The year was 1947. World War II was over and the Marshall Plan was going to help rebuild Europe. Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the American League and led the Brooklyn Dodgers to a win the World Series. Anne Frank's Diary was published and, on television, it was Howdy Doody time. On the big screen, Clark Gable, Betty Grable and Humphy Bogart were stars and Gentlemen's Agreement won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Elia Kazan).
It was a good year for theatre. On Broadway, where ticket prices were as low as $1.20, audiences were seeing the premiers of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Heiress, An Inspector Calls, Brigadoon and Finian's Rainbow. It would also be the first year for the Tony Awards.
Birth of a Theater
Meanwhile, in Rockville Maryland, six friends got together and decided to form their own theater. Rev. Black, Madeliene Davis, Margaret Eddy, Pamela Bairsto, Murray Hamilton and Betty Sherman took their mutual love of theatre and joined to form Rockville Little Theatre (RLT). In 1948, the group had its first production, Noel Coward's Hay Fever, which was presented in the Christ Episcopal Parish Hall.
After that first show, RLT membership grew to 26, a constitution was drawn up, officers were elected and the organization committed itself to welcoming anyone in the community interested in dramatics.
RLT continued to hold performances at the church until 1958, when they then moved to Broome Junior High School. Conditions at Broome were not ideal for a theatre group. An article by George Waleski of The Sentinel, described the experience this way:
High school architects must loathe actors. Certainly the man who designed the stage at Broome Jr. High had no other need in mind than to elevate and extend the basketball floor four feet up and thirty feet back and to light it with the most bizarre set of border lights that it has been the misfortune of any drama group to work with. There are no footlights at Broome, no rheostats, no place to nail to in raising and bracing a set.
Fortunately, in September of 1960, the new Rockville Civic Center Auditorium (now the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater) became RLT's home, and performances have been held there ever since. RLT members were active in the design and technical discussions for the space.
Oh, How We've Grown
Over the years, RLT has been an ever-changing and growing group. That first membership roster of 6 now stands near 60. No records exist to show how many people saw that first show in 1948, but in 1962, 400 season tickets were sold. In 1996, we celebrated our 50th year by selling over 1700 season tickets.
Many traditions have come into being over the years. In 1961, director Frank Barnhart created the Gold Hat to recognize the biggest goof in a production. Originally, the award was an actual hat, painted gold, which was passed on to each successive winner. Unfortunately, the hat was absconded with at one point and hasn't been seen since. But the tradition lives on and the award has become the highlight of many cast and crew parties.
In 1972, RLT's Quarters on the grounds behind the Civic Center Mansion were completed. For the first time, flats, equipment, costumes, props and supplies could all be stored in one central location. Many a Saturday has been spent down at Quarters painting and sawing to create the wonderful sets for our productions. Just being at Quarters is a wonderful opportunity to see the history of RLT. Looking at the layers upon layers of paint on the flats is like an archeological dig into the past shows from RLT. In 2000, we moved into larger Quarters in the same area.
In 1986, RLT joined with Rockville Musical Theatre (RMT) to form a consortium to sell season tickets. Now, subscribers can enjoy five different shows for not much more than the prce of movie tickets. With our production of Murder by the Book in 1993, we took a great step forward by adding a matinee performance to our schedule. Although only about 70 people showed up on that first Sunday, the matinee has now become one of our most popular performances each show. Many of our audience members expressed their appreciation for being able to attend our shows during daylight hours.
In the 90s we entered the Information Age and purchased our first computer. This enabled us to keep more permanent records and to give our programs and other documents a more professional look. In 1997, we upgraded our computer system and established our own website.
In 2007, RLT celebrated its 60th anniversary with a reprise of its original production, Hay Fever. Cal Miller, who had appeared in the original production, also had a role in the reprise. The Gazette Newspapers ran a delightful article (external link) featuring this anniversary.
Now, we continue to present a mix of old and new plays - drama, comedy, mystery - that we hope our audience will find exciting and entertaining.
WATCH, Maryland Community Theatre Festival Association, Rockville Chamber of Commerce, Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, NVTA, American Association of Community Theatres, Eastern States Theatre Association