The jewel in the crown

The chances are that when you read or hear about Hollywood, you immediately think California, home to movie and television studios and related stuff. Part of the greater Los Angeles area. Its population about 90,000. Hollywood, Florida, larger with a population of 153,000-plus, boasts no such glittery fame. This Hollywood, which stretches from its gorgeous Atlantic beaches for miles westward to the Everglades, is home to Port Everglades, Nova Southeastern University, and a thriving arts community.

At this city’s heart for more than six decades was Hollywood Playhouse, a community theater. I was privileged to perform in several shows there in the 1970s, South Pacific, My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls among them.

This community theater in Hollywood, Florida, traces its origins to 1933. In those days, called Little Theater of Hollywood, the group performed plays in various locations, pausing for World War II, then in 1949 bought a plot of land for $10 in a quiet residential neighborhood on Washington Street. That’s right. $10. A “reverter clause” was put in place, to return the land back to the city, in case the tract was not used for public performances.

Kenneth Spry, an architect and an organizer of the theater group, designed an 18,000-sqaure foot theater with 265 seats including a balcony. “The official dedication was held in January 1953, with Gloria Swanson among the honored guests. Because only the foundation was complete, they performed that first season outdoors, sometimes in 45 degree weather; the audience on blankets and lawn chairs,” according to an official account.

After a run of nearly seven decades, Hollywood Playhouse finally went dark a few years ago, and today the building is owned by Pastor Martin Vargas, who operates his church there.

Last weekend, our daughter Katie Porier and I attended a wonderful opening performance of the musical show Pippin, staged by Raleigh Little Theater, a strong community theater, with a proud history like that of Hollywood Playhouse.

As an arts reporter and columnist on The Miami Herald in the ’70s, I devoted a lot of coverage to Broward County’s several active community theaters, along with the professional Parker Playhouse, colleges and a variety of classical music and dance companies. I loved all of it, but community theater will always occupy a special place in my heart. These groups are stacked floor to ceiling and wall to wall with volunteers, ordinary folks like us who act, sing, dance, direct, choreograph, design and operate lighting, build and paint sets, sell tickets, handle publicity, make costumes, usher, etc., etc., all of it, at an astonishingly professional level. They devote ’way too many hours to count at this because they love the art and believe to the center of their beings in its importance in our lives. It is the jewel in their community’s crown.

They’re right. What are you waiting for?



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