10 Questions with Celia Frank, Managing Artistic Director of Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET).
In 1993, Carson Merry Baillie approached Atlantic Beach officials with a proposition. It was her desire to stage live theatre productions inside the seaside community's former City Hall building, which in 1991 had been converted into the Adele Grade Community Center. City officials granted Merry Baillie her request and, with the help of three of her drama workshop graduates, Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) was founded.
Merry Baillie wrangled a group of volunteers who quickly started investing sweat equity into the company. Together, the group transformed the space into a working community theatre equipped with a stage and risers. Merry Baillie opened the doors of ABET with the purpose of testing the perceptions and assumptions of audiences in Northeast Florida by introducing them to new, exciting, and original plays and musicals. Merry Baillie led from the helm of the company for 13 years and during that time ABET gained a reputation for producing local productions showcasing the work of emerging playwrights, while also creating a space for Broadway productions, revivals, and classics.
Celia Frank joined ABET as the Managing Artistic Director in 2007. Frank has built a career of working in community theatres and with both regional and touring professional companies. Prior to moving to Atlantic Beach, Frank lived in Atlanta, where she worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the major daily newspaper for the Atlanta metropolitan area, in the features department. Upon moving to Atlantic Beach, Frank immersed herself in Greater Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector as a Director, which she continued to do for several years before joining ABET as the sole member of their staff.
2017 marked the 25th anniversary of ABET's founding. To commemorate the milestone, the Shepherd Agency produced a 120-page hardbound book documenting the theatre company's history. The book archives everything from the construction of the theatre to full cast, director, playwright, and volunteer lists. Creating the book was a labor of love for Jay Fogg, a staff member at Shepherd. The project involved hours and hours of digging through old dusty boxes and organizing 25 years' worth of programs, reviews, and photographs.
ABET's next production is The Ultimate Christmas Show, which opens on Friday, December 8, 2017 and runs through December 22, 2017. The comedic production presents an irreverent yet heartwarming trip through the holidays, full of festivity, family, and fun. Broadway World calls the show "A pure delight from start to finish... Inspired madness!" Tickets are available online or at the door.
10 Questions with Celia Frank
What is the mission of your organization?
ABET's mission is to bring the excitement of live theatre to diverse audiences. An emphasis is placed on new and original plays and neglected classics, and on developing new talent.
When was your organization formed and how has it grown?
We were founded in 1992. Since then, the board has grown from three original members to 12. Our season has grown from three shows a year to six, with many additional events as well. Our volunteer base has also grown exponentially.
What strategies are in place within your organization for you to engage your audiences?
ABET's strategy is to present a widely varied season, with musicals, dramas and comedies. We try to appeal to as wide a base as possible. Our teen musical theatre director has a big interest in performing the teen musical at other locations throughout the community, such as after-school programs in Atlantic Beach and the Wolfson Children's Hospital.
Why is art and culture important?
There is a reason why the arts have been subsidized throughout history. The arts take people out of their everyday lives. They bring joy, relieve stress, and help us communicate with people different from ourselves. The arts broaden our world.
What’s your organization’s next major milestone and is this milestone part of a long-term plan?
We are entering the second half of our 26th season in the Adele Grage Cultural Center. It is a city-owned building in the City of Atlantic Beach and are hoping to negotiate a contract in which we are permitted to stay in this location and have the ongoing support of the city as we to continue to grow, thrive, and serve the citizens of Atlantic Beach and the Greater Jacksonville area.
What would you like to see in the arts and cultural community in Jacksonville?
The arts need the support of the general population. Support comes in all forms; volunteering, serving as a board member, attending productions, giving to annual campaigns, and being an advocate for the arts in general. There are far too many citizens who never partake in what Jacksonville has to offer artistically. Get out and explore the arts by attending productions at various theatres and through visiting museums and local historical attractions. Jacksonville has a lot to offer and you may be surprised to learn what you're missing out on.
Also, there could always be more collaboration between arts organizations.
Does your organization partner with other organization(s)?
Yes, we do so in any chance we get. For several years in the past, ABET collaborated with Jacksonville University on one production a year. This benefited the university theatre program and brought new patrons to ABET. We hope to do more of this in the future. In fact, we will potentially have an exciting announcement for next season concerning a collaboration - so stay tuned!
What is a program offered by your organization that you’d like to highlight? Additionally, what is an organization that you think more people need to know about?
ABET will be continuing to host our Teen Musical Theatre Workshops in the spring. This is a very exciting program, through which teens are trained by two of the most skilled and talented musical theatre directors in the city - Erik and Aaron DeCicco. The program culminates in a full-scale musical with multiple performances. Obviously, I think more people need to know about ABET, but I want to highlight the work of The Shepherd Agency, who has produced the ABET season brochures since ABET's inception, and all the posters for the past 10 and 1/2 seasons. They do a wonderful job, and have won numerous awards for ABET poster designs. Shepherd also created a book of ABET's first 25 seasons, which is a magnificent record of our history.
How do you stay up to date with the art and cultural happenings both nationally and in Jacksonville?
These days, mostly on the computer - the font of all knowledge! The Cultural Council sends out a weekly notice of arts events in the area, which I always look at. I am also on the mailing list of many other arts organizations.
How can others get involved with your organization?
ABET welcomes any and all volunteers. If you're interested in volunteering, you can go to our website or call 904-249-7177 to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
We'd like to thank Celia Frank for her participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for taking the time to read this week's 10 Questions interview. If you enjoyed what you read or you found it engaging, please consider making a donation to the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. Your donation supports the advancement of the arts and culture in Northeast Florida.
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