Construction on the State Theatre in Eustis began in 1916. In addition to serving as a vaudeville theatre, it was also designed as a venue for the latest craze in mass entertainment, “moving pictures,” hence the presence of one of the largest “photo play” pipe organs in the Southeast. In fact, the first sound motion picture, The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson, had it southern premier at the State before theaters in Tampa and Miami. In addition to its regular fare, the State also presented chorales and orchestral music programs throughout the Depression. Above the theatre proper, the second story housed professional offices until the 1950’s. In later decades, with vaudeville dying out, live performances at the State died with them, and the building became solely a movie theatre. Many Eustis residents of a certain age remember Saturday afternoons at the State, viewing such cinematic classics as The African Queen and The Blob. In 1974, however, even the movies were gone, and the building sat empty.
But not for long....
In 1975 a small group of theatre aficionados re-discovered the vacant State Theatre building, and with visions of bringing live performances back to Eustis, promptly moved in and began the arduous task of renovation. Crammed with decades of trash, broken furniture, and mountains of dirt, the theatre was a fascinating, if daunting, history of downtown. The founding members of the Bay Street Players, Deborah Carpenter, Dale Carpenter, Charlene Smith, and Lou Tally, had to empty and haul and scrub and paint for months to make the building even minimally useful. In July of that year, they opened a successful run of Hello, Dolly, and finished only marginally in the red. The following year they mounted eight shows, and the Bay Street Players became permanently established. By 1986, BSP owned the building outright.
The State Theatre has undergone two major renovations since the Bay Street Players took it over. The first, in the early 80’s, pushed the auditorium wall back to allow more room for seating, and modernized the lobby and restrooms. The second, done in 2005 with the help of a state grant, restored the building’s facade to its original 1922 appearance. Future renovation dreams include a new roof, electrical system, and expanded lobby.
We are currently running Phase II of A Theatre Reborn, which will include building repairs and upgrades to the roof, electric and fire doors. You may donate to A Theatre Reborn through PayPal HERE or download a donation form HERE.
The Bay Street Players are honored to have made the State Theatre their home. They have a thriving main stage schedule of five plays yearly; the Young People’s Theatre, the longest continual theatre program of its kind in Central Florida, is growing; and the recently added second stage series, The Bay Street Project continues to gain in popularity. Soon BSP will celebrate 41 years at the State Theatre, and we are looking forward joyfully to the next 40!