ANNA MARIA – The Island Players were born when the Women’s Club of
Anna Maria asked distinguished playwright, actor and director Harold
Igo to stage a play for one of their meetings.
The year was 1949 and the play, “The Preacher Takes a Wife,” was
such a hit that the women asked Igo to form a theater company. Igo
and a few dedicated theater lovers met in the town’s community hall.
“An organizational meeting of a little theater group was held Thursday
evening at the Anna Maria Community Hall,” said an article in the Bradenton
Herald dated Dec. 12, 1949. “A dozen or more people were in attendance.
“Roger Stonehouse was elected president, Alfred Martin, treasurer,
and Harold Igo named as director. Casting will be made soon for the
first offering, which will be a one-act play.”
That play was “Ladies in Retirement,” selected by the officers and
director after reading 12 plays. It was performed in 1950, and Stonehouse
made the following statement at the initial performance, “And so we
are encouraged to make our debut, not to strut, not be impressive,
but to afford a source of entertainment for the whole Island by the
abundant talent of the Island.”
The Players thrived, performing one or two plays a season, and theatergoers
sat on webbed folding chairs, which could be removed after each performance.
Props, scenery and costumes were stored in the Old City Jail.
On the group’s 10th anniversary, Igo said. “Ten years ago, a dozen
people met in the community hall to found the Island Players. Our stage
was a tiny platform. We had no curtains and no scenery, but we had
“Looking back over the years is like reading a bundle of old love
letters, for the theater is a love affair. If you love it, nothing
else matters, neither heat nor cold, hunger nor thirst.”
In 1950s, actor and director Helen Peters came to the Island from
Minnesota as a winter resident and became active in the theater. In
1962,when she moved to the Island permanently, she became an integral
part of the theater. In 1966, Peters took over as director when Igo
“There was absolutely nothing backstage,” she recalled of the early
days. “The wind would whistle through the cracks in the walls. It was
cold in the winter and hot in the summer, since there was no air conditioning
“We would string up a sheet for a makeshift dressing room. The actors
were dedicated and I had courage. I didn’t know the meaning of the
Fixing a hall
The hall, which was barged to the Island from Parrish in the early
1900s, had served as a meeting hall, church and school, was in constant
need of repairs. There was talk of demolishing the building and constructing
a new theater, but eventually the Players decided to rehabilitate the
In the 1970s, Neal Uber, who was president of the Players and her husband,
Jay, teamed up to lead the rehabilitation effort. The Players embarked
on a series of events to raise funds for the project.
A four-year program in three phases was developed. The first phase
included installing air conditioning, painting the building and coating
the roof with foam insulation.
The second phase added a professional stage and increased the seating.
The third phase added a foyer, facilities for a manager, bathrooms,
dressing rooms and a front entrance.
In 1972, the Offstage Ladies was formed and 22 interested ladies met
at Pete Reynard’s restaurant for a luncheon. Their first project was
new curtains and they organized a rummage sale to pay for it. Through
the years, they have provided the theater with rugs, seats, lighting and
sound equipment and other necessities.
Repertoire and building expand
In1982, Peters invited Welsh actor Gareth Gibbs to the Island and asked
him to bring some of his players. He brought seven of his group and
they performed two plays at the Playhouse. They became known as the
Welsh Players and have returned many times since to perform for Island
At the Playhouse’s 40-year mark, a series of fundraisers, including
an Island Playhouse Fair with artists, craftsmen and entertainers and
dinners at local restaurants, were held to benefit the building fund.
Funds were used to add a 16-foot wide extension on the northeast side
to expand the dressing rooms and storage area, a new box office and
a wider ramp.
In 1989, the Players received an unexpected but welcome surprise due
to the efforts of state Rep. Peggy Simone – a $15,000 state grant.
The grant money was used to put an addition on the building, which included
a sewing room and dressing rooms.
In the 1990s, the Anna Maria Beautification Committee began the Island
Walk project, a personalized brick walkway around the Playhouse. Proceeds
were used to install a native landscape around the theater and city
Through the years renovations have continued, the latest of which are
a new lighting system, new carpeting and new seats.
Into the future
Current Island Players President Dolores Harrell praised the group’s
board members and volunteers as integral to its success.
“We have a very active board,” she pointed out. "Everyone plays a
role in the theater and makes a significant contribution.
“We also have so many dedicated volunteers and we get a great deal
of support from the Offstage Ladies. We are so lucky to have such talented
people who want to come do things for us.”
Harrell said her goal as president is to reintroduce the Island Players
to the community.
“We have loyal patrons, but there are so many new people who don’t
know about us,” she explained. “I’d like to invite everyone who has
never been here to come check us out. Anytime the box office is open,
they can come in for a tour.”
The Players' 61st season opens Oct. 8 with Neil Simon’s “London Suite.”