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!