Orange Community Players focusing on completing phase 1 of theater renovation
Published 4:22 am Friday, April 28, 2023
The show must go on, and the hard-working volunteers of the Orange Community Players have a goal that is nearing.
“In a prefect world, we would like to open, perhaps, at the end of the summer,” said Paul Burch, president of the troupe. “We need lights and sound on the black box side and must finish the flooring. That is all we need. Then, of course, the lobby. From the top to the bottom, we need to do that.”
Renovations of the old movie theater on Bowling Lane in Orange are ongoing. Orange Community Players have been working to raise $1.5 million to renovate the 50-year-old location into a venue dubbed “Jeff Hattman Center for Performing Arts.”
Burch said volunteers were able to focus on one side of the old movie theater for renovation, which he describes as 80 percent done.
A black box theater, the work’s current focus, does not have traditional seating with stadium-style layout. Instead, it features moveable stages that allow productions to center a stage in the middle of the seating if that is what is required.
“We’re able to move the seats and the stage to accommodate whatever show we are doing,” Burch said. “Beaumont’s community players did that, and we kind of copycatted them. It was such a success there, and we have used their black box theater in bringing our shows to Beaumont. It worked great. So us being in the situation we are in and with this theater having dual sides, we decided immediately how successful that was for them and knew it would be for us, as well.”
Volunteers acknowledge the renovation effort has been slow, but the residents in and around Orange are very giving.
“There are so many other nonprofit projects in Orange, and it is usually the same contributors trying to give to all of these projects,” Burch said. “I just feel like we are going to get where we need to be. Our turn will be soon.”
Those interested in helping can visit Orange Community Players on Facebook, which has a place to make donations.
A major campaign is starting soon called the Lobby Club. There will be a place where contributors can have $1,000 donors, $500 donors and $250 donors.
“We will be able to track those givers and create a plaque that will forever hang in the lobby,” Burch said.
Orange Community Players was originally founded as “Town Theatre” in 1950. Productions were held at Helen Carr Junior High School and Anderson Elementary School. In 1957, Town Theatre was renamed “Orange Community Players.”
Johnnie Faye Jeff Hattman was instrumental in starting and keeping the theater group going. The building will be renamed in her honor.
Her daughter, Melissa Hattman, who moved away from Orange County, visited the renovation site a few weeks ago and was impressed with how much progress has been made, saying the close of phase 1 is nearing despite many obstacles.
“I’m so pleased and also surprised that ten years later, it’s a tribute to my mom and the fact that she touched so many generations of individuals through the high schools,” Melissa said. “She was the first one to do a musical at the high school level in Orange, Texas. People still recognize her name. I hear from people who now have grandkids.
“I think the old Twin Cinemas Building is the perfect location for the vision of what the theater wants to do next. COVID didn’t help, of course, but I know this board is working extremely hard. They have just done a yeoman’s job.”