Parke Players History 1971- 2014
Since 1957, Parke County Indiana has invited guests from all over the world to come and celebrate the thirty two covered bridges that remained of the original fifty two that had spanned the creeks and streams of this rural Indiana county. The first Covered Bridge Festival was held on October 18 through the 20th of 1957 and offered a simple square dance at the 4-H fairgrounds for the Saturday night entertainment. In 1958 the festival was expanded to the current two weekend format. That year, a turn of the century fashion show "The Belles Of The Bridges" was presented on both Saturday nights on a simple stage under the east end of the 20 x 80 foot tent. As the festival grew at an astonishing rate, the need for more sophisticated entertainment became apparent. One of the bridge festival's founders began writing and directing the Saturday evening events that included all manner of pageantry, marching bands, theatrical skits and even torch light parades. All presented at the Rockville Elementary School gymnasium on the only functioning indoor stage in town. The principal problem with these presentations was that each one had to outdo the last and, alas, the torch light parade to "Elect Wm. Henry Harrison!" pretty much pushed all of the limits not to mention attracting the attention of the local fire marshal. The shows were also taxing for the writer- director since she was also spearheading the legion of volunteers that made the thriving Covered Bridge Festival possible.
In 1969, the local cinema came up for sale. The theater was built in 1912 as The New Rockville Opera House and was being offered for sale by its third owners, the Carey Alexander Company. Carey Alexander was a small chain of cinemas located in the Midwest. In the early thirties, the company changed the name to the Ritz Theater, a fashionable name for cinemas during that era. You can read much more about the history of the Ritz Theater on this website by pushing the Ritz Theater button on the home page. Small town theaters were closing at an alarming rate in the late sixties and the Ritz was just one of several in the Carey - Alexander chain to close that year. Executive members of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce had discussed the feasibility of restoring the stage at the Ritz should a deal for its purchase be struck. The cinema chain had built a permanent 30 x 20 screen just behind the proscenium arch and it turned out that this was pretty much the extent of the obstacles that stood in the way of restoring the classic stage that had seen so much activity during the first twenty eight years of the theater's life. Chamber of Commerce executives had approached the producers of the Covered Bridge Festival entertainment about moving their productions to the theater should the purchase become a reality. There was a general agreement that everyone would benefit if the Chamber would purchase the Ritz and continue to operate the cinema throughout the year and that the entertainment for the festivals be produced there as well.
The Chamber of Commerce was successful in purchasing the half century old landmark in 1969 and that year's Covered Bridge Festival Saturday night entertainment, A Bandwagon Tour Of Parke County was presented to an appreciative crowd of almost five hundred on each of the Saturday nights. Standing Room Only. The 1970 Covered Bridge Festival entertainment was a sequel to the 1969 show and was also titled A Bandwagon Tour Of Parke County. In April of 1971, the final of several public meetings to discuss the formation of a civic theater company in Parke County that could entertain the visitors for the festivals took place. The meeting was concluded with a unanimous vote to proceed. A contest was promptly sponsored by the local press to come up with a name for the new organization and the rest is Parke Players history. The first Parke Players production was "Ten Nights In A Barroom", an authentic 1890's temperance play presented during the 1971 Covered Bridge Festival. It had been decided that all Covered Bridge Festival productions would be a Victorian melodrama to keep in step with the Covered Bridge Festival's turn of the century theme. As the public tastes changed over the years, other period productions with western themes have been added and become popular with melodrama fans as well.
In 1963, a second festival celebrating Parke County's bountiful maple syrup production had been established. The annual Parke County Maple Fair is held annually over the last weekend in February and the first weekend in March. While remaining a significantly smaller event, by 1971 the Maple Fair was growing in popularity. The overnight visitors to the Maple Fair had little (almost no) choice for evening entertainment. There were small presentations of local music acts on a stage located at the center of the building where the Maple Fair was held but only during the 8AM to 6PM hours that the fair was open. There was nothing for the guests to do during the evening hours. It was decided that there should be an annual Parke Players Maple Fair production. Also to be produced at the Ritz Theater. After some research, it was determined that these productions should be more in the popular contemporary theatrical genre with the focus being on light comedies. The first Maple Fair production was Woody Allen's smash hit "Don't Drink The Water" presented in February of 1972.
In 1973, Parke Players was invited to produce authentic "Tent Shows" at Billie Creek Village during Steam Harvest Days, an annual two day celebration of steam powered agricultural equipment. Billie Creek Village is a turn of the century living museum located one mile east of Rockville. The Village was created and operated by the same body that oversaw the Covered Bridge Festival so when the need for additional entertainment to spice up the summer celebration came up, Parke Players was asked to fill the bill. We performed two or three one act Victorian melodramas in sequence throughout the day under a 15 x 30 tent with a small stage and scenery such as that used by the original turn of the century traveling shows. A ticket would cost you fifty cents and the public was enthusiastic in their attendance. We learned a great deal about the lives of the original troupers we sought to emulate.
It was often beastly hot under the tent. The actors were at the mercy of any noise emanating from whatever was outside. They quickly learned that things could be less than pleasant when it rained. The least of the rainy day drawbacks were the open air dressing areas and the worst was that the audience was likely to grow in order to get in out of the rain and no one could hear anything with the rain beating on the canvas tent. The actors were lucky to hear one another during even a modest rain. All but two of the titles presented during the seven tent show seasons were written and directed by Juliet O. Snowden, The author that had written and directed the early Saturday evening shows for the Covered Bridge Festival prior to the formation of Parke Players.
In 1998, Parke Players purchased the Ritz Theater and a gift from the estate of Rockville native Paul Mull in 2000 made possible the renovation of much of our Theater. Mr. Mull's generosity made possible a renovation campaign that has restored the fine old theater. That restoration is thoroughly documented within this website. Totally new restrooms, concession area and stage production facility have made the Ritz a much improved venue for all types of entertainment. In 2004, Parke Players took over the operation of the cinema and have made a decent go of it exhibiting first run motion pictures. In recent years we have premiered major releases that include international blockbusters. When in Parke County, don't miss the opportunity to see a film at our vintage theater over any of the forty eight weekends a year that we are showing motion pictures at the Ritz Theater!
©2014 - Andy Snowden, webmaster. Logo owned by Parke Players, Inc.
In 2013, the major motion picture producers in the United States ended the production and release of motion pictures on 35mm celluloid film after more than one hundred years as the industry standard. The Ritz Theater’s centennial anniversary in 2012 prompted our 100th birthday fundraising effort spearheaded by the Parke County Community Foundation. The PCCF was successful in raising more than $160,000.00 for the benefit of the Ritz Theater, a fortuitous chronological coincidence that totally funded our purchase and installation of a state of the art digital projector and 6.1 surround sound. Ending an uninterrupted 83 year run as a 35mm motion picture venue and beginning a new era using 21st century digital technology. Technical theatrical constraints limit the type of projection screen that we can use at the Ritz to a glass bead “olio” screen that uses millions of tiny glass beads on a matte white screen that rolls up to allow the Ritz stage to be used. As a result, current “3-D” technology is not possible. So far, there have been virtually NO complaints. On November 15th, 2012, the Ritz Theater premiered Breaking Dawn, the second installment of the blockbuster Twilight trilogy. 420 Twilight fans lined up around the block for the midnight premier showing. The first digital motion picture presentation. The final of the Twilight trilogy films premiered at the Ritz one year later.