Hippodrome Theatre to celebrate ruby anniversary with community party


The exterior of the Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Gainesville. (Photo courtesy of the Hippodrome Theatre)

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 3:29 p.m.

In 1973, a converted 7-Eleven building on Hawthorne Road served as a hub for Gainesville theater. By 1975, a warehouse on State Road 441 housed many local productions. And by 1978, the six University of Florida theater graduates responsible for creating the Hippodrome Theatre were busy restoring a downtown building, the theater's current location, with the help of 1,500 volunteers.

Facts

If you go

What: The Hippodrome's 40th anniversary party
Where: The Hippodrome, 25 SE Second Place
When: 7 to 11 p.m. May 18
Tickets: $40 per person
Information: thehipp.org or 373-5968

The history of the Hippodrome Theatre spans 40 years, three locations and countless names of those who have volunteered their help to maintain this Gainesville institution. The theater is celebrating its 40th anniversary May 18 with a party, and everyone is invited.

Mary Hausch, Hippodrome co-founder and producing director, said the event, which begins at 7 p.m., will feature live

entertainment from the cast of "Avenue Q," catering from Mark's Prime Steakhouse and Seafood, wine tasting from eight local distributors, live music from local jazz group Hot Club de Ville and a drawing for prizes including airline tickets and gift baskets.

"It's going to be a rocking good party," said Hausch, who announced her retirement Thursday after 40 years. "It's a chance to visit with the artists who have made the Hipp what it is. Over all 40 years, we've touched 1.5 million people. We're inviting all of them."

Lauren Caldwell, artistic director for the Hippodrome, said she hopes guests leave the event feeling that theater is a vital part of their community. She said this anniversary is proof of the bond between the theater and its audiences.

"I'm very proud of the fact that Gainesville believes in the culture we provide," she said. "It's a huge iconic moment — not just for the Hipp, but for any regional theater. The fact that we've reached the 40-year mark is truly special."

Sara Morsey, who has performed in Hippodrome plays for more than 20 years, said this anniversary is a mark of the theater's ability to survive in a world where many arts institutions remain underappreciated.

"In today's climate, it should be a celebration. Theaters are closing down across the country because of the hostile climate we have toward the arts," she said. "It's a celebration of huge tenacity on the part of those who have kept the theater open."

Hausch said she hopes this event will encourage staff and guests alike to remember their past experiences at the Hipp. She said guests frequently tell her the Hippodrome served as their first theater experience, or the backdrop for a marriage proposal.

"It'll be a chance for all of us to exchange stories and talk about our favorite moments at the Hipp," she said.

Morsey remembers falling on stage during a production of "Mind Games" a few seasons ago and doing five more performances with crutches in hand, not knowing that her ankle was broken.

Hausch recalls watching former children's theater campers grow up. Some chose to pursue acting, while others chose different paths.

"It's amazing to see how the Hipp has affected the direction of their lives," she said.

She said the Hippodrome programming is unique in that it engages the community, young and old.

She said the theater has had classes for children since its 7-Eleven days, and it frequently holds talk-backs with filmmakers, acting classes for children and programs for adults.

"When I look back at our history, there's been an amazing amount of programs," she said. "We truly believe we're here to engage a new generation of students interested in theater."

Roland Loog, director of the visitors' bureau Visit Gainesville, said the Hippodrome's location in downtown Gainesville makes the surrounding area a hot spot for entertainment, dining and culture.

"Certainly, it's the centerpiece of our city center. For our small size, Gainesville has the best city center of any town," he said. "The Hippodrome's presence in downtown is so important to our vibrant downtown life."

Caldwell said more than providing opportunities to experience art, the Hippodrome provides Gainesville's community with memories.

"Sometimes I'm in the audience watching," she said. "When I see a small child laugh, or I see a senior-citizen couple — a man grabbing his wife's hand at a sentimental moment — I know I'm giving something to the community that they can carry with them as memories. It's terribly gratifying. You feel like you contributed to someone's happiness."

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