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The Delray Beach Playhouse is celebrating 75 years of being a creative force in the community.
Anniversary events started in October with a Playhouse Playwrights’ Project that showcased the works of nine writers to create one-act plays that were read onstage by costumed actors.
Then next year, the playhouse, 950 NW Ninth St., will launch a new initiative that will work toward bringing together the performing and visual arts to make an even bigger impact on the community.
The performing arts theater’s longevity can be attributed to the quality of its performances and the passion of its leaders. CEO Kevin Barrett has been involved with the playhouse since 2016, but he has a long history with theater in his own life. He has run theaters in Massachusetts and Florida for many years. Artistic director Randolph DelLago, who has worked with the playhouse for almost 40 years, directs all the plays and produces a favorite there called “Musical Memories.”
Barrett said community theater that lasts this long is quite an accomplishment.
“We were incorporated as a business in 1947. Then in 1957, we moved to our present location and have been here ever since,” he said. “Honestly, 75 years is a very long time in the arts world to be around.”
While the plays at the relatively small theater don’t involve huge casts, nor are they high-budget productions, the quality of the performances keep residents coming back every year.
“The building itself has been renovated and improved over the years,” Barrett said. “It’s a very quaint, cozy hometown type of theater. We have a small stage, but we have a big vision and big things happen here. We run everything with a very small staff, but we have a tremendously busy building. We’re busy probably 250 out of 350 days a year.”
The quantity of productions is substantial for the resources they have available.
“In a normal year, we put on close to 200 shows,” Barrett said. “We put on about 60 different types of productions, including a lot of single-night performances. Most of our plays are three-week runs. We do about 15 performances of each play, along with the production called ‘Musical Memories.’”
The theater also relies on volunteer actors.
“Over the years, the playhouse has developed quite a reputation, and people flock to audition to perform in our shows,” he said.
People who participate in the theater take it seriously, Barrett said.
“It’s quite a commitment to do a play here. You’ll rehearse for three weeks, and then you’ll perform for three weeks, so it’s a month and a half of their time and they don’t get paid,” he said. “You have to really love theater to be involved.”
“We are completely self-sufficient,” Barrett said. “We don’t receive any money from the city. Our donations make up probably 10% of our income. Our revenues come through ticket sales and sponsorships. We keep busy, partly because we have to pay the bills.”
Community leaders on board
Dan Bellante is the newly elected president for the playhouse’s board of directors. He join after serving as chairman of the Public Art Advisory Board in Delray Beach.
“When Delray Beach first started to develop itself in the early 1990s with the Old School Square Development Program in Delray, it was an exciting time,” he said. “Art was one of the focus areas for the development. The town did a terrific job on creating downtown. It’s unique and people have come from all over the state and all over the country to study how Delray Beach did it.”
Marianne Regan, a playhouse board member, was brought over to the theater by Bellante since they both served on the Public Art Advisory Board. Regan has a history of being involved with acting and performances. She served as president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists from 1990 to 1994 before it merged with the Screen Actors Guild.
Regan was instrumental in making the recent Playwright Playwrights’ Project Festival happen to engage creatives in Delray Beach with the playhouse.
“I pitched it to the board members and our executive director of the playhouse and he said we should give it a try,” she said. “So in 2019, we sent out an artist call in March of 2019 for brand new, local playwrights in Broward and Palm Beach County. They needed to be 10-to 20-minute one-act plays.”
Regan and others at the playhouse got together and provided an outline for the screenplay submissions. In 2019, they received 28 submissions. The board members picked out what they liked and whittled it down to eight.
“To put the production on, they needed something like 35 characters for the different shows,” she said. “So I held auditions and got all of the good readers I could.”
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The idea was a success. The last installment of the festival was performed for the public in October to a sold-out crowd.
“What’s great is that we’re introducing all of these new creatives to the playhouse,” Regan said. “But we’re also giving people who are at the other end of their career a chance to act out what they truly love.”
Regan said that, looking forward, they now have a mission statement, which is to introduce a new generation of people to the playhouse.
“In honor of our 75th anniversary, we are going to start to bring in visual artists,” she said. “We want to marry visual artists with performing artists.”
The playhouse officially is celebrating its birthday starting in January with a New Year’s gala that will include food and entertainment at the theater.
- A group of people met in 1947 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall to form a theater group.
- The group was organized as the Little Theatre of Delray Beach, which was later changed to the Delray Beach Playhouse, Inc.
- In 1957, the Delray Beach Playhouse built a structure in the county park at Lake Ida.
- In 1958, the new playhouse opened with “Philadelphia Story.” There was no air conditioning and no heat.
- Over the years they added new seats, air conditioning, heating and other amenities.