The constant in the ever-changing arts scene in northern York County is the Fort Mill Community Playhouse, celebrating its 34th season this year.
The group has grown from outdoor shows under tents in the early 1980s to a 112-seat playhouse that puts on a handful of shows a year at 615 Bank St.
“We are a local community theater that provides entertainment for the community – youth to adults,” said Terry Shaw, playhouse president who works alongside an active 15-member board of directors. “Local theater in every community is important.”
The theater produces musicals, youth productions, dinner theaters and holiday shows. It holds summer camps for children interested in acting and set design. This year’s shows include “Welcome to Mitford,” adapted from the novels by Jan Karon, which opens March 13; the youth show “Miracle in Mudville” about time-traveling little league players is in July; the musical comedy “Spitfire Grill” opens in September; and the curtain opens on the suspense-drama “Wait Until Dark” in November.
Shaw, owner of Carolina Pilates in Fort Mill, works on props, sound and lighting at the playhouse. She loves the theater and has fun creating sets. She joined the playhouse seven years ago and often hears of the struggle in the early years.
Robert Reid, then-president of Leroy Springs and Co., first suggested the idea of a community theater in 1979. He recruited help from other executives and residents and the first play was held in May 1980, under a large circus tent on the recreation complex grounds.
It’s not as difficult these days to secure sponsors and there is money in the bank, but Shaw and board work hard to promote shows, raise money and sell advertising.
“We’ve been lucky to survive, but I still feel we are off the beaten path,” said Shaw. “I feel like we are out there on our own.”
Some shows sell out; other performances don’t fill seats. Ticket prices have remained at $15 for years, and it’s even less for youth productions. Playhouse members are faithful.
Social media has helped the playhouse raise its profile and Shaw said it’s doubled the “likes” the playhouse received on Facebook during the past year.
“We went from 200 to 400 in a year,” she said. “I was so excited. We’re looking at a whole new generation. We do all we can to get the word out there.”
The playhouse has been a community fixture for decades as Fort Mill’s arts scene has had its share of trials, canceled plans and closures. The growing population of northern York County is expected to boost the arts in Fort Mill and Tega Cay, but there have been several setbacks.
There was a push to renovate a Fort Mill movie theater into a performance center, but the momentum died when the numbers came in on how much it would cost to renovate the old downtown building. It was in the seven-figure range.
BacInTyme Coffee Café in Fort Mill, which sold art from local, regional and national artists, closed its doors three years ago. And the biggest hit was in late 2009, when the Fort Mill Art Guild closed its downtown location. The guild, led by Marcia Kort Buike, could not pay its rent on Main Street. A for-profit art-oriented business called United Artisans moved into the space.
Martha Ferguson, 61, of Fort Mill, began going to the playhouse as a spectator and became a board member a decade ago.
“We are definitely a working board,” said Ferguson, who is chairwoman of the playhouse’s Reading Committee and is in charge of publicity. She believes the playhouse is vital to the local arts.
“I always tell people, ‘Attend one production and I assure you, you will come back,’” she said. “Our productions are very well done and we have talent on the stage.”
For more information, go to fortmillplayhouse.org.