The Little Theaters That Could

By Henerson, Evan | Stage Directions, April 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Little Theaters That Could

Henerson, Evan, Stage Directions

For these three diffrerent community theaters, the goal remains the same: serve up top-notch fare and stay in the black.

Albuquerque Little Theatre

Age has its privilege. Now in its 75th year of operation, Albuquerque Little Theatre (ALT) is the oldest and second largest theater of its kind in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Having occupied its current home since 1936, the first structure in the city to be built by the Works Progress Administration under President Roosevelt's New Deal, ALT recently underwent two years and $625,000 worth of renovations.

Improvements include a new roof and seats, shifting of the sound and light board and sprucing up the backstage, dressing rooms, rehearsal hall and lobby. More significantly, says Executive Director Larry D. Parker, is the fact that ALT will soon be completely debt-free.

"We're about to complete a realestate transaction that will allow us to eliminate all of the theater's debt," says Parker. "Some of the money is going into the theater's endowment fund, and we're using the balance to upgrade equipment like our sound and light boards."

The company's 10-play season in its 490-seat house includes three children's shows, made possible by ALT's acquisition of the Albuquerque Children's Theatre. The company runs on an operating budget of about $600,000 and boasts 500 volunteers. The 2004-05 season included such selections as the musical Buddy: Babe: the Sheep Pig: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.

Over the years, ALT has also hosted several well-known celebrities. Vivian Vance (TV's Ethel Mertz) performed on ALT's stage, and the theater owns her "I Love Lucy" Emmy award. And Bill Daily, (Major Roger Healey of "I Dream of Jeannie" fame), living in retirement in Albuquerque, took the stage for ALT's production of My Three Angels.

There are some 25 to 30 community theaters in New Mexico, but ALT doesn't see itself as being in competition with other local playhouses, regardless of their size or scope. "The joke around here is that we're the mother theater, because the next oldest is less than half our age," Parker says. "We are very supportive of the other theaters in town. We've got a very liberal lending policy. There aren't many shows done locally that don't have something from us."

Diamond Head Theatre

This 90-year-old company, located in Honolulu, takes its nickname "Broadway of the Pacific" very seriously. Familiar Broadway titles, predominantly musicals, dominate the seasonal lineup of Diamond Head Theatre (DHT), formerly known as The Footlights and later the Honolulu Community Theatre. Shows like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Fantasticks, Disney's Beauty and the Beast and, next season. The Full Monty, are assembled almost exclusively by community artists and designers, though an occasional guest star or director may visit-usually with great enthusiasm and a desire to return.

"We're lucky we live in a place people enjoy coming to, and it's a perfect experience for us," says Deena Dray, DHT managing director for the past nine years. "Everybody here is really happy to have the professional expertise [of a guest artist] to lend an aura to the production. And everybody who works here walks away having enjoyed Hawaii and wanting to come back and work here again."

The Honolulu Community Theatre entertained troops during World War II, refusing to shutter even during the bombings of Pearl Harbor. After performing at several sites on the island of Oahu, the company was given the keys to a 500-seat former USO movie house in 1952. In 1980, it added a costume and scene shop. Major renovations and upgrades are in the works for the company's 100th anniversary in 2015. Until then, the company's mission remains to bring excellent live theater to locals and tourists alike.

"Live theater is such a unique experience and really should be experienced by everybody," says Dray.

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