It’s been a big year at Theatre Jacksonville. There is electricity in the air that doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it only comes around every 100 years. The iconic cultural institution will mark its centennial anniversary in 2020 and the buzz leading up to this significant milestone is electric.
“We’re very excited to actually get to the year. We’ve been talking about this for two or three years. We’ve put together a really great season and that was our first step. We’re also putting together an event in March to celebrate as well as launching our endowment campaign for the 100-year anniversary,” says Executive Director Sarah Boone. “As we approach our first centennial, the board and I really started thinking about what we could do to ensure that we would be able to do services here going into the next century. The answer was an operating endowment so that we have a dedicated stream of income every year that we knew would be coming in. This only comes around once every 100 years so we thought we would take advantage of it.”
Boone is only the second Executive Director in the organization’s 100-year history. She’s keenly aware of her responsibility to oversee and safeguard the history but also usher the organization into the future. The Operating Endowment will ensure that any future needs are met without interruption of the programming they so judiciously create.
“We were very fortunate to have a Facilities Endowment which pays for costs associated with the maintenance of this building. That was a gift from Harold Smith in 1997. There was a $500,000 endowment gift so that over the years when we’ve had any kind of critical repairs, we’ve had that. But it is very much limited to bricks and mortar so we don’t have the same kind of safeguard for operating funds. This is a very strategic plan for that we have a buffer for those kinds of expenses through the years to ensure our services continue. There’s always a sense of being proactive and looking forward as the years go by. I’ve been here since 200 and we’ve seen key changes economically, weather, all of these things. They’re never easy but we tend to look on the positive side to see how we can move forward through them.”
Theatre Jacksonville is the elder statesman in the Jacksonville theater community and the architectural anchor of the San Marco neighborhood. The art deco-style building with its high ceilings and elegant features has withstood changes in leadership, demographics, and economics through its storied history.
With the economic downturn in 2008, Boone says Theatre Jacksonville was able to meet the challenges without sacrificing its mission and programming. “These are the things we weigh. What is the value of certain programming and how do we keep it going through these kinds of times? I think that is something that can be said for the entire history of this organization; to be nimble and flexible in the face of adversity.”
Theatre Jacksonville was established as an all-volunteer based organization in 1919, later incorporated at “The Little Theatre of Jacksonville” in 1927. The neighborhood of San Marco literally grew up around it. It staged its first production Boy Meets Girl on Jan 4, 1938. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and formally dedicated as the Harold K. Smith Playhouse in October 2000.
Today it maintains a full paid staff including education director Ron Shreve and general manager Michelle Kindy. “The staff has certainly grown in the last 10 years. We’ve been able to have been able to create permanent full-time positions for an education director and create a General Manager position to come in last June to handle the growth and figure out how to sustain all of this as we go into our next century.”
The 2020 season will usher in the centennial milestone with a thoughtful schedule of productions, says Boone. But don’t expect to see a restaging of Boy Meets Girl.
“I don’t think it’s in our future to do that particular play. We made a conscious choice for the 100th year to do all new plays that we haven’t done here. Each one of them is a regional premiere on the local stage. Every play that we’ve chosen hits some center of our community. We really tried to do something that would showcase as many things in our community as we could from just being fun to being issue-oriented. We want to celebrate the past but we’re looking forward.”
One thing that has remained unchanged is the commitment to producing quality theater. For Boone, it’s a personal mission and one she’s honored to carry through into the next century. “Everything that we do goes to support the quality of our service. Whether it’s the main stage season, the education programming, and to attract people that give it that quality from the directors to the creative staff as well as our actors and teachers,” she says. “We try to find the most qualified people to do the job and everybody has that same sense of commitment and doing the best we can artistically.”
She hopes that by supporting the endowment campaign, people will take advantage of the unique opportunity to be part of a great season and a great organization, but part of a piece of Theatre Jacksonville’s history as well.
“The legacy goes beyond the walls of this building. We’re building a foundation for the arts. There’s a network of people here and nationwide that share this history and use the training here as a kick-off point for what they’ve done in their lives,” she says. “We all share a commitment to excellence based on the talent that’s in this city. When you match your effort to bring out the best in people that you can get, that’s when you know you’ve hit the mark.”
For more information about the upcoming season visit their website at https://www.theatrejax.com.