Theatre Jacksonville, a volunteer-based community theatre in San Marco, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1919 as The Little Theatre of Jacksonville, the original troupe was a product of the Little Theatre Movement of the early 1900s. The movement was a reaction to the increasingly mainstream and commercial nature of Broadway, as well as the rise of cinema. Performances were intended to be more intimate and genuine, connecting with audiences in ways that films or high-budget shows couldn’t match.
The Little Theatre group performed for seven years before securing funding and a location for a permanent theatre. Carl S. Swisher, a local philanthropist and president of the cigar manufacturing company now known as Swisher Sweets, donated the money and land needed to build such a theatre.
The group broke ground on a new theatre building in 1927 in the newly-developed San Marco Square, but its completion was delayed by over a decade.
The Little Theatre debuted its new location in January 1938 with a performance of Boy Meets Girl. The Art Deco-style structure was designed by Ivan H. Smith, who would later become a co-founder of the architecture and engineering firm Reynolds, Smith & Hills. The Little Theatre group, which renamed itself Theatre Jacksonville in 1969, has performed within the San Marco venue ever since opening its doors.
Over the years, the theatre has been formally recognized several times by city council resolutions and was proclaimed as Jacksonville’s “official theatre” by multiple mayors’ offices.
The theatre building was rededicated as the Harold K. Smith Playhouse following renovations in 2000.
Today, Theatre Jacksonville remains as one of the country’s oldest continually-operating community theatres after 100 years of artistic service to the community.
For more info on Theatre Jacksonville and their shows, check out https://theatrejax.com.