You may have be wondering who was Francis Wilson and why does our Playhouse bear his name?
If you had lived in the small town of Clearwater between 1905 and 1935, you might have seen him about town – he was short man with a jaunty step, a ready smile, expressive eyes and often wore a straw hat.
If you had played golf, lawn bowling or bridge back then, you would have thought him charming, kind and sincere in all he did.
If you were his neighbor, you would have lived next to him at 400 Osceola Avenue – his house still stands today and is on the same bay as the Playhouse.
It was during this time that Francis Wilson was well known as a celebrity on Broadway. He had the urge to entertain, had a preference for comedy – as most of us do – and having begun his career in Philadelphia as an entertainer back in the middle 1800′s, his experience on the stage was extensive. He was eventually so successful on stage that he formed his own theatre company and furthered his popularity off stage by protecting the interests of his fellow cast members and stage crews who were beginning to be exploited by an emerging Theatre Syndicate. And so, in 1913 he led a counterattack against this exploitation by forming what we now know as The Actors’ Equity Association. The results of his actions improved the actors’ working conditions, helped to assure the public of quality live theatre and most of all gave him the credibility to represent actors and the public in order to have community theatre prosper and grow.
He was so committed to this cause that he actually came out of retirement at the age of 71 to play the role of “ACRES”, and in this role his portrait was painted and when you come to visit us, you will see it hanging in our lobby.
With all his seventy one years of promoting quality stage performances, Francis Wilson’s greatest contribution to theatre took place in 1935 in Clearwater on the bay. Having inspired a group called The Little Theatre of Clearwater, he convinced his friend Mary Bok to loan him $5,000.00 (which back then was an enormous amount of money) he wanted to use this loan in order to provide this theatre group with a permanent home. And she did! She also graciously stated that the money would NOT be a loan, but considered a gift under the condition that the building would be a memorial to him and be called, THE FRANCIS WILSON PLAYHOUSE. Her proclamation was cast in bronze and hangs on our “giving tree wall”. When you come to visit us, please take the time to look at the stone chimneybreast, the bronze cast of Mary Bok can be seen just above the fireplace which dates back to 1935.
The Theatre Membership was so enthusiastic and happy at the prospect of having their new “Little Theatre” that they held bridge luncheons, suppers, bingo games and all kinds of events to raise funds for furnishing the lobby and other interior public areas.
And then with great civic pride, the Playhouse had its opening night on January 7, 1935.