The Little Theater that Could

By  | June 11, 2017 | Filed under: News

FLORENCE-Once upon a time, a little theater was born in a town that had no theater.

 

It was 1971, and Florence State University had a new professor of theater…Robert Allan Holder. He was young and ambitious and, after teaching for only 3 years, wanted a bigger creative outlet than he could get on campus. He started talking about community theater with Frank Matthews, the priest at Trinity Episcopal Church, who just happened to be a member of the Alabama Arts Council. With seed money that Matthews was able to obtain through the Arts Council, along with $273 in a checking account from the defunct Tri-Cities Community Theater, Holder and a group of arts-minded community members established the Zodiac Players.

 

They found a home when they leased the old Firestone Garage building, located in Cantrell Plaza in downtown Florence. They built a stage, put in about 150 seats and started producing shows. In March 1972, the first production, Bus Stop, was presented.

Fast forward 45 years and over 200 productions to 2017. The Zodiac Players joined forces with Gingerbread Playhouse to form Shoals Community Theater and moved up the street in 2008, when the group purchased the Shoals Theater. They maintained the Zodiac as rehearsal space with occasional rentals to other organizations until the building changed ownership and they realized it didn’t make sense to continue to lease it.

In April 2017, SCT made it public that they were giving up the space and the theater community mourned its loss. A few people decided, however, that they weren’t willing to give it up that easily. Converting the theater to office space just didn’t seem right. They started calling other people who loved the space and knocking on doors, and within a month had enough monthly pledges to form a new non-profit organization (The Historic Zodiac Playhouse) that could keep it open as a performance space for the community. Pledges have come from all over the country — Houston, Atlanta, Nashville, Washington DC, even New York City — and the list of people who have asked to be on the mailing list stretches even further.

Beginning on June 1, the Zodiac Theater becomes The Z, a venue for all kinds of performers in the community.

The Historic Zodiac Playhouse Today

The Historic Zodiac Playhouse, a non-profit organization, was formed as a direct result of the threat of losing the space as a venue.

The space will be available for rental beginning June 1, 2017. “We hope to host all sorts of productions and activities in the space. Independent theater productions, improv nights, possibly spoken word, performance art, music, classes … we welcome all kinds of performing artists. Our hope is that as many people in the community as possible can use the space so we want to make it an affordable, budget-friendly space for local artists,” said Amanda Perry, one of the founding board members.

There will, however, be one significant change in the theater — the name. “We are a completely independent entity and we don’t want to cause confusion for the public, so while the ‘official’ name will remain The Historic Zodiac Playhouse, we are rebranding to call the venue The Z. We hope this will distinguish the venue from the Zodiac Players, who are still a part of Shoals Community Theater and will perform in their space,” according to Tim Rhodes, another of the organizers of the non-profit organization.

 

Events at The Z

The first event at the Z will be an improv night on First Fridays at 8 pm (June 2, 2017), featuring The Wickets and Sustainable Differences, two local improv troupes. Tickets will be available at the door for $7. The show should run approximately 2 hours. The Wickets were the last official performers on the Zodiac stage under SCT and will be the first official performance on stage at The Z. “Having the Wickets close one era and bring in a new one just feels right. It gives a sense of symmetry, of continuity,” said Martin Dean, one of the non-profit group organizers.

 

Plans are to host a similar comedy night on the first Friday of every month. “We are calling it ‘8 at 8’ … $8 at 8 pm. We hope people will walk around at First Fridays, grab a bite to eat, then come up to the theater to laugh a little,” said Perry.

 

The first full-length play scheduled at The Z will also help with a sense of continuity. “I chose Bus Stop because it was the production that launched a successful 45 year run. I thought it might give us that same kind of luck,” said Dean. Performance dates are June 22-24 at 8 pm and June 25 at 2 pm. Tickets will be available through the website (wwwhistoriczodiacplayhouse.com). The production is produced by Cypress Realty in conjunction with The Z. Bus Stop, by William Inge, is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc., New York.

A ribbon-cutting featuring appearances by some of the original Zodiac Playhouse board members will take place prior to the show on Friday, June 23. In addition, special recognition will be given to the contributors who helped make this happen. A limited number of tickets to this special event will be available. Please check the website for details.

How to Donate or Get Involved

The group is still taking pledges to help keep the doors open. “The pledges will help us pay the essential expenses for the first year — rent, utilities, insurance, etc. We also hope to be able to upgrade some of the systems in the building eventually,” said Perry.

If you would like to make a pledge, the group has set up a page on patreon.com for that purpose. Please visit https://www.patreon.com/historiczodiacplayhouse to get more details. In addition, you can contact a board member or the theater.

If you are interested in getting involved in events at the theater, please visit the website or one of the social media accounts for information about volunteer opportunities.

Initial Contributors

Robert Allen Holder
Amanda Perry
Lawrance Czermak (Rance)
John Jackson
Gena Rawdon
Allison D’Aprile
Julie Bracker
Suzanne Tidwell
Jan Ingle
Brad Letson
Martin and Stacey Dean
Ralph E. Holt
Nancy Sanford
Kristi Montero
Robert and Judith Rausch
Kristi Montero
Chris Wooten
Chris Schuessler
JC Hester
Rance Czermak
Tim and Amber Rhodes

Anonymous

Founding Board Members

Tim Rhodes
Amber Rhodes
Martin Dean
Amanda Perry
Suzanne Tidwell
JC Hester
Gena Rawdon
Rance Czermak

Contact Information

The Historic Zodiac Playhouse is located at  416 N. Court St. Florence, AL 35630. The mailing address is 620 Sam Phillips St., Suite B Florence, AL 35630

Phone: 256-768-5586/email: administrator@historiczodiacplayhouse.com/
Website:www.historiczodiaplayhouse.com/Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/historic.playhouse/Twitter: The Z (@theZpians)/Instagram: The Historic Zodiac Playhouse (thezpians)

Contact information for individual board members and for Robert Allen Holder (founder of original theater) are available on request.

Media Release/The Historic Zodiac Playhouse/Martin Dean

 

 

 

 

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