Keeping Theatre Alive in Ft. Walton Beach

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By Bobby Parker

As the audience delivers a standing ovation, the actors take their final bows for something that is much more than just a two-hour performance. For over 45 years, Stage Crafters Community Theatre, Inc. in Fort Walton Beach has been cultivating cultural and creative outlets for both audiences and performers alike that stretch well beyond what is seen on stage. It is the countless hours and dedication on and off stage of its volunteers for the months leading up to a production that has garnered Stage Crafters with the title of Florida’s oldest, continuously running, all volunteer community theatre.

Since being established in 1972 as a not-for-profit organization, Stage Crafters has heavily relied on the support of the Destin and Ft. Walton Beach communities to fund its many productions and to maintain the Warehouse on Robinwood Drive that functions as the rehearsal space and scene shop. Stage Crafters has also maintained a successful and rewarding partnership with the City of Fort Walton Beach that has allowed them to bring live theatre to our area, which annually returns approximately $84,000 back to local businesses and an additional $16,000+ to the City of Fort Walton Beach. Stage Crafters has also been able to make many improvements to the Fort Walton Beach Civic Auditorium that functions as their performance space. But, most importantly, they provide community members with opportunities to learn and sharpen skills that can expand and enhance their marketability for employers as well as provide a safe haven for individuals to express their creativity and be a part of a close-knit, supportive “family.” “Stage Crafters has given me the opportunity to play many roles and expand my talents. The collaborative and community creative process is beautiful, and I’ve been able to make many remarkable friendships through Stage Crafters, including meeting my husband. I don’t know what or who I would be without Stage Crafters,” says longtime member, Melissa Wolf-Bates.

Looking back, Stage Crafters has made many strides over the years, and while many arts groups and charitable organizations have folded, Stage Crafters has remained strong. However, as the years pass, insurance and production costs continue to rise, which is a looming problem. In 1972, Stage Crafters’ first production, Everybody Loves Opal, cost just $275, and in 1974, they presented their first musical, No, No Nanette, for a total cost of $525. Today, the average straight show costs between $10,000 and $15,000, while a musical production costs between $15,000 and $20,000. Stage Crafters is also facing a possible rent increase when the Warehouse lease ends in 2024 despite much needed improvements.

Despite the challenges, Stage Crafters continues to promote artistic expression and community spirit through theatre in our area. “Stage Crafters is a unique cultural experience that gives us the opportunity to share an evening of laughter, suspense, music, or drama with our friends, neighbors, or the stranger sitting next to us – our everyday lives, history, and struggles through the imagination of our many playwrights in the form of live theatre,” says Stage Crafters’ president, Nancy Kruzek.

For more information on Stage Crafters and to purchase tickets to the final production of their 46th season, A Chorus Line, visit www.stagecraftersfwb.com.