In April of 1946, a group of dedicated people interested in quality community theater arranged for John Wray Young of the Shreveport Little Theater to speak on the growing popularity of “little theater” groups across the nation. He urged that the Baton Rouge area follow that trend. Soon after, the Baton Rouge Civic Theater was formed and its first production, "The Male Animal", would inaugurate a long and notable history.
After operating for a while without a permanent performing space, “Building 326” at Harding Field (now Metro Airport) became the home of the Baton Rouge Civic Theater for thirteen years beginning in 1948.
On April 18, 1951, another historic step was taken when the new name, the Baton Rouge Little Theater, was adopted; and with theater attendance growing the BRLT Board began its search for a full-time Artistic Director. After a “diligent investigation," the talented Lee Edwards would be the man to take BRLT to the next level and beyond. Edwards had spent five seasons as director of the Asheville Community Theater in North Carolina, had appeared in five Broadway shows, and had studied under Lee Strasberg and Max Reinhardt. As the years progressed, Edwards would be a guiding light for the performing arts in Baton Rouge. Not only did he direct, but he performed occasionally, with roles like “Pseudolos” in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum and “Tevye” in Fiddler On the Roof.
With membership topping 3,400 in the spring of 1959, BRLT began a bond sale drive to finance a new theater building. By the end of 1959, with membership at an all-time high, construction began on the new theater building at the then new Bon Marche Shopping Center.
The 1960-61 season was the last at Harding Field. BRLT would move into its brand new playhouse at Bon Marche, launching its history with a production of Teahouse of the August Moon. Fashion shows and other events were held to acquaint members with the new facility. In the summer of 1962, BRLT produced its first musical, South Pacific. It was such a rousing success that the scheduled two week run was extended to three weeks. In the spring of 1965, the theater expanded its facilities to include a social room/rehearsal hall, new offices, atrium, meeting room and expanded light and sound booth. By 1970, membership had grown to nearly 6,000 members.
In 1978 Lee Edwards passed away. He was succeeded by Frank Pope. In 1982 Pope was succeeded by Henry Avery as BRLT's Artistic Director. After performing and working backstage at BRLT as a teenager in the 1950s, working professionally onstage and in management in New York City in the 60s and 70s, Avery led the theater for 16 years, stepping aside in 1998. He was succeeded by Roy Hamlin, a former associate professor at Cornell.
In 2004, Keith Dixon stepped in as Managing Artistic Director. He has directed numerous shows including: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Beauty and the Beast, South Pacific, The Elephant Man, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Man For All Seasons, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Christmas Carol and Les Miserables.
Just as Edwards was a critical player for BRLT's growth in it's early years, Dixon has had the same effect with taking the beloved theatre into the 21st Century. On March 8, 2013, the organization unveiled the transformation of BRLT to Theatre Baton Rouge. "We feel the name change better reflects who we are. We're not so little anymore," says Dixon.
In July of 2014, Jenny Ballard replaced Dixon at the TBR helm.
Founded on the principal of theatre for the community, by the community, TBR will continue to grow in the future with the commitment of volunteers and the support of the community.
The new millennium holds much for Theatre Baton Rouge, and we are continuing our Mission of offering the community the opportunity to participate in the theatrical process, thus bringing the best in live theater to the Greater Baton Rouge Area--theatre for the community, by the community.
Links of interest:
Lee Edwards (1951-1978)
Frank Pope (1978-1982)
Henry Avery (1982-1998)
Roy Hamlin (1998-2004)
Keith Dixon (2004-2014)
Jenny Ballard (2014-2023)