Background & History
The Naples Players was founded on January 19, 1953, an idea which originated a year earlier during at the home of Henry and Mary Watkins. Its first production, I Remember Mama, was staged in what is now Gulfview Middle School on March 20, 1953. The Miami Herald wrote, “Another cultural step in the progress of this city was taken when the newly organized Naples Players gave their first performance…worthy of accomplished professionals.”
Over the next few years the members concerned themselves with the running of a community theatre. One issue continued to persist – the desire for a venue. In 1956, the organization incorporated and the search for a home venue began.
The Player’s first musical, H.M.S. Pinafore, was staged in 1958. The group performed where it could, from local schools and storefronts to homes. The 1970’s were a busy time with shows, classes, workshops, and seminars. In 1975, TNP established a home base for the next decade when a 40-seat playhouse was opened at 2363 Davis Boulevard. As the years passed, both the membership and audience for the company grew.
A movie house (the Kon-Tiki Theatre) became available for rent at the corner of US 41 and Goodlette-Frank Road, in 1984. The Players leapt at the opportunity and signed a lease. The building was renovated, and TNP opened Guys and Dolls in March 1985.
An unprecedented fundraising effort followed with the first major gift coming from Frances Pew Hayes. Others soon followed by the likes of Peg and Herb Sugden, Lois and Dick Blackburn, and Jay and Patty Baker. Three successive yearly grants from the State of Florida totaled nearly $1.5 million. The final result was the 1998 debt-free opening of Sugden Community Theatre on 5th Avenue South, with the play Me and My Girl.
Today The Naples Players stage more than 220 performances a year. With a subscriber base of more than 3,000, children’s program that reach over 600 children annually, and having been voted Best Live Theatre for thirteen consecutive years in the Naples Daily News Southwest Florida Choice Awards, The Naples Players continues to grow and thrive.
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