Caldwell Theatre Company opened its doors in December 1975 at the suggestion of James R. Caldwell, inventor of the rubber dustpan and founder of the Rubbermaid Corporation. During the past 33 years in four different locations, and now in its own, permanent Count de Hoernle Theatre on U.S. 1 in north Boca Raton, the Caldwell has been called South Florida’s “Cinderella Theatre” and Boca Raton’s “Jewel in the Crown.” Artistic director Michael Hall, who co-founded the theater with the late Frank Bennett, continues as artistic director, and company manager Patricia Burdett marks her 32nd season this year.
James R. Caldwell
HISTORY. In 1975, James R. Caldwell, a prominent Boca Raton retiree, persuaded the College of Boca Raton (now Lynn University) to offer the use of its small auditorium, limited office space and six dormitory rooms to become a home for a professional regional theater. When the College agreed, Mr. Caldwell urged Boca Raton residents to support a new endeavor. They were reluctant at first. It was difficult to find the little College on a then-obscure Military Trail. And since Mr. Caldwell had already given away his fortune to other charities, donors did not have an example to follow.
The 1975-76 opening season played to tiny houses. Almost no one came see the first play, Neil Simon’s well-worn The Star Spangled Girl. But the troupe, led by artistic director Michael Hall and scenic artist Frank Bennett, moved forward. They discovered mid-season that local theatergoers were more interested in seeing classics and Off Broadway plays than re-runs of popular Broadway fare that had toured large South Florida presenter houses. They promised to add more challenging material to the reliable musicals and comedies already announced. Response was favorable. In four years, the “Caldwell Playhouse” built an audience of 3,000 subscribers and won the first of its 73 Carbonell Awards for theatrical excellence.
A young Frank Bennett
But the College, now growing in popularity, reclaimed its space back, and, in 1979, the Caldwell was homeless. Determined to keep the theater alive, Hall rallied support from subscribers and volunteers, and with help from former theater intern Patricia Burdett, he, Bennett and a new board of trustees raised $250,000 to renovate space in the former Boca Raton Mall. People called it a miracle when the new 242-seat “Caldwell Playhouse,” snuggled between department stores, a movie theater and restaurants, re-opened in 1980 with a large-cast and happy production of You Can’t Take It With You.
Hall, Frank Bennett’s daughter Linda Bannister and Bennett at the re-opening of the theater in 1980.
Mr. Caldwell did not live to see the new “Caldwell Playhouse,” but his wife Madeline was a special opening night guest.
The troupe enjoyed nine years in the downtown mall, where it was named one of Florida’s four State Theaters, and awarded more of South Florida’s Carbonell Awards for outstanding productions, directing, acting and design, but the shopping center came tumbling down in 1989 to make way for large-scale city development. The new owners renovated space for the Caldwell in another strip mall on U.S. 1, further north in Boca Raton near the Boca/Delray Beach city line. The move was frantic, but the theater — now was using its incorporated name “Caldwell Theatre Company” — did not miss a winter season.
Hall and Bennett at the 1989 opening of Caldwell’s third facility.
Since 1975, Caldwell Theatre Company continues to entertain more than 50,000 patrons annually with a variety of classics, revivals, small musicals, and original plays. The company sponsors a Play Reading Series to introduce new works and a Professional Adult Storytelling Series. Ursula Kalt and Eta Schaffer co-chair Caldwell’s volunteer Friends of Caldwell; Rich Kasser is head of PACT, a group of young business professionals created to advance the Caldwell; and Clive Cholerton is Chairman of the Board.
Tom Lawson and Anthony Newfield in Bent; Geoffrey Wade and John Felix in Fortune’s Fool; and the casts of The Laramie Project and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.
Known for its outstanding acting ensembles and attention to production details, Caldwell has delivered award-winning productions of such plays as Bent, Fortune’s Fool, The Laramie Project and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. The Laramie Project; Fortune’s Fool, Bent and The Middle Ages.
Pat Nesbit and Terry Hardcastle in Doubt: A Parable; the casts of Lend Me A Tenor, Take Me Out and The Clean House; and Peter Haig in Tuesdays with Morrie.
Other highly-praised productions include Doubt: A Parable, Lend Me A Tenor, Take Me Out, The Clean House and Tuesdays with Morrie. Four plays created at Caldwell appeared Off Broadway (Even in Laughter, Cowgirls, Papa starring Len Cariou, and Charles Nelson Reilly’s autobiographical The Life of Reilly) and recent world premieres at Caldwell include Michael McKeever’s farce Suite Surrender, Susan Sandler’s senior citizen comedy Under the Bed and Joel Gross’ drama Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh.
Charles Nelson Reilly The Life of Reilly; Rosemary Prinz in Under the Bed; and Len Cariou in Papa.
Also created at Caldwell: Paul Harvey Aurandt’s one-man Burton about the famous film and stage actor; and Oscar More’s The King’s Mare about the fourth wife of Henry the Eighth.
Broadway actor Marc Kudisch received his Equity card at Caldwell. Other well-known players who have appeared here include Len Cariou, Rosemary Prinz and Beth Fowler. Caldwell’s new 333-seat proscenium theater facility, the Count de Hoernle Theatre, has aa spacious lobby, a beautifully appointed Founder’s Room, and a large rehearsal room. Tim Bennett is the resident Scenic Designer; Ursula Stanton the Business Manager; and Nedra Simpson the Box Office Manager.
For more information, write Caldwell Theatre Company at 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL 33487
Box Office (561) 241-7432 or Toll Free (877) 245-7432
Admin. (561) 241-7380
Fax (561) 997-6917
The cast of The King’s Mare and Beth Fowler in Hay Fever.