By Michelle Cannon Epting
The 2014-2015 season marks the 50th anniversary of Titusville Playhouse, lnc. (TPI). The theater’s golden anniversary celebrates its growth from humble beginnings to a beloved community fixture. A massive renovation project also promises to produce an aesthetic complementary to the theater’s ever increasing strives for entertainment eminence.
Established on Aug 29, 1965, the theater arose from the union of two local volunteer theater groups, The Mask and Hammer Players and the Titusville Little Theatre. TPI eventually purchased and renovated an old church on Dummit Avenue into a 92-seat theatre, producing five shows per season, which opened it to the public on May 12, 1972.
In 1981 TPI acquired the old Florida Theatre in the heart of downtown Titusville. The building had previously served as a saloon and hotel, a vaudeville venue, and a movie theater. On September 21, 1984 the Emma Parrish Theatre officially opened thanks to a massive fundraising drive, over $500,000 in donations, and thousands of volunteer hours. The theater is named after the mother of J.J. Parrish, who was one of the project’s main donors. The new theater produced six shows per season. It also created a 10-week-long children’s theatre program known as Rising Stars. During the fall or spring, 1st through 8th graders work together, exploring and enhancing their skills, and bringing a show to life by the program’s culmination.
Over the years, the nonprofit theater suffered financially. A new board of directors began a plan to save North Brevard’s only performing arts venue by focusing on increasing fiscal stability and enhancing production quality. Debts and bills were paid, cash reserves were increased, and Steven J. Heron was brought on as general manager and artistic director. Steven’s professional background as a theater performer, director, and manager bolstered the theater’s reputation, quality in casting both professional and skilled amateur performers and artistic direction. TPI now produces first-rate shows that not only entertain, but also truly enhance the community.
Additionally, a full venue renovation costing $500,000, from grants and donations, began in summer 2013 and will culminate in summer 2016. The four-phase project will enhance the building structure, remodel the interior, and improve its technical systems. The theater is being renewed, from roof to restrooms, from stage to seating, from carpet to chandeliers. The goal of the renovation is to improve the patron’s experience from the moment they walk into the venue. A bar is available for refreshments, which can be enjoyed in comfortable seating at actual tabletops. The audience feels like they are sitting comfortably at home instead of in a public theater. The walls are decorated with work by local artists, which is displayed in partnership with the Titusville Art League and available for purchase. On average, one piece is sold per show.
Throughout the recent and continuing improvements, the Titusville Playhouse has re-established itself as the cultural and live-entertainment hub of North Brevard.
“The complete renovation of the interior of the theatre has brought new life to the playhouse,” said Doug Lebo, the TPI President. “Our patrons have really been excited about the change and are spreading the word. People that have not been to our theatre for years have come back and are really enjoying the new spacious seating and clean contemporary look of the theatre. Ticket sales are up 35 percent this year, and we attribute a lot of that to the renovation.”
This season’s shows include Mel Brooks’s “The Producers,” Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins,” the beloved “Peter Pan” (April 3-19), and the Tony Award-winning and thought-provoking “Parade” (coming May 8-24). The stellar season includes something for everyone.
“Of course the other significant change has been our drive to improve the quality of our productions. We believe it is important to provide the best show possible for the community. The renovations and increased budgets of our productions have only been possible due to the generosity of our patrons and members. We have been fundraising pretty hard the last three years, and the community has stepped up and entrusted us to provide a quality performing arts venue for Titusville. I think we have delivered it!”
Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia Street, Titusville