Milburn Stone Memorial Theatre opened in 1992 on the North East campus of Cecil College, but its history dates back further. The Covered Bridge Theatre Company had been performing in various venues throughout the 1970s and 1980s before the permanent space was constructed. The company adopted the Milburn Stone Theatre name about a decade ago.
Though it performs on the campus of Cecil College, a community college in Cecil County near the Delaware state line, Milburn Stone is a community theatre open to all. “We act as a jumping off point for serious actors who want to polish their skills on the stage, but also allow people to experience the stage for the first time,” said Dann Combs, Milburn Stone’s general manager. “Our actor base ranges from people who have gone on to pursue careers in the professional theatre world, to people who have no ties to the theatre world in their professional life but love spending time on the stage.”
Milburn Stone Theatre mounts eight to 10 productions per year, ranging from musicals with casts of more than 40 to small-cast dramas. “Having a well-balanced season is key as we have to make sure we are producing shows our actors want to be a part of but also that people in the surrounding area will want to pay and come see,” Combs said.
The Spring 2016 production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” was the company’s best-attended to date, with more than 4,000 tickets sold for the run. (The house seats 440 people.) “Beauty & The Beast” and “Singing in the Rain” are among other big successes.
“Obviously the larger family-friendly musicals we see much larger audiences, but part of our purpose is to help people experience new types of shows, and that’s why show selection is so important, and our season ticket packages,” Combs said. “Every show we do has some special element that makes it an accomplishment.”
Combs took on his role in 2017 and set about to update the company’s season selection process. While it had previously been “very much an in-house decision,” he said, Combs wanted to broaden the voices having a say. He created a Season Selection Committee made up of actors and other theatre artists, season ticket holders, and community leaders.
“Evita” opens on June 14, followed by “Anything Goes!” in August, “Frozen Jr.” in September, “American Psycho” in October, and Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in November. The 2019-2020 season will also include “Romeo & Juliet,” “MST in Concert: Titanic,” “Puffs!” and two yet-to-be-announced productions.
“We are one of many places that people can choose to go to for a performance,” Combs said, “We may not have the right show for one person, but we do have the right show the next time for that person.” He also credits the local community for aiding in Milburn Stone Theatre’s success. “We have really great relationships with the Wilmington Drama League, the Resident Ensemble Players at the University of Delaware, and Cecil Dance Theatre,” he said.
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