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Backstage tour of the Ocala Civic Theater

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Recently Beverly Wiggins, Buckhead neighborhood resident, organized a backstage tour of the Ocala Civic Theater. Only 11 residents took advantage of this most informative tour of the theater.

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The Buckhead residents were met by Mary Britt. Her smile and passion of what goes on at the theater kept all of us in rapture for two hours as she gave us a history of the theater. The first organizational meeting of the Marion Players was held in 1950 and it is still going strong. Mary said that the first years of the theater’s existence was a ‘nomadic’ existence. Board and committee meetings were held in the coffee shop at Hotel Ocala. The Osceola Middle School which was the Ocala High School allowed the theater to perform on its stage. Sunday matinees which are so popular today were unheard of in the 1950s. In 1954, the group moved to the Osborne Theater on Silver Springs Boulevard and for the first time, all operations were under one roof. That building was their home for 34 years. In 1970, the name was changed to the Ocala Civic Theater. In the early 1980s, they had outgrown the theater and were looking for a new space. The Appleton Museum had opened and Mr. Appleton wanted the theater to be part of the cultural complex. So a new home was built for the theater. It presently seats 405 patron but later this year, all the seats will be removed and new larger seats will be installed. The capacity will be slightly decreased for the larger seats. The Ocala Civic Theater is a recognized leader and ranked among the top 30 community theaters in the country. They are proud to boast that they have presented over 400 productions.

The group, Kay and Jim Scott, Patricia Gizzi, Eva Fremaint, JoAnne and Bud Horrell, Greg and Joyce Boynak, Julie and George Kinney and Bev Wiggins of Buckhead got to see the building of the stage for Mama Mia. Many of the volunteers have been volunteers for many years. They are always looking for volunteers and Mary told us that all wood is recycled to use for another performance. There are so many volunteers and we saw some of the props. Unfortunately, we did not see the costumes for Mama Mia because they were in the sewing stage. Mary told us that it has taken the theater close to 15 years to purchase the rights for this play. The cost for Mama Mia is over $40,000 for just the music and script. Mary explained to us that the theater allows children, free of charge, to view rehearsals. They are hoping that these children will love the theater and become future patrons. Despite that these performances are free, the theater must pay for them as they are considered performances. It was just so amazing that there are so many facets to putting on a play.

Kay Scott said of the tour, “My husband and I have been season ticket holders to OCT since we moved to Ocala seven years ago and have always been impressed with the quality of their productions especially their sets. I love live theater and when we had this opportunity for a backstage tour, we were thrilled.”  Her husband, Jim, had the following to add, “Far exceeded my expectations because it was more than just a backstage tour especially with Mary’s anecdotes. I particularly enjoyed learning about the history of the theater and how they select their plays and their talent.” Eva Fremaint had never been to a performance despite living in the area for over 10 years. She was so impressed that she purchased tickets for Mamma Mia after the tour. I believe Mary made Eva a new patron of the Ocala Civic Theater.

Thanks to the many, many volunteers and actors who also volunteer to give us outstanding plays and great sets. Thanks to Beverly Wiggins for organizing the tour and to the Buckhead Social Committee for all they do for the Buckhead residents.

A special thank you to Mary Britt for your time and passion. You made the two hours fly by and for answering our many questions.