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Community theater in Cape Coral turns 50

By Staff | Apr 26, 2013

From Broadway productions, to works from new writers, the Cultural Park Theatre has been entertaining the Cape Coral community for 50 years.

“It’s hard to believe,” Michael Moran, the executive director, said.

With only a handful of members, the Cape Players was formed first. Their opening production on Nov. 22, 1963, was to be “Visit to a Small Planet,” by Gore Vidal. The show was postponed with the shooting of John F. Kennedy.

“They did get to open it a week or so later,” he said.

The group performed in the local fire house and schools, mostly at Cape Elementary, among other locations, like a storefront at the Coralwood Mall.

“They started performing in Four Freedoms Park, originally doing variety shows,” Moran said. “They would perform any place, in any time.”

Four years after their inception, the Cape Players incorporated as the Cape Community Theater. They retained that name for the following 33 years.

The group floated bonds to raise money for their own theater and its construction began in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The general contractor, however, deserted the theater group and absconded with the monies.

“It left the building partially built in the form of a shell,” he said.

After a couple of years, the city voiced its intention to tear the building down as it had become an eyesore, covered in graffiti. The group petitioned the city council not to, arguing that the community needed the theater.

“The city obtained a grant and managed to finish the completion of the building,” Moran said.

In 1991, they moved into the building on Cultural Park Boulevard.

Today, the theater has about 400 actors, directors, choreographers, technical and stage crew, costumers, set designers and builders, including nearly 300 active members. There are three full-time staff on board.

Last year, almost 12,000 patrons visited the 185-seat auditorium – a record. This year, the theater was on path to surpass that number.

Moran began serving as executive director eight years ago.

“Our growth in the time that I’ve been here has been phenomenal,” he said.

When Moran started, they were doing about six shows per year, with approximately 80 patrons at each performance. Today, Cultural Park is putting on 22 shows a year, with the performances close to sold out.

The theater has had its share of setbacks and obstacles.

“Cultural Park survived that over the years,” he said. “A big part of the success of Cultural Park is we don’t rely solely on entertainment shows.”

The facility has a volunteer program, which allows citizens with a wider variety of skill sets to become involved onstage and backstage. It offers classes for adults and children, along with summer camps for children.

“They have also increased our popularity,” Moran said.

The directors board is also always looking at new ways to expand through sponsor development, creating new programs and taking part in community outreach efforts, like aiding underfunded drama departments at schools.

“We are in a constant state of growth,” he said.

For the first time ever, the Cultural Park Theater will host the Marquee Awards to honor those involved in the community theater scene. The event will be held May 4 with a dinner at 6 p.m., followed by the show at 8 p.m.

“We’ve never done this before,” Moran said of the gala. “It was developed under the influence of our fund-raising chairman, Tyler Young.”

Taking about a year to put together, the event is styled after the award presentations in New York, such as the Broadway Tony Awards. Trophies will be handed out to the top actor and actress, along with supporting roles.

“They’re also going to honor volunteers who have worked at the theater,” he said, adding that backstage personnel and sponsors will be recognized.

Approximately 30 awards will be given out.

“It will entertain because we’re going to have a lot of music built into the show,” Moran said.

The audience will enjoy performances from past seasons. The productions over the years have included well-know favorites and first-time shows.

“We’re able to present new works by new writers that have never had their works performed before,” he said.

“Chicago” was one of the theater’s recent hits.

“We could have kept ‘Chicago’ open and extended that show for eight more weeks. It had massive reviews here at the theater,” Moran said.

“Man of La Mancha,” “Annie the Musical” and “Jeckel and Hyde” were others.

“People do love the musicals,” he said. “They’re just drawn to them.”

Tickets to the Marquee Awards are $25 per person, including the dinner, or $18 per person for just the show. The deadline is May 1 to purchase tickets for those who want dinner included. Show only tickets will sell until sold out.

There were approximately 65 remaining seats as of Thursday.

“I think the theater has talked about doing it in the past, but it is a big undertaking,” Moran said of the event.

Full of energy, Young volunteered to tackle to project.

“This is his first year as chairman of that committee,” he said.

Organizers are hoping to make the gala an annual event.

Cultural Park Theatre’s Broadway season runs from September to May, as does concert season. Concerts are typically one-day events on the weekend. The theater’s summer season kicks off in May, running through September.

Tickets cost $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $12 for students.

“We’re a very affordable venue,” Moran said.

Season packages are available for bigger savings. The Broadway package is 10 shows for $130, and there is a snowbird package of eight shows for $104 – first and last shows excluded. The summer package is six shows for $78.

A discounted concert package is also available.

“A great deal of the theater’s gratitude for their growth goes to the residents of Cape Coral and Lee County for their overwhelming support and attendance,” Moran said. “Without our patrons, we would not be here.”

The Cultural Park Theatre is at 528 Cultural Park Blvd.

For details, call (239) 772-5862 or visit: www.culturalparktheater.com.