Originally compiled for our 50th Anniversary
By Ernie Dyer
What starts a community theatre on such an odyssey, an odyssey that continues to this day? It begins with members of that community who want to see and experience live theatre for themselves. In our case, it began in December of 1946 when a group consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Saltzman, Mr. and Mrs. Rodney Reid, Mr. and Mrs. Milo Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Landphair met at the WMCE to discuss forming a theatre group.
Plans were laid at that meeting to organize an amateur theatre group to be called The Daytona Beach Little Theatre. In January of 1947 Mary Jan Reid was elected president, and in March of that year the fledgling group produced its first play, Nothing But The Truth, a comedy written by James Montgomery. It was presented in the old Seabreeze High School.
A State Charter was applied for and received on June 21, 1948. By that time the Daytona Beach Little Theatre had presented several more plays, some produced at the Seabreeze High School location, and others at the Seabreeze Recreation Hall.
Later the group was given permission to set up headquarters at the Welch, area, at that time a no longer used WAACS barracks dating from World War II, and now the campus of Daytona Beach Community College. They performed there for three years, until the place was burned to the ground on March 15, 1951. On that date they had just closed a successful run of See How They Run, and two more plays were planned. New scenery had been purchased and a four year collection of scripts and costumes stood available and ready for use. All were lost, with only $1,000.00 of insurance.
The plucky group started over from scratch at the charming Moorish style Princess Theater, downstairs in the historic Princess Issena Hotel, now the site of a Wells Fargo Bank on Seabreeze Boulevard, but at that time a very beautiful old hotel. They performed there for five years.
While the group was still at the Welch area, “Pop” Blyden came on the scene, first as a volunteer, and then as a paid director for Smilin’ Through. He was to remain in that position for seven years, and become the theatre’s most loved and remembered director.
During the time at the Princess Theater a fund raising drive was held, and in June of 1954 the present lot on the Halifax River was purchased. On April 21, 1955 ground was broken, and on April 23, the laying of the foundation began.
In the meantime the Membership was solicited for donations and the purchase of common and preferred stock offered to the public. The sum of $30,000.00 had to be raised before a bank loan could be obtained. On October 12, 1955 the Little Theatre Building Corporation, Julius Davidson President, presented the completed building to the Daytona Beach Little Theatre in a formal ceremony before 400 people.
The first production in the new facility was Sabrina Fair, directed by “Pop” Blyden. “Pop” had overseen the design and construction every step of the way. And, as a result, we have a modern plant with a fly loft capable of flying drops and set pieces, with an auditorium seating 299, and a proscenium stage complete with orchestra pit. Many theaters being built now lack these amenities. So, thanks to “Pop” the Little Theatre was ahead of its time. The dream had come true, and “Pop” remained as director until forced to retire by ill health in 1957.
The Daytona Beach Little Theatre continued producing six plays each season, and during Bryant Simms tenure as director from 1959 until 1967 musicals were added to brighten the scene.
In 1968 at the annual Meeting it was decided the time had come for a name change and the Daytona Beach Little Theatre became The Daytona Playhouse. The same schedule of six plays and musicals has been adhered to from then until the present, sometimes augmented by summer productions.
The Playhouse continues to this day, after 66 years of service to the community. It has never missed a season, never become a “professional” company. It is still for and of the community, using only unpaid (if highly talented) actors, crews and technicians. It is still very much a family affair with parents and children, and in some cases these days, grandchildren, involved.
Over the years changes have been made. We now seat only 264 due to wheel chair access rows in the back. The auditorium and backstage we brought into full compliance with the city code, and sprinklers have been installed for the safety of our patrons and volunteers.
So where do we go from here? Who knows? We’re only 70+ and still going strong!