HISTORY OF THE DELRAY BEACH PLAYHOUSE
With the end of World War II and the homecoming of the military service men and women, the residents of Delray Beach, Florida began their gradual return to a peacetime lifestyle. In a growing desire for cultural development in theatrical pursuits, a group of interested persons met in 1947 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall with willing volunteers, including director, actors, backstage crew, ushers, and ticket sellers. That same enthusiastic volunteerism continued as the theater group moved into larger facilities at the City’s Civic Center, which had also served as the U.S.O. during the war years.
With the move to a larger venue, the theater group was organized as the “Little Theater of Delray Beach”, which was later changed to the “Delray Beach Playhouse, Inc.” J. Stuart Warrington, a winter resident and long-time professional director was selected to direct the five productions during the winter season. With a permanent population of approximately 8,000, and a winter season population of about 18,000, it was advantageous to present the five productions within a tight five-month winter season schedule. Not only were the productions well-attended, but the professional direction of Mr. Warrington and the very high standards set by him were consistently upheld… in performances and in technical aspects.
In 1957, after years of fund-raising and dreaming of building their own theatre, the Playhouse and its members arranged to construct the original structure in the County Park at Lake Ida. Much was due to the efforts of Robert Blake, Architect, who designed the Playhouse, as well as Thomas B. Thames and King Cone, who led the fund raising effort.
The actual construction involved a lot of individual energy. While the project was overseen by a qualified general contractor and two of his experienced carpenters, volunteers did much of the labor, general carpentry, painting and installation. Members willingly climbed up tall scaffolding to install pulleys in the stage ceiling, high above the stage, and on Sunday afternoons, members turned out to install second-hand theatre seats bought from a defunct movie house. The seats were all slanted and with uneven springs in the seats. All the seats had to be cleaned, oiled and painted, and then bolted to the floor.
Finally, in January 1958, the new Playhouse opened with “Philadelphia Story”. The structure was not a luxurious Carnegie Hall. It was just a basic four-walled auditorium with a stage and indoor plumbing. There was no air-conditioning, no heat, the numerous windows on both sides for ventilation were covered with plastic at times to try and keep out the cold January winds that caused the plastic sheets to rattle loudly to the dismay of the actors on stage. The rest rooms were located inside the auditorium, so that when someone visited the restroom, the restroom light would flood the auditorium. But it was our very own theatre!
Over the years and through successful fund-raising from private contributions, improvements included new plush seats, air conditioning and heating, removal of the windows, addition of a lobby and rest rooms, expanded dressing rooms and green room. In addition, there is a beautiful patio overlooking Lake Ida, a spacious children’s theatre workshop, which is also ideal for wedding receptions and other private functions.
Thus, what began with a couple of one-act plays on a tiny stage in the Parish Hall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is now functioning as one of the finest community theaters in Florida.
Through the many years, the Playhouse has continued the professional standards established from the beginning and maintained by the strong support of year-around and seasonal members, a dedicated Board of Governors, and an enthusiastic staff of management, box office and back stage workers. Reflected in those standards has been the careful selection of the artistic directors over the years, as exemplified by Randolph DelLago, who is presently serving in his 33rd year as the Playhouse Artistic Director. Through his guidance and direction, five productions of a mixture of comedies, musicals, and dramas are presented successfully each season to enthusiastic audiences, and his creation of “Musical Memories”, featuring the songs of Broadway musicals, has been especially popular. For young actors and the children’s theatre workshop, the Playhouse now includes an additional auditorium and stage with acting classes and shows for students from age 8 through 18. For those who do not wish to travel at night, the Playhouse also offers many daytime activities, including one-act plays, audience participation, lectures and other interesting programs to entertain and to be of interest to the entire community.
It can truly be said that the continued success of the Delray Beach Playhouse for these many years has been of the dedication of many individuals in the community who, through their contribution of time, talent and generosity, have worked to bring the fun and culture of live theatre to the Greater Delray Beach area.
Information provided by Ernie G. Simon circa 2015