The First 25 Years of Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre: A BOOK OF STAGES

September 2, 2017
2 mins read

When Carson Merry Baillie first approached Atlantic Beach officials in 1993 about staging live theatre in the former City Hall space, it signaled the beginning of a cultural renaissance at the heart of the seaside community.

In 1991, the city administrative offices moved to a new city hall on Seminole Road and the old city hall was converted into a community center and named the Adele Grage Community Center in honor of longtime City Clerk, Adele Grage.

Various community groups and organizations used the building for meetings and social activities. The City Commission granted Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre, aka ABET, use of the former commission chambers and adjoining offices. In 2002 a major renovation was completed to add community rooms, a resource center, gallery and verandas to the building renamed the Adele Grage Cultural Center. The new cultural center fulfilled the cultural and community needs of a growing and culturally enlightened Atlantic Beach.

The blood, sweat and tears that went into transforming a charming little cottage-like space into a working community theatre, from the construction of the stage and risers by teams of dedicated volunteers to the relocation of the tongue-and-groove paneling to create a warm and inviting atmosphere, are documented in a new book compiled by Jay Fogg of The Shepherd Agency.

Jay Fogg presenting a copy of the book to ABET’s founder and original Artistic Director Carson Merry // Photo by Celia Fran

That “labor of love” for ABET resulted in a beautifully bound, 120-page book that details ABET’s 25-year history with photographs, lists of every cast, directors, playwrights and volunteers that have donated time, energy and heart to keep ABET alive. Chief among them, Merry Baillie, Director Emeritus, with three graduates of her drama workshop, who founded ABET to bring more original scripts, challenging plays and musicals to Northeast Florida. As she guided the theatre’s growth during the first 13 years, ABET gained a reputation for producing new plays, some by local playwrights, local premieres of Broadway productions, revivals and classics including the complete works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Barbara Evans stepped in as Managing Artistic Director for the next two years. Celia Frank has served as Managing Artistic Director since 2007, continuing to fulfill the mission to bring bold, daring works to the stage and establishing the ABET Guild to help grow volunteer support.

When the idea was brought up at a Shepherd brainstorming meeting of doing a history of ABET’s first 25 years, Fogg didn’t realize what a laborious task it would be to pour through dozens of dusty boxes and files in Florida heat followed by months of sorting and organizing 25 years’ worth of programs, reviews and photographs to somehow edit into a book. Fogg recently presented ABET’s founder, Merry Baillie with the finished product: ABET – The First 25 Years.

A copy of the book will be auctioned off as a fundraiser during ABET’s 26th season opener Floyd Collins running Sept. 8 through 24. The critically acclaimed musical is the transcendent tale of an American dreamer based on the 1925 story of Kentucky caver Floyd Collins, who, in his search for the ultimate tourist attraction, is trapped in a cave and triggers the first modern media frenzy. Bidders for ABET – The First 25 Years can fill out a form during the run of the production or email a bid to Celia Frank at  The winner of the auction will be announced once the show closes.


Current Issue


Submit Events




Current Month

Follow FOLIO!

Previous Story

A Dining Delight: THE TRIP TO SPAIN Opens At Sun Ray Cinema

Next Story

Movie Review: Get Scared “IT”-less

Latest from Atlantic Beach

Rally 904: How Dean Grant Serves up Community in Atlantic Beach

Words and photos by Travis Zittrauer While the last few months have brought families together around the dinner table, Dean Grant has been working hard to bring the Jacksonville community around a different kind of table: a table that is 9 feet long and 5 feet wide. Rally 904, which
A1A Ocean Islands Trail, Florida Scenic Highway, Amelia Island Plantation, Photo courtesy of Amelia Island Conventions and Visitors Bureau

Jax Beach to Fernandina: The A1A Ocean Islands Trail

Along the A1A Ocean Islands Trail Jacksonville’s Beaches | Mayport | Broward House | Kingsley Plantation | Big Talbot | Downtown Fernandina Marlin & Barrel Distillery in Fernandina | The Pétanque Courts of Fernandina | American Beach: Under the Blue Bottle Tree with Marsha Dean Phelts | Amelia Island Culinary Academy | Amelia Island Downtown Tasting Tour | The First
Fishing the First Coast: Jacksonville and Northeast Florida are a Fisherman’s Paradise, Photos by James Brown

Fishing in Northeast Florida: Jacksonville is a Fisherman’s Paradise

Numerous fish species, unbeatable weather, and a healthy fishing infrastructure make the First Coast a fisherman’s paradise. Our state offers 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, 10,550 miles of rivers, 7,700 lakes, and countless ponds. The First Coast offers a multitude of options. From offshore saltwater fishing, surf fishing, bridge fishing,
Ida Claire open at the St. Johns Town Center in Jacksonville, Florida, Blueberry Waffle, #EATUPJAX: November Restaurant Openings, Closings, and New Locations in the Local Jacksonville Food Scene

#EATUPJAX: November Restaurant Openings, Closings, and New Locations

#EATUPJAX is a monthly column featuring restaurant openings, closings, new locations and other food news in the local Jacksonville food scene brought to you by   on the is now closed. If you still have gift cards or turkey orders, they will be honored at ’s restaurant, Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen.  Craving

Don't Miss

Rally 904: How Dean Grant Serves up Community in Atlantic Beach

Words and photos by Travis Zittrauer While the last few
Jacksonville, Florida is the Hidden Gem of Florida

Jacksonville, Florida is a Hidden Gem to Live and Play

Jacksonville, Florida, is emerging as a rising travel destination. But