The Tidewater Players, the premier community theater program in Havre de Grace since 1979, returned to its home two weeks ago during the grand opening of the city's refurbished Opera House.
The Best of Tidewater Players - A Musical Review, which was the inaugural production when opening week started Sunday, was sold out several weeks before the grand opening.
"With the mayor's and city council's blessings and continued support, we hope to continue to ... keep doing our job, which is to bring the arts here to Havre de Grace and to continue to be the major attraction of the Opera House," Laurie Starkey, president of the board of directors, said during a recent City Council meeting.
Starkey, who has been involved with the nonprofit Tidewater Players since 1980, gave city leaders an update during their July 17 meeting. Workers were putting the finishing touches on a nearly $4 million refurbishment of the historic Opera House.
The largest contribution of funds for the refurbishment was a $2.1 million city bond measure approved by the voters during the 2016 mayoral and city council elections.
The city-owned facility has been a fixture on Union Avenue in downtown Havre de Grace since it was built in 1870. It has hosted community productions over the years, plus it has been used as a school, the seat of city government and for youth recreation.
"I can remember a dance-a-thon," Starkey said, as she recalled when the building was used as a teen center for the city's auxiliary police. "To this day, it still sticks in my mind."
The Tidewater Players, founded by Harry Malin and a committee of community supporters in 1979, spent its first decade putting on productions in the Havre de Grace High School auditorium — Starkey said the first productions were held in the school's "old" auditorium before a renovation to the school sent the productions across Congress Avenue from the main school to the auditorium.
The Tidewater Players had made the Opera House their home since 1990. Malin negotiated with the city to make a series of improvements to the main theater on the second floor, such as repainting the trim, repairing the historic tin ceiling, adding theater seats, installing professional theatrical lighting, expanding the stage for larger productions and installing a donated HVAC unit, Starkey said.
"We made it a performing arts venue, and at that time a state-of-the-art performing arts venue," she said.
The Tidewater Players have been "the little theater [company] that could," as they have hosted major Broadway productions such as Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," "Rent" and "Les Miserables," according to Starkey.
"Thousands of people from the tri-state area have come to see our productions," she said.
Adults and youths from the Havre de Grace community have taken part in "high-quality theater" by singing, dancing, acting, working on the productions staff, even running spotlights, she said.
Starkey said officials "couldn't begin to measure" the impact on the community and the local economy.
"We've had thousands of people come through and be exposed to the community because they came to see a show and then came back to experience our community," she said.
The company also offers summer programs for youths, including Tidewater Teens, the Tidewater Juniors for 9- to 12-year-olds and Tidewater Kids for 5- to 8-year-olds.
Starkey said company officials have kept the costs of the youth programs very low "so there was no child every turned away because they couldn't afford to be in a camp program."
The Tidewater Players have had to put on performances in other locations during the two-year renovation period, such as The John Carroll School in Bel Air and the Steppingstone Farm Museum outside Havre de Grace, according to Starkey.
The company's 2017-18 season will be in the Opera House, starting with the "The Marvelous Wonderettes" Sept. 15-24, Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" Nov. 17 to Dec. 3 and "Clue," based on the board game of the same name, from Feb. 23 to March 4, 2018, according to the company website, http://www.tidewaterplayers.com.
"We're looking forward to working with you all closely and hopefully we'll see you in the seats, seeing our performances," Starkey told city leaders.