essential democracy of the American Community Theatre. During the questioning, Mr. Swisher suddenly reached for the telephone and said: "Get me Jack."

A few minutes later a young man in short sleeves, obviously from the stock room, walked into the office and took his place in a heated discussion of the policies and future ambitions of the Jacksonville Little Theatre. Here was the president of a large business corporation and his stock room clerk spiritedly seeking a solution to the artistic problems that faced their mutual  avocation The Jacksonville Little Theatre.
And now abide faith, hope and love; these three, but the greatest of these is love

stephendare

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Re: History of Theatre Jacksonville
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2013, 10:45:52 PM »
A Marriage has been Arranged, was written by Alfred Sutro in 1904
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Sutro
And now abide faith, hope and love; these three, but the greatest of these is love

stephendare

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Re: History of Theatre Jacksonville
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2013, 10:50:36 PM »
In 1920, there was a positive craze for Marionettes, and The Community Players brought Tony Sarg here to Jacksonville to perform "Marionette" (incorrectly listed on the Theatre Jacksonville website as "Marionette Number" for some reason.

Sarg was a bit of a character and a prankster  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Sarg

He was connected to the people who had formed the Provincetown Players which included Jacksonville natives, William and Lucy L'Engle (from the famed L'Engle family that has had so much to do with the founding and development of Jacksonville)  That was his connection to the theatre community here in jville.
And now abide faith, hope and love; these three, but the greatest of these is love

stephendare

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Re: History of Theatre Jacksonville
« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2013, 10:55:49 PM »
Also produced in Jville in 1921 by Miss Elaine Ingersoll Minick (mentioned in the historical bit above):

The Fourth Rehearsal

note the director of the play:  Another cultured L'Engle.

Play set in 'Any Theatre in New York', First Presented by Jacksonville Community Players, December 12, 1921, Direction Miss Tracy L'Engle'. 'Rollicking comedy' - Jacksonville Times-Union. Copyright January, 1922 by Elaine Ingersoll Minick, 2129 Pearl Street, Jacksonville, Fla. 13p. 8x5'', wrapper, printed label. Bookseller Inventory # 25205

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=110318162&searchurl=an%3Dminick%2Belaine%2Bingersoll%26bsi%3D0%26ds%3D30

Interestingly it sets the address for the Theatre production on Pearl Street.
https://www.google.com/maps?q=&layer=c&z=17&iwloc=A&sll=30.350642,-81.658334&cbp=13,23.8,0,0,0&cbll=30.350610,-81.658350&ei=jwSPUf6fG4n68gTywoCYBg&ved=0CDAQxB0wAA

And now abide faith, hope and love; these three, but the greatest of these is love

stephendare

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Re: History of Theatre Jacksonville
« Reply #4 on: May 11, 2013, 11:04:13 PM »
The Beaches Area Historical Society published a blurb about Birsa Shepard (whose play "raw meat" was mentioned in the original post) in their newsletter from back in 2008

I think that it would have been highly unlikely that Shepard hid her work for the feminist cause, but considering the tragic revisionism of the past 50 years, I can see why Hunt Harkin would have made that assumption.


http://beachesmuseum.org/PDFs/Newsletters/2008/BeachesMuseum-Newsletter-2008-01.pdf

Birsa Katherine Shepard

Roseanne Hunt-Harkin, one of our faithful volunteers, has been creating a finding aid for the Birsa Shepard Collection. Ms. Shepard’s papers were found by the museum staff in the attic of the Foreman’s House this past summer. Hunt- Harkin writes the following account.

Birsa Katherine Shepard’s manuscript collection spans 70 years from the early 1900s to her work as a freelance writer and active church leader in the 1960s. I was enthralled with many aspects of this collection. It was interesting to note that Ms Shepard was working in vaudeville when she was 14 years old and apparently not much was made of the fact that her schooling was sparse. In 1908, a movie producer paid 14 year old Birsa the grand sum of $15.00 for writing a play entitled “The Meteor Wins.” Can’t help but wonder who got the better of that deal.

In spite of little formal education, Birsa was nquisitive. She took some courses in writing and wrote two books that we know of: one, a child’s book; the other a respected anthology of ship- wrecks and the people who profit from the disasters, the wreckers. That publication was entitled, The Lore of the Wreckers.

Though born in the mid-West, she lived in Boston for most summers and Jacksonville in the winters. In the latter years of
her life, she became an enthusiastic resident of Atlantic Beach. Birsa had a fervent love for her church, the Christian Science Church, and worked at the mother church in Boston and in the local congregation in Jacksonville Beach.

In 1936, she took another turn in her professional life as a worker for the “ W omen’ s Party” in W ashington, D .C. She was dedicated to the feminist movement in Northeast Florida but it appears from this collection that she was not very public about her feminist leanings during that time. Even though Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of her beloved church, feminism was not “mainstream” and Ms. Shepard seemed to crave acceptance and a revered place in proper society.

This collection is diverse and rather interesting with many old photos as well as c. 1950s Key West and Nassau photographs, journals and correspondence.
Roseanne Hunt-Harkin December 11, 2007
And now abide faith, hope and love; these three, but the greatest of these is love

stephendare

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Re: History of Theatre Jacksonville
« Reply #5 on: May 11, 2013, 11:08:11 PM »
Just as a sidenote to people wondering about the reference to the L'Engle Family.

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/forum/index.php?topic=13527.0 This is a thread about the founding of the Friday Musicale by Claudia L'Engle.

Here is a collection of posts about the L'Engle family
http://www.metrojacksonville.com/forum/index.php?topic=5788.0

Madeleine L'Engle, the author of "A Wrinkle in Time" is also a member of the family.

They always had a talent for marrying well.  First they intermarried with the Fatio Family (the major landowner in the south of the County) and then they alligned with the Barnett Family which created the Barnett Banks.
And now abide faith, hope and love; these three, but the greatest of these is love