|THEATRE ARLINGTON HISTORY
Decade One: The Potluck Players (1973 – 1982)
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. With their second production, Light Up the Sky, they convinced a young director, Cliff Redd, to lead the group forward, and they soon changed their name to Arlington Community Theatre. 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 and costumes, cast and crew members (along with users and others) 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 (1983-1992)
|The second decade of the Theatre 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 Theatre 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 Theatre 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 Theatre’s history promised an even brighter future ahead.
Decade Three: Expansion (1993-2002)
|Theatre Arlington saw even more changes. Fundraising was completed and the opening of the Allan Saxe Mainstage Theatre in November 1994 was a tremendous step forward for the organization. The staff of the Theatre 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 Theatre’s new Artistic Director. In 1996, Theatre Arlington began offering year-round theater classes for children and adults. The Theatre also began its successful outreach arm with its ACTUPS program (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 Theatre (and the patrons) got a downstairs restroom! Theatre Arlington’s great benefactor, Gene Patrick, purchased the old Chamber of Commerce building across the street. Now the Theatre 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 (2003-2012)
|The fourth decade began with the addition of the TAG Players, the Theatre’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 Theatre and saw more changes 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 Theatre, but it wasn’t easy. In 2009, Todd Hart was appointed as Executive Producer of the Theatre. 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, two buildings and serving more than 33,000 per season, Theatre Arlington grew from a small group of people performing in a dance studio to become the second largest and second oldest theater in Tarrant County.
Decade Five: A History-Making Decade (2013 to 2022)
In 2016, a major change happened on Main Street when the state of Texas designated the downtown area as the Arlington Cultural Arts District with Theatre Arlington as an anchor arts organization. After some leadership changes, the theater hired Steven D. Morris as executive producer in 2018. Steven, who had been Lamar High School’s drama teacher for 27 years, has a long history with Theatre Arlington since the 1980s as an actor, director and writer of original shows. Steven had barely begun his first full season at the theater when the world shut down because of the pandemic. Theatre Arlington joined the rest of the arts and entertainment industry in being forced to close. During the enforced hiatus, conversations with city officials resulted in something amazing! Through the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, the city agreed to grant the theater $2 million for a history-making renovation that would bring Arlington’s only live theater into the present and take it successfully into the future. While other theaters were sitting out the pandemic and its after effects, Theatre Arlington used the down time to plan the theater that Arlington needed with all new technology, an expanded lobby, a dedicated box office, new theater seating, a green room, new dressing rooms, expanded wing space and a new stage with a revolve. In 2021, the theater hired its first full-time development director and raised an additional $1.4 million. On March 25, 2022, the all-new Theatre Arlington re-opened for its first full season since the pandemic. The theater finished 2022 as a Small Professional Theater with Actors’ Equity Association and as the Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Nonprofit of the Year.