The Spanish Trail Playhouse started in 1962. It began under the leadership of Ann Jensen, Howard Pelham, Mickey Balaban, and Ralph Nolan, who had a dream of bringing live theatre into the little town of Chipley Florida. The first Executive Committee for the playhouse consisted of Ann Jensen as Chairman, Robbie Stanton as Secretary/ Treasurer, and directors Mickey Balaban, Leon Rice, and Bob Goss. The group decided upon three plays per year and on September 7, 1962 the Spanish Trail Playhouse opened its curtains for the first time with “Southern Exposure”, a 1950’s romantic comedy, under the Direction of Mickey Balaban. The second show was “New Moon”, a musical by Sigmund Romberg, under the direction of Ralph Nolan followed by the final show for the first season, “Dial M For Murder”. The Playhouse was really beginning to make an impression on the local community and opened its second season in 1963 with the musical, “Picnic” and “Sabrina Fair”, directed by Mickey Balaban, and the musical, Carousel completed the Playhouse’s second season. The Florida Arts Council recognized, following two successful seasons, the Spanish Trail Playhouse in 1964 as a Charter Member, a position they would hold for the next four years.

The year was 1964, and the Spanish Trail Playhouse opened its 3rd Season with “Blithe Spirit”, a comical play written by Noel Coward. “Showboat”, a well-known musical, directed by Ralph Nolan, choreographed by Bob Goss, with the musical assistance of Edna Myers followed in 1965. The season ended with “Candita”, also in 1965. The first “La Cima” Awards and Beaux Arts Ball were held in 1964. The La Cima Awards awarded the Directors and Actors for their accomplishments in the previous season. The 4th season consisted of Pygmalion, Kiss Me Kate, and Solid Gold Cadillec. The 5th season stormed in with “The Importance of Being Earnest, Mikado, and Arsenic and Old Lace. In came season 6th with memorable shows such as Night Must Fall, Oklahoma starring Ann Jensen as Aunt Eller, and A Man Called Peter, directed by Winona Vanlandingham. In 1968, the members of the Spanish Trail Playhouse presented Dan and Ann Jensen, who were instrumental in the establishment of the playhouse, a crystal punch set. Ann was stepping down as President after five years of service to the playhouse and Roger Vanlandingham was to be installed as the new President. The Spanish Trail Playhouse ran for seven very successful years but after their final performance of “The Sound of Music”, the playhouse closed its curtains for the last time in fall of 1968.

In August of 2006, under the leadership of Kevin Russell, work began to bring the Spanish Trail Playhouse back to Washington County and its citizens. A womanless Beauty Contest, held at the Historic Chipley High School Auditorium, rose over $1,000.00 toward the reestablishment. 

The Spanish Trail Playhouse became incorporated through the state of Florida on April 8, 2007. The first public organization meeting, held at the Washington County Public Library, took place on September 4, 2007. A second meeting followed on December 3, 2007. In an effort to introduce the playhouse to the community, the group sponsored a Halloween costume contest on October 31, 2007. 


On December 3, 2007, Kevin Russell selected the first Board of Directed which included, Kevin Russell as President, Zedra Hawkins as Vice President, Cheryl Withrow as Secretary, Tiffani Wolfe as Treasurer, and Valerie Park and Trish Payne as Members at Large. Trish Payne became secretary and Polly Kneiss become Vice President within the following 3 months.

The Spanish Trail Playhouse presented the fundraiser, Skits-O-Phrenia, on January 10, 2008 at the Chipley High School Auditorium. Skits-O-Phrenia, written by Chris Calton and Kevin Russell as a night of comedy scenes and songs, has become a favorite of the local communities and is now in its 3rd year of production.

On September 5, 2008, merely one year since its reestablishment, the Spanish Trail Playhouse officially opened its curtain again, with a 3-day performance of Steel Magnolias. This production was sponsored by the Washington County Tourist Development Council and the Washington County Arts Council, and took place at the Chipley High School Auditorium, as the playhouse did not have a permanent home. Under the direction of Kevin Russell, the show gained rave reviews and highlighted the talents of women from two different counties.

In July 2008, the Spanish Trail Playhouse took over the lease of the Historic Chipley High School Auditorium. The auditorium was in need of many extensive repairs. Chris Kneiss, of Plantation Builders, was the Chairman of the renovation process. The first community work day was held on November 1, 2008 with a second workday to follow in January 2009.


2009 Board of Directors

In January 2009, Zedra Hawkins and Tiffani Wolfe stepped down from the board due to term expirations and a board of 14 individuals took on the task of continuing the legacy of the Spanish Trail Playhouse. The 2009 Board of Directors were:

Kevin Russell - President
Polly Kneiss - Vice President
Ann Harden - Treasurer
Kari Rines - Business Secretary
Valerie Park - Corresponding Secretary
Trish Payne - Members at Large
Marvin & Elaine Engram - Honorary Members at Large
Chris Kneiss - Renovations Director
Jimmy Miller - Technical Director
Steve Mason - Set Director
Patsy Lawson - Grants Director
Joe Johnson - Membership/Sponsorship Director
Rachel Webb - Washington County Arts Council Liaison




Membership and Sponsorship Campaign

The Spanish Trail Playhouse held its first membership and sponsorship campaign in February 2009, under Chairman Joe Johnson. The first Season Tickets were created in March 2009.

In April 2009, the Historic Chipley High School Auditorium had been almost completely renovated. A deadline of April 15 had been placed on all renovation work due to preparation of the Spanish Trail Playhouse spring Musical, A Stroll Down Broadway.

In April 2009, the Spanish Trail Playhouse presented, A Stroll Down Broadway. This was the first musical produced by the Spanish Trail Playhouse in over 40 years. The cast included 35 individuals with a variety of ages. 


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