As the Vero Beach Theatre Guild kicks off its 60th season celebration it seems that the entire theatre industry along with the audiences it serves has much to celebrate.
In the age of digital media where we can view anything anywhere, it may come as a surprise that live theatre attendance has reached record levels over the past two years! A record 13.3 million people attended Broadway productions during the 2015-16 season, according to the Broadway League.
Why is that? Perhaps it is the social intimacy of coming together with like-minded people to laugh, cry and cheer as a community. And maybe live theatre offers audiences the opportunity to use their imaginations without being told how to think about the subject matter being presented. Mainstream media overwhelms us with messages telling us how to interpret the polished and produced media we so often consume. Advertising, marketing, commentary, and hype attempt to position almost everything we see and hear. But live performances are largely devoid of such filters thereby giving their audiences a few hours to simply absorb and think for themselves about the experience.
Community theatre is a cornerstone of towns and cities all over the world. For the past 60 years, the Vero Beach Theatre Guild has been bringing people together on and off stage for the sheer love of "creating theatre" according to Jon Putzke, The Guild's current president. In the late 50's The Guild was formed amidst humble beginnings, presenting plays at the old naval base and local schools. Sets were built in people's garages along with props and costumes. In 1965 The Vero Beach Community Theatre Trust was founded to raise money to build a brand new 600 seat theatre for the county in Riverside Park and 1973 marked the official opening of the Vero Beach Community Theatre, a name that would later be changed to Riverside Theatre. For the next twelve years, The Guild was the resident acting company at the Riverside Park venue. It was 1985 when The Guild set off for its new home in what was formerly a church on San Juan Avenue. Through 16,000 volunteer hours, the building was transformed and The Guild has been thriving in this location since then.
The Vero Beach Theatre Guild remains a volunteer organization today, with over 250 individuals working on and off stage to bring a community together as an audience and entertain it in the way that only live theatre can. This weekend The Guild will kick off its most ambitious fundraiser ever in the form of a three-week long series of events known as The February Theatre Festival. Starting with Celebrating 60, a musical revue that covers 60 years of Broadway hits and flops (which sounds pretty fun) The Guild will then host an extravagant dinner and gala at the Vero Beach Country Club to include live entertainment and a silent auction. An open house is to follow where the public is invited to drop by, enjoy refreshments and tours of the backstage and "secret" areas of 2020 San Juan Ave.
But the centerpiece of the February Theatre Festival is without a doubt the newly formed Reader's Theatre group and productions. Reader's Theatre is staged readings with script in hand of engaging plays. Some are costumed and some are not. Some of them have stage sets while others are performed from a podium. In the true spirit of community theatre, open auditions were held back in late 2017 and drew record numbers of people who wanted to participate.
The lineup includes everything from comedy to tragedy and promises a unique experience for theatergoers. "Murderers" by Jeffrey Hatcher is a lightweight black comedy that will have special appeal to Floridians. "The People's Republic of Edward Snowden" by William Turck will be an immersive production where the audience will play the role of the press and be encouraged to interact with and ask questions of the infamous CIA employee using social media and smartphones. Abby Mann's classic courtroom drama "Judgment at Nuremberg" will explore themes on human rights, genocide and the politics surrounding these issues which still persist today. "A Night To Remember" by Walter Lord is the minute-by-minute account of the sinking of the Titanic focusing on the behavior of all those on board during and after the fatal collision. The closing performance of critically acclaimed "Jerry Finnegan's Sister" by Jack Neary is a hilarious look at life-long crush and will end the festival with belly laughs and guffaws at first love's agony.
All the events planned for the festival are intended to raise funds for the Vero Beach Theatre Guild. Details, pricing, and tickets for each event can be found at www.verobeachtheatreguild.com/theatre-festival-2018 This is a wonderful opportunity to support your community theatre, be entertained and maybe even see one of your neighbors or friends on the stage at 2020 San Juan Avenue!