Just a few blocks from the main drag in Fernandina Beach’s historic district, theatregoers can find an award-winning stage. Amelia Community Theatre (ACT) produces six main stage shows each season and four smaller plays.
Linda McClane, now the Managing Director, was there at the beginning. In 1981 a small group of theatre enthusiasts organized the first community theatre in Amelia Island. Their mission was to “put the community on stage.” Each charter member contributed ten dollars, and McClane recalls that they had only $810 to fund the first production, “Butterflies Are Free.” Those first few years, before there was an actual building, they used the high school auditorium for their performances. They bought a small school office building in 1988 and transformed it into a black box theatre. It seated 88 and soon began selling out every production. Many nights they had to turn people away at the door.
In 2005 they decided to begin a capital campaign for the construction of a new theatre. The 170-seat facility opened in 2010 on an adjacent lot that the group purchased from CSX Railroad. Now they refer to the original theatre as “Studio 209,” and the larger one simply as the main stage theatre. “Edgier and newer works, or those that have a shorter run, usually play in Studio 209,” explains McClane.
In 2012 ACT was awarded the Twink Lynch Award from the American Association of Community Theatre. According to the ACT website, “This award recognized ACT for completing major steps in new directions, expanding services to our community and moving to the next level of organizational development.” In addition, McClane received a Distinguished Merit Award, which recognizes her ability to develop and maintain high standards for the theatre.
All Ages Welcome
The smaller, older theatre has proven to be a great space for the youth programs and kids’ camps. McClane says there is a very active teen troupe (ACTeen). The group holds two or three productions of their own each year, and they facilitate their own fundraiser. They also hold workshops now and then. For younger children, the theatre hosts a summer camp: a musical theatre camp that runs for two weeks and a regular theatre camp for one week.
For adults, there are adult acting classes offered throughout the year. Sometimes they will hold a 5-week series of classes and, other times, they might host a 1-day workshop.
The Peppermint Players are another way that ACT gets community members interested in the art of drama. As a public service, this group of actors and actresses travels to schools and senior centers around town and presents a 30-minute play. Their traveling tour usually lasts for three or four weeks, says McClane. “This year we are going to do a theatre field trip program. Kids will come to us, do a theatre game, see a show and eat bag lunches in our lobby.”
A Space for the Whole Community
McClane is being somewhat modest when she uses the term “lobby.” The front room in their new facility is bright and spacious, a lovely room in its own right. For each show there is a new art exhibit in the lobby with a theme that loosely coincides with the production. Other organizations occasionally rent out the lobby for business gatherings and other functions. The entire building is sometimes available for rent too; both provide a little income for the theatre, which helps pay the mortgage for the new building.
ACT is a volunteer-based organization and McClane says they have been blessed with many helping hands. There are only two compensated positions: Managing Director and a part-time Box Office Manager. The ACT crew builds all of their sets and makes most of their costumes. McClane emphasizes that all volunteers are welcome, and everyone can be trained on the job.
This season’s upcoming shows include “Noises Off,” “Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music,” “The Foreigner” and “Bingo! The Winning Musical.” Upcoming auditions are in April (for “The Foreigner”) and in May (for”Bingo!”). In March, the teen troupe presents “Alice in Wonderland” for young audiences, and in May, for adult audiences, ACT will present “The Good Body.” See dates and details on their website at ameliacommunitytheatre.org.