79 Years of “The Show Must Go On”
Theatre captured the fancy of Twin City residents as early as 1929 when a drama club was formed and Shakespeare was read at meetings. In 1932, the group met in the Hotel Monroe and wrote a charter. Dues were $1 per year, and Little Theatre of Monroe, Inc. was officially born! Over the next 30 years, these theatre enthusiasts were gypsies, finding performance spaces wherever they could. The staunch group appeared at the South Grand Street Theatre (Valetti’s Motion Picture House), Ouachita Parish Junior College (today ULM), Central Grammar School, Ouachita High School, Neville High School, Georgia Tucker Elementary, Rainbow Inn, and several other locations, finally landing a semi-permanent home in 1949 in a barracks at Selman Field. The airbase had been closed after World War II. The City of Monroe leased it to the theatre group for $1 per year. In 1958, far-sighted members led by Clifford M. Strauss decided the falling-down barracks would no longer do and, knowing that the enthusiastic community would support it, launched a building drive. In 1959, Columbia Gas System contributed the Lamy Lane site and Ouachita Gravel cleared and filled the land. Architect, Paul Stewart designed the new building and Ford, Bacon, & Davis contributed the steel for the structure. Construction was completed on April 13, 1961. Damn Yankees opened the season and starred Life Members Dr. George Brian as the devil and James R. “Buddy” Henry as a singing ballplayer. The enterprising group even secured uniforms from the REAL New York Yankees.
New Theatre Thrives on Lamy Lane during the 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s
In 1963, Little Theatre had a new address, and the playhouse also had a new director, Richard M. Clark. Clark directed 4 seasons. The exciting new theatre was the first community theatre in the country to secure the rights to produce the Broadway hit, Bye Bye Birdie because a Monroe boy, Slade Brown, had produced it on Broadway. History repeated itself in 1988 when Little Theatre was the first community theatre in the country to receive the rights to produce the smash off-Broadway hit, Steel Magnolias, because a local friend of the theatre knew the playwright, Robert Harling, who was from Natchitoches. In 1967, Camelot thrilled audiences, and that summer a director from Winston Salem, N.C. was hired. His name was Chris Ringham, and the next 30 years under his leadership would see great growth and progress. With Ringham’s arrival, the volunteer ranks began to swell. A big musical was placed at the start of each season to stimulate the membership, and another big musical in the spring kicked off the next season’s drive. Performances were spread over three long weekends to preserve the actor’s stamina and to give the audiences plenty of choices. The formula worked, and membership numbers rose. A new era was off and running. In 1984, Ringham’s longtime dream of a children’s theatre branch of Little Theatre was realized when The Young Troupe was born. All plays were under one roof, children and volunteers were everywhere, and the organization was truly growing by leaps and bounds. It was a very happy time, and more great things were just around the corner.
History of Strauss Continues…the 80’s to 2011…Much Change, Much Success…
In 1999, through a Capital Outlay Grant, the Main Stage of the complex saw extensive improvements and beautification with the extension of the porch, addition of the patio, new carpet, and accessories. Now, both Main Stage and Young Troupe productions are produced by a talented staff, hundreds of volunteers, and a large, supportive membership who have continued to be a strong artistic force in Northeast Louisiana, serving thousands of adults and youth. Staff faces and leadership from boards change, but the desire for quality theatrical experiences remains as strong and constant today as it was when that small group of enthusiastic community players wrote our charter 78 years ago.
Jon Baccarini - General Director
Jon Baccarini joins the Strauss Theatre Center after a successful run of Thoroughly Modern Millie (Guest Director/Musical Director). A native of Winnsboro, Louisiana, Jon is a graduate of Northeast Louisiana University with a B.B.A. degree in Management and Marketing. He pursued post-graduate studies in marketing at Michigan State University and received his CMD (Certified Marketing Manager) designation from the International Council of Shopping Centers in 2005. For over 15 years, Jon worked in the shopping center industry and most recently was employed by General Growth Properties, Inc. as Senior Marketing Manager, overseeing properties in Monroe (Pecanland Mall), Arkansas, New York and New Jersey. Jon is a full time pianist/vocalist and is employed by First Baptist Church Winnsboro. A past Operations Director for the Miss Louisiana Organization, he has worked on the local and state levels of the Miss America Organization and America's Junior Miss.