Back in 1965 a group of eight persons became aware that there was a need for an organization dedicated to theatre under the direction of one who not only had been trained in theatre but who knew the psychology of community involvement. As an outgrowth of these eight persons’ acute observations, a theatre was planned, incorporated, and opened which indeed from its first day operated under the direction of a professional. The theatre was to be for everyone, for all ages, for all types of theatre productions. And from its inception, Artists Civic Theatre & Studio, Inc. has not only offered a variety of productions, but a variety of experiences to the many who have walked through the doors as actors, technicians, and audiences. There have been classes for the young as well as productions for them in which they have performed. There have been musicals, dramas, and comedies. Many of the scripts which have been offered have been written specifically for ACTS youth classes.
During the early years, the director could not be afforded on a full-time basis. As a result, he took employment as assistant professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches from which he commuted almost daily (then, three hours in each direction) to conduct rehearsals. During the three years he traveled from NSU each day, ACTS offered THE KING AND I, LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE, STOP THE WORLD… I WANT TO GET OFF, THE LION IN WINTER, TAKE HER, SHE’S MINE, THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES, and BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, among others. ACTS operated with producers who did the many duties associated with any production in lieu of the director’s being accessible daily.
These were the years of Sandy Sterness, Mary June Malus, and Barbara Price Cox. These were also the years at the Arcade Theatre, where ACTS was born, and of the Bilbo House, where ACTS met, had classes, and conducted board of director meetings. In 1969 the director moved a bit closer, to Lafayette, which is only an hour’s drive away. The daily drive cut down, more things were planned. Classes for CTS and Cotton Candy Players were conducted in space at old Chenault in the ACTS Rehearsal Hall in which the youngsters also performed.
This was the time of the first production of HELLO, DOLLY!, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, and other productions. The early ACTS board presidents were Gus Quinn, Jr., Perry R. Dickinson, Harold Bachrack, and Daniel Ieyoub. During Ieyoub’s presidency, the ACTS director — four years weary of road travel — indicated that he would have to return or put himself in some sort of “rest and recuperation” mill. It was at this time that the theatre engaged its director for its full-time guidance.
The early 70’s saw productions of MAN OF LA MANCHA, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO THE NIGHT, GYPSY, BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE, FUNNY GIRL, SHOWBOAT; and it was during the late spring of 1973 after the production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and the ‘73 ACTA AWARDS that the Arcade was closed for good, lost to performing groups who had used the facility.
The warehouse theatre on Church Street was founded by Harold Bachrack. The facility was converted from a warehouse into an arena theatre by the likes of Bob Ferguson, Harold Backrack, Gus Quinn, Jr., Bill Mixon, Joe Bondurant, and many others. They worked many nights into the wee hours of the morning back in 1973 to get the theatre space ready for the opening at Christmas of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. This facility housed many productions which ACTS offered: NIGHTWATCH, CABARET, SWEET CHARITY, but in 1976 the warehouse theatre was closed during the dress rehearsal night of DAMN YANKEES. The production moved that very night to the stage of Lake Charles High School, where the show opened the next night as scheduled.
Then board president, Roland Sherwood, spent many an anxious moment before we got the show to LCHS. Then the odyssey was on. For the next number of years ACTS moved to any stage it could schedule for its performances: LCHS housed GODSPELL, GOD’S FAVORITE, LI’L ABNER, TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, VANITIES, ON GOLDEN POND, THE PAJAMA GAME, and ROMANTIC COMEDY (which was the last one presented there).
At McNeese, the Ralph Squires stage housed THE ELEPHANT MAN and TRIBUTE — the main auditorium, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Central School had THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, THE SMELL OF THE CROWD.
LaGrange housed AUNTIE MAME. COMPANY was offered at Lake Charles Country Club, CHAMPAGNE COMPLEX was at the Holiday Inn. THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT, THE BOYFRIEND, BAD HABITS, THE APPLE TREE and others were presented at the Sheraton Chateau Charles. The HILTON was the site of ACTS sponsored visiting, MUSICAL REVUE.
How ACTS Got One Reid Street…
In 1982, the director saw this building while out searching for a location for ACTS. It was a matter of finding out how the building could possibly house all the needs which ACTS continues to have.
The director brought the board down to see the building one at a time between August and September 1982. While performing on the McNeese Auditorium stage with FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, the theatre decided that it would be lucky to have the space for its use. By this time ACTS has had three women presidents, Pat Serice, Dottie Parmiter, and Billie Woodard. ACTS had been using spaces on Third Avenue, Ryan Street, and the Theriot’s building, which was full of debris, broken doors, and trash from not having been used by anyone other than a rock group for rehearsals.
A small group of persons consisting of the director, Courtney Stein, Dottie Parmiter, Krause Wilson, Ruth Peloquin, Tracey Peloquin, Paige Harkins and a few others cleared the building of debris, washed the walls and got the building ready for others to see. In June of 1983, the theatre held its Homestead ACTS where the theatre was open to the general public for viewing.
Growing Up Next to One Reid Street:
by: Bob Jines, former ACTS Board Member
The theatre was built between 1917 and 1921, combining 2 lot locations on Railroad Ave. The exact date is hard to pin down. In 1917 there was no movie/theater at the location and in 1921 the movie house (obviously silent) existed. Prior to that the space occupied by the current theater existed as two lots, which had provided location for various stores (wooden) or at times were vacant. This information was gathered from Lake Charles City Directories (at the Genealogy Library) for this period.
Also the corner building on the east side of the building was not a grocery store, but was furniture store. That building became the Central Grocery in the 1950's and existed as such for only a year or two. The sign is still on the side of the building. There may have been grocery across Reid Street at one time, but I would have to check that out.
My grandparents owned and ran the Pelican Meat Market on the west side of the theater from about 1920 to 1956. Their living quarters were attached on the rear of their market and I was born in their back bedroom. Grandma and grandpa were the first business to offer boudin for sale in Lake Charles (and the best hogshead cheese).( It may have been the first commercial boudin in Louisiana, since most Cajuns made their own.)
They also sold things which would interest movie goers like cold drinks, hamburgers (5 cents/ 10 cents if you wanted lettuce, tomatoes and onions), hot dogs, dried shrimp, yeast cakes, candy and ice cream. There were a few groceries and cigarettes, sort of like the convenience stores of today.
I can remember roasting and selling peanuts outside the front of the store from a peanut poacher made by grandpa. I also dished ice cream and pulled soft drinks out of the cold water cooler that grandpa made. I helped a little with the hamburgers, but not much.
Our family eventually abandoned the building to the city, since no one was buying in that area.
The building had to be demolished for the city to accept the property. Some walls have remained up because they were too strong to be affordably knocked down. They are still there today. Grandpa had mixed the cement by hand and poured it into forms. The location was acquired by ACTS from the city, but I do not know when.
About One Reid Street…
The theatre was built in 1903, from all accounts and research. Sammy Bono, a long-ago city councilman whose family lived on the corner just east of the theatre, recalled it, the street, the businesses, and the people who lived here when he was growing up. Railroad Avenue was the main street in town, and the movie was a major factor in entertainment. He remembered the grocery store on the corner attached to the building, the clothing stores east of the theatre, and the Sanitary Bakery west of the theatre where bread, cookies, and cakes were baked and sold during a time when I-10 had not cut off the upper portions of Kirkman, Reid, Moss, Ford, and Louisiana Avenue from the southern parts. The streets ran from 12th Street to the railroad tracks, continuously.
When sound was introduced to the movies, the Louisianne, as it was called then, converted to that technology. In the Thirties, the movie house became The Delta which it remained except for a very brief time in the early eighties prior to it being purchased for ACTS’ use.
The stage was built over three nights by former ACTS board presidents in preparation for the opening of the first fully staged production in the building, SCROOGE. The crew was straw-bossed by Mary June Malus, an original founding member. On the building crew were Gus Quinn, Jr., Harold Backrach, Perry Dickinson, Donald Saulnier, Daniel Ieyoub, and many others who labored to have the space ready. A little later, MASS APPEAL was staged at the new theatre, and the following year regular seasons began with the first production of SCROOGE. Robert Kidder was responsible for putting the seats in place in the theatre. They had been acquired from the Paramount Theatre on Ryan Street when it closed. For its first two productions in the theatre, metal folding chairs were used, and were they cold!
The theatre building, the side grocery store, and a clothing store down the street east of the theatre composed the original property purchases made by Mr. Pettaway and Mr. Saulnier.
Pettaway quickly bought the land on the west side adjacent to the theatre to allow easy access to the building from the back parking lot and had the fences put into place around the property.
Currently, the ACTS Theatre building is the only theatre structure built prior to World War II still standing; most other ones have been ‘remodeled’ into parking lots! World War I troops passed this theatre in trains on their way to France. World War II military passed the theatre in trains on their way to both Japan and Germany. And those going to Korea and Vietnam also passed this way. Since that time, train travel has become very limited, but they do still pass ACTS.
The theatre is historic: over one hundred years old. It was meaningful to the city as a movie house, and has become a place for live theatre entertainment since l982.
ACTS only needs building funding, assistance, grants, stipends, to realize the great potential the structures hold as a theatre center.