CLUTE — Starting on a high school auditorium stage in the 1940s, Brazosport Center Stages has become a beacon of artistic expression for communities in the county, and the future looks as bright as ever, members said.
The oldest continuously operating community theater group on the Gulf Coast of Texas is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year. Started in the early 1940s as the Little Theatre of Brazosport, and the theater found itself with 500 sustaining members by the late 1940s.
The theater group has provided countless productions in the last 75 years to residents looking for entertainment, and the all-volunteer organization has come a long way since its origins, former member Dede Dunn said.
“The theater began at a time when there was a war and little to do in humid Freeport,” she said. “Dow asked a lady named Elizabeth Oden to start some sort of amateur theatrical group, and the first plays were done on what was then the old Freeport Junior High School auditorium stage. Flats and props were made in the backyard of a boarding house that was close to the school.”
Later, the group bought an old house on Avenue A in Velasco in the 1940s, Dunn said.
“It was on the levee and the group tore out the interior and installed lights and a restroom and kitchen, etc.,” she said.
Dunn initially became involved with the group while it was still at the junior high, she said.
“I kept reading in the local paper about the group and I kept telling my husband that I thought I could get a part,” she said. “He was a teacher and knew the librarian at the junior high who was the director of the next production. He told her that he was going to drop me off at the school and I could audition for her. I had seen one play there and really admired the actors in it.”
In 1976, the Little Theatre, through its membership with the Brazosport Fine Arts Council, moved to the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences facility to begin its 35th season and 100th production.
Soon after, current Center Stages president Judi James got involved with the theater group, she said.
“In 1980 I was asked to come over and direct the musical ‘Sound of Music’ at the center,” she said. “They had a director suddenly quit and they needed someone.”
James, who had been working on some productions for a local church, leaped at the chance, she said.
“There is always a need for theater,” she said. “I think that live performances are really enjoyable and a special thing for a community to have.”
With a multitude of shows offered, Center Stages has remained a prominent attraction in the community, allowing residents to experience quality productions without having to drive to downtown Houston, James said.
“We do plays and musicals, we do kinds of things that interest children, kinds of things that interest of adults,” she said. “We present a variety of things.”
Executive Director Wesley Copeland’s history with the center started at the end of 1999, when he auditioned for a role with Brazosport Center Stages.
He’s honored to be a part of the ever-expanding history of the center and wants to guide it toward the future, Copeland said.
“(I’m) just trying to ensure that this fantastic cultural aspect that we have in our community continues for generations to come,” he said.
James is grateful for the community support, she said, but the aspect that has guided Center Stages and will help it continue is the many volunteers who have sacrificed their own time for the sake of art.
“We have attracted, over the years, hundreds, probably thousands of volunteers,” she said. “It takes a wonderful community of artists working together to create a single evening of entertainment where you have a lot of different people with a lot of different skills working together. As the community has grown, the theater has grown.”