The Little Theatre That Could
The mission of the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre is simple: to bring the excitement of live theatre to diverse audiences. During its long tenure as a staple of local drama, ABET has concentrated on introducing new and original plays, rediscovering neglected classics and developing new talent within the community through workshops and summer camps. Productions are held in the Adele Grage Community Center, which is located at 716 Ocean Blvd in Atlantic Beach. The intimate nature of the space places just a few rows between actors and audiences, creating an experience for both that is unparalleled at similar stage venues.
Director Emeritus Carson Merry Baillie founded ABET with three of her drama workshop graduates as a way to to bring more original scripts and challenging plays to the Jacksonville area. Baillie championed the theatre’s growth during its first 13 years, as ABET quickly gained a reputation for high-quality productions, including many new plays, some by local playwrights, Broadway productions in their local premieres, revivals and classics. Baillie often chose plays that had never been staged in Jacksonville before, lending to the “experimental” in the company’s name.
After Carson Merry Baillie, Barbara Evans served as Managing Artistic Director for the next two years, prior to Celia Frank taking over in 2007. Frank continues to bring exciting, highly acclaimed performances to the Jacksonville area and has also expanded the volunteer support base by forming the ABET Guild, which is free to join and open to all.
Members of the ABET Guild are involved in various areas throughout the season, including the box office, opening night receptions, the website, and with special projects, such as ABET’s annual Extravaganza and New Chair Drive. Many jobs require only the willingness to help. Opportunities include lighting, sound (from running the soundboard to gathering sound effects), helping with set construction, decorating, and painting, locating props and costumes and assisting the director during rehearsals and calling cues during performances.
Diversity is a key element in all aspects of the local theatre. Many roles are race and gender neutral, and everyone is encouraged to get involved whether on stage or behind the curtain. Volunteer, join the ABET Guild, buy a subscription, make a donation, audition for a play or take a drama workshop for adults or children.
A a not-for-profit theatre, ABET receives critical support from private donors, the City of Atlantic Beach and generous grants and support from the City of Jacksonville, Community Foundation in Jacksonville, Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, Tom and Jean Nehl Fund of The Community Foundation in Jacksonville, The Robin Shepherd Group and many other donors and subscribers.
ABET maintains a vibrant and active role in Atlantic Beach and the artistic community of Jacksonville. Check out their website at www.abettheatre.com or give them a call at 249-7177.