The Story Of Community Theatre, Inc.
On May 21, 1948 a newly formed group of thespians put on a production of "Kind Lady" at Kilby School Auditorium in Florence, AL under the name of Tri-Cities Community Theatre. This move was the beginnings of what would become the Shoals Community Theatre.
Between 1948 and 1961 the Tri-Cities Community Theatre staged 25 productions at UNA's Kilby Auditorium, Sheffield HS, and the Tuscumbian movie theatre. Among its amateur players were future television star, George "Goober" Lindsey and future Alabama Senator Howell Heflin. When the organization became dormant in the 60s, it left a small amount of money in a checking account - $237.82. In 1971 those leftover funds provided seed money for the organization of the Zodiac Players, which, along with a grant from the Alabama State Council for the Arts and Humanities, allowed a more permanent facility in Florence, the old Firestone garage on Hermitage Drive, to be a home base for an intimate playhouse.
The first production of the Zodiac Players was William Inge's award-winning Broadway drama, "Bus Stop" on March 2, 1972. By the time of the 2007-2008 season, Zodiac has presented 183 productions involving hundreds of aspiring performers and backstage workers with over 123,000 audience supporters. The children's theatre wing, the Gingerbread Players, was independently formed about 1976 by a group of parents who were interested in promoting the growth of children's theatre in the Shoals. The first production of the Gingerbread Players, "Hansel and Gretel" was presented in October 1976. As of the current year, 156 productions will have been presented by the Gingerbread Players. Among its presentations, classic and well-known titles of both dramas and musicals include: Cinderella, Peter Pan, Snow White, Heidi, The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Tom Sawyer, Sleeping Beauty, Treasure Island, The Hobbit, The Velveteen Rabbit, Anne of Green Gables, Sound of Music, Oliver, The King and I, James and the Giant Peach, Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, Big River, Shrek The Musical, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The enthusiasm that these plays have generated in the minds and actions of the children in attendance continue to show as the young former audiences have become stage participants in our current productions - the enriching cycle continues uninterrupted.
In 1993 the Gingerbread Players joined with the Zodiac Players under the umbrella organization, The Shoals Community Theatre, in order to further enhance the efforts and resources of the individual organizations. In 2007, the Shoals Community Theatre Board made the unanimous decision to purchase The Shoals Community Theatre. This allowed us to expand to producing high quality concerts and events as well as our main focus of theatrical productions. We opened our 2008-2009 season in our newly renovated home, The Shoals Theatre! While we were in the new building, we still had the ocassional performance in the Zodiac building, and even hosted the annual W.C. Handy "Listening Room" events there. However, in 2017 the Shoals Community Theatre executive board made the decision to move all productions to the Shoals Theatre to be better stewards of our finances.
The History Of The Shoals Theatre Building
Designed and built by Louis Rosenbaum at a cost of $400,000, The Shoals Theater opened its doors as a movie theatre at 123 N. Seminary Street on October 21st, 1948. Opening night featured a screening of “That Lady in Ermine.” On opening day, the Shoals was the fourth largest theatre in the state of Alabama, and the largest in any town of less than 100,000, featuring 1,344 Ideal Slide Back Chairs which could be retracted 6 inches at the shove of the body, making it easier to get in and out of the rows. *The Shoals had the honor of being the first theatre in the South to feature the Slide Back Chairs, with only three other theatres in the world in possession of these seats. The theatre also featured “Voice of the Theatre” equipment including a complete duplicating set that could be activated by the flip of a switch in case of failure therefore maintaining seamless screening. * The theatre complex was designed by Nashville architectural firm Marr & Holman (Thomas Marr and Joseph W. Holman) under the direction of Frank Rosenbaum and also featured business such as Brother and Sister Shop, Garvin Witt Jeweler, Crump Camera Shop, and Stamps Florist. Rosenbaum also included an elevator in his design which is still in place but currently not operational. The theatre featured such movies as Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, Taxi starring Dan Dailey, Meatballs Starring Bill Murray, and in the late 60’s had progressed to changing the movies twice a week with an admission price of $1 for college students.
As time progressed, so did the outside of the building. At some point, the historic Shoals sign was changed to generic lettering and the marquee was updated to handle slip in letters. Movies proceeded until March 13th, 1980, when the theatre shut its doors. The building sat vacant, yet untouched, until 1997 when the Shoals Association of Ministers & Musicians (SAMM) purchased the building. SAMM started making renovations with the intention of the Theatre to serve as a performing art, family entertainment, and Christian education center. SAMM sponsored events, rented out the space, and maintained the building until 2007 when the Shoals Community Theatre (Formally the Tri-Cities Community Theatre then Zodiac Players & Gingerbread Players) purchased the building and began major renovations, starting with installing a duplicate of the original lighted Shoals sign and expanding the stage. The original sign was believed to be in storage, however, the members of the theatre were unable to locate it. As luck would have it, while trying to find the original sign, sketches and plans for the sign from original designer Bobby Stewart (An electrician and engineer who helped manage the theatre.) were located calling for Cherokee Red paint and lights surrounding a 22-foot-tall structure designed to represent water flowing over the spillways of Wilson Dam. Trent Butler of General Sign Company quoted the duplicate build at $20,000. The theatre didn’t have that much at the time after just purchasing the building. As luck would have it, an anonymous person donated the money in full to see the lights back to the way they remembered, but on one condition, their name was never to be released.
In 2008, The Shoals Community Theater officially reopened with a full schedule of productions. In 2011, the theatre started screening films, with temporary projectors, for the George Lindsey Film Festival. By 2012 the theatre had expanded to hosting live musical performances and has since hosted artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Dawes, The Alabama Shakes, Phil Vassar, Ronnie Millsap, Mac McAnally, Sturgill Simpson, The Secret Sisters, Preservation Jazz Hall, The Civil Wars, Billy Bob Thornton, John Paul White, Clarence Carter, Ronnie McDowell, and more!
Tragedy almost struck in May of 2016 when a fire broke out in the basement. The cause of the fire is not 100% determined but it is believed to have been started by a cigarette butt that was dropped down a grate in front of the Theatre. Somehow, something ended up in an old coal shoot that led to the basement where plastic had been wrapped to prevent air and water from getting in. The plastic placed to keep things out wound up igniting and falling onto a couch sparking a fire. By the time firefighters extinguished the blaze, there was 3 inches of water in the basement of the Theatre with smoke damage throughout. The blaze actually climbed through the grate and ignited a bench in front of one of the storefronts, causing a blaze hot enough to shatter the stores large glass window. Cleanup and repair began immediately and by the fall of 2016, the Theatre was reopened in time for the Billy Reid Shindig.
Move forward to 2017 and the Shoals Community Theatre has implemented the Stanley Awards (Named after Louis Rosenbaum’s son Stanley Rosenbaum who was general manager of the theatre.) for those who perform in productions put on by the Zodiac and Gingerbread players subgroups of the Theatre as well as those involved in the upkeep and behind the scenes work at the Theatre. These awards are a way to not only honor those who work hard to put on productions/events, but also to promote the theatre arts.
2018 Marked 70 Years of the Shoals Theatre. Plans are in place to install a permanent theatrical projection system as well as professional grade lighting for the Fall of 2022.
As always, the Theatre is a 501c3 and accepts donations. If you would like to donate, give the Theatre a call during regular business hours, or mail a check/money order to 123 N. Seminary Street Florence AL, 35630.
*Featured in April 10, 1948 and January 8, 1949 editions of Box-office Magazine.
Meet Our Theatre Groups
Learn More About The Individual Groups Behind The Shoals Community Theatre
The Zodiac Players
Our Adult Theatrical Group
Comprised of adults 18 and over, the Zodiac Players hold open public auditions and always welcome new faces! The Zodiac Players have put on productions of plays such as "Driving Miss Daisy," "Sweeney Todd," "Steel Magnolias," Of Mice and Men," "Hairspray," "Jekyll and Hyde The Musical," "RENT," and More!
Our Children's Theatrical Group
Are you or your child aged 6-18? Then our Gingerbread Theatrical group is perfect for you! The Gingerbread Players host open public auditions for all of their plays! Past productions include Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," Disney's "Camp Rock: The Musical," "Shrek The Musical," Disney's "The Little Mermaid," "A Little Princess," "Snow White," "Annie," and More! While the Gingerbread Players are focused on the 6-18 year old age range, they also have adult roles as well! Be sure to watch for audition notices for more information!
Shakespeare At The Shoals
Our Theatrical Outreach
Do you enjoy classic Shakespearean theatre? Like to talk about acting, theatre production, or the how theatre has impacted your life? Then Shakespeare at the Shoals (SATS) was made for you! The mission of SATS is to present one Shakespeare play a year to entertain and educate. SATS reaches out to local schools to provide classroom talks about Shakespeare and the current play in production, in addition to presenting school performances.