Decade One: The Potluck Players
In 1973, a group of Arlington citizens got together to form a theater group. This group was originally called “The Potluck Players,” because they met in the Potluck Room of Miss Persis Dance Studio. Their first production of “I Do, I Do” was performed at Arlington High School and thus was the beginning of Theatre Arlington. The group changed their name to Arlington Community Theatre. With their second production, “Light Up the Sky,” they convinced a young director, Cliff Redd, to lead the group forward. Times were tough for this rag-tag troupe of theater gypsies, but with passion, energy and the ability not to say no, the group continued to perform anywhere they could find a space. In order to pay for things such as sets, royalties, costumes, etc. members (cast, crew, ushers and the like) had to pay $10 for the honor of being associated with a show. These members paid happily to be part of a growing organization who had a love of live theater and community. 1981 found the group moving into a permanent home on Division Street. The 134-seat theater opened with the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” directed by Cliff Redd and choreographed by Persis Forster. The traveling group had finally found a space to roost and began producing seven shows per season.
Decade Two: Established on Main Street
The second decade of the theater saw many changes. It now had a full-time staff! Cliff Redd was now its Executive Director. Judy Rehders and B.J. Cleveland were also on the payroll. The theater added a children’s series and a studio series, bringing the number of shows produced to a staggering nine to 14 per season! Through this time Theatre Arlington’s board and staff began developing a long-range plan. The major issue was to adequately provide the cultural experience of live theater to a larger audience without sacrificing the intimacy its patrons had come to love. The process began with the sale of the Division Street facility in 1990. In 1991, the theater saw a move in management and in venue. Penny Patrick became the Executive Director and the theater moved from its 134-seat playhouse to its new home on Main Street in the heart of Downtown Arlington in June. Renovations began and on New Year’s Eve 1991 the new 199-seat cabaret-style theater opened with a dynamite production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes”. With the board and staff working diligently to raise funds for more renovations, the third decade of the theater’s history promised an even brighter future ahead.
Decade Three: Expansion
Theatre Arlington saw even more changes. Fundraising was completed and the opening of the Allan Saxe Mainstage Theater in November 1994 was a tremendous step forward for the organization. The staff of the theater grew, as well. Shirley Orr was now the Box Office Manager. Patti Diou, Marketing Manager, Julie Aylor, Administrative Assistant and B.J. Cleveland was hired back as the theater’s new Artistic Director. In 1996, Theatre Arlington began offering year-round theater classes for children and adults. The theater also began its successful outreach arm with its ACTUPS program. ACTUPS stand for Applied Creative Thinking Using Performance Skills. This program sends a resident artist into an at-risk school during the year teaching creative solutions to problems through theater games and techniques. The end of the decade brought major upheaval for the organization, but in a good way. The theater (and the patrons) got downstairs restrooms! Theatre Arlington’s great benefactor, Gene Patrick, purchased the old Chamber of Commerce building across the street. Now the theater had room to expand their education program, have a rehearsal space and new offices. In 2001, Executive Director Penny Patrick decided to add all-youth shows and introduce a new youth touring company, Standing Room Only, to the Theatre Arlington mix. Also in 2001, “The Secret Garden” wins a Best of Tarrant Award and is recognized by the Star-Telegram as one of the top five theater productions in the Metroplex. Just one of the many accolades ahead for the organization.
Decade Four: Looking to the Future
The fourth decade began with the addition of the TAG Players, the theater’s Senior Readers Theater outreach group. This group of seniors travels through the Metroplex performing for other senior organizations. In 2002, Patti Diou became the Executive Director of the theater and saw more change in store. With the youth and education program growing, doing nine shows per season, outreach programs and two touring companies there was never a dull moment. In September 2004, a third renovation brought a more spacious lobby and new seating in the theater, but it wasn’t easy. In 2009, Todd Hart was appointed as Executive Producer of the theater. Looking back at the amazing people who have left their legacy, Hart realized he had to do what they did – look to the community and understand the importance of culture in that community. With the addition of new lighting and sound, a full-time professional staff of eight, two buildings and serving more than 33,000 per season, Theatre Arlington has grown from a small group of people performing in a dance studio to the second largest and second oldest theater in Tarrant County!
- 1972: The Potluck Players produce first show I Do, I Do.
- 1973: Arlington Community Theatre (ACT) is established and the first Board of
Directors is formed.
- 1973 – 1981: ACT is a gypsy troupe rehearsing and staging shows at various locations including Arlington Community Center and Forum 303 Mall.
- 1981: A 1952 vintage church on Division is purchased and renovated.
- 1982: The name is changed to Theatre Arlington.
- 1982: In partnership with the YMCA of Arlington, Taste of Arlington was created to support youth programs at both entities.
- 1984: The Theatre Arlington Guild is formed.
- 1989: The Board of Directors creates a long-range plan to bring productions to a broader audience.
- 1991: Theatre Arlington moves to its Main Street location (the old Kier Lumberyard), in Downtown. After renovations were completed, TA opened as a cabaret-style theater on New Year’s Eve with a production of Pump Boys and Dinettes.
- 1994: Theatre Arlington represents Texas at the regional American Association of Community Theatres Play Festival.
- 1994: Opening of Allan Saxe Mainstage Theatre which boasted new proscenium. Renovations also included ticket booth, lobby, dressing rooms and more.
- 1995: Theatre Arlington Theatre Machine begins with year-round classes for kids and adults.
- 1996: ACT-UPS (Applied Creative Thinking Using Performance Skills) was formed in partnership with AISD as our education/outreach program for at-risk 5th grade students.
- 1996: Camp Be a Star, our camp for transitional housing children, is formed in conjunction with AISD.
- 1999: Theatre Arlington wins the Best of Tarrant Award for the musical production of 1776 and the award for Best Theater Company.
- 2000: Theatre Arlington’s SRO (Standing Room Only) youth touring company and TAG Players senior reader’s theater touring company are born.
- 2000: The Gene and Penny Patrick Education/Administration Building was established across the street from the theater enabling expansion of theater education.
- 2001: The Secret Garden wins a Best of Tarrant Award and is recognized by the Star-Telegram as one of the top five theatre productions in the Metroplex for 2001.
- 2004: Interior of theater was remodeled including installation of new seats.
- 2005: The Act Ups Educational Outreach program is nominated for a Star-Telegram STARS Award.
- 2006: BJ Cleveland and Ana Pettit are recognized for their contributions to theater in North Texas by the Live Theater League of Tarrant County.
- 2007: New digital marquee installed.
- 2007: Held 25th Annual Taste of Arlington fundraiser with the YMCA of Arlington.
- 2007-08: Celebrated 35th Anniversary Season.
- 2011: Exterior of theater building and education building received new paint job.
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