In a recent interview, we were asked if reaching our ten-year milestone felt like “We did it. Mission Accomplished!” Our response was that it feels more like “Mission ongoing, mission good start, mission we’ve so much more to do.” As we look back on the very beginning of our little newborn baby theatre company, the feelings of gratitude overwhelm us. ECTC shares a birthday with our youngest daughter, as they both made their appearance in January of 2013, with quite a few months of planning prior. It was in those early days that we experienced the joy and excitement of something new, and the fulfillment of a dream long hoped for—both with our new little baby and our new little company.
We started with 10 students in an afterschool class offered in partnership with the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation. Nathanael was working as a part time adjunct theatre professor at University of West Florida in Pensacola and Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, as well as other part time local jobs. I was working behind the scenes and caring for our six-year old twins and newborn baby girl. He would teach the after school classes on those days he was in town and we continued to work together, dreaming and planning our little company’s first wobbly steps.
Fast forward four years and we are growing, continuing to offer more and more classes and a small season of professional theatre. All of our classes and shows are offered through the kindness of local schools and retail merchants who give us the use of their empty stores. For every show and every class, we load our family car with set, props, costumes, speakers, scripts and whatever else can be crammed in, and we arrive early to set everything up. Our garage, our living room, our kitchen table is always covered with things like feather boas, a golden lamp, a tinman’s costume and maybe a basket of fake apples. We overtake Anna’s Dad’s shed across the street as our stock grows, and our neighbor next door is always kind to turn a blind eye when we paint sets in our carport and turn the side yard grass blue until the next mowing.
Throughout this period, Grand Boulevard was especially generous to us. If they had an empty space, we were welcome to it. We produced professional shows and children’s shows in the place where Williams Sonoma is now. They hired us to produce an outdoor Summer Shakespeare in the park series which continues to this day. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our board of directors, the people who work behind the scenes without a lot of recognition. They were always there championing us and finding new and creative ways to produce theatre without a building. And then one day…
Stacey Brady, Director of Marketing at Grand Boulevard and long-time board member, called us one morning. “Can you meet me at the 560 building on property?” We thought with excitement that this may be another temporary empty space, another opportunity to run rehearsals and classes at the place that had been so supportive of us already. What we didn’t think was that she had secured a dream space for us. She brought us up to the absolutely empty concrete rectangle that is now Emerald Coast Theatre Company and with a twinkle in her eye said, “Well, do you think you can work with this?” After catching our collective breath, through smiles and tears, we responded with a resounding yes, and immediately got to work with more dreaming.
What Grand Boulevard has provided has catapulted us to where we are today. We have grown from the two of us volunteering and investing our time the first few years to a full-time incredible staff of eight including ourselves, Rebeca Lake-resident designer, Phillip Padgett-production and stage manager, Tara Padgett-costume and wardrobe assistant and teaching artist, and our three newest staff members Trenton Bainbridge-managing director, Emily Bainbridge-patron relations and teaching artist, and Drake Miller-technical director.
As we celebrate Season 10 this year, we celebrate all of the hands and hearts that got us here. We recognize that the heart of ECTC is you! It’s our students, volunteers, sponsors, patrons and VIP members. It’s our vibrant Leading Ladies, our hard-working staff, our dedicated board of directors and our talented local actors as well as those performers who travel from all over the country to bless our stage. It’s our community that held us through a pandemic and became the most generous donors we could have imagined. As we prepare to produce six professional shows, three Theatre for Young Audiences shows, many educational shows and classes, a Storyteller Series and a few cabarets, we look back with gratitude and a thankful heart at all that has come before. Our little theatre company is growing up and expanding, nurtured by so many along the way. We hope that you will join us as we launch our Season 10 with a grand celebration on September 16th, and continue to celebrate with us all season long. Mission accomplished? Never.
Nathanael and Anna Fisher
Founders, Producing Artistic Director, Associate Artistic and Education Director