Published on November 16, 2023, 4:31 pm

The Flagler Playhouse, located in downtown Bunnell, recently faced a devastating setback when its 150-foot theater was demolished beyond repair. However, the company has been able to bounce back and salvage most of its season by staging their next three shows at Matanzas High School’s Pirates Theater.

Only one show, titled “Play That Goes Wrong,” which was supposed to open on November 3, had to be scrapped. However, the dates for “The Great American Trailer Park,” a David Nehls musical set in Starke, Florida, have already been set for January 25, 26, and 27.

Flagler Playhouse President Jerri Berry expressed her initial shock and sadness as she watched the theater burn down. But now she is feeling more positive about the future thanks to the support and rally from the community. The arrangement with Matanzas High School and the assistance of the Flagler Auditorium has helped ensure that their productions can continue.

To kick off their rebuilding efforts, the Playhouse is launching a fundraising campaign called “Let’s Kick Off the ReBuild” at Woody’s BBQ at Flagler Plaza on November 14th. Berry believes that what will emerge at the end of this process will be an enhanced performance facility that is bigger and better than before.

Although exact dates for future shows like “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in March and “Sister Act” in April have not yet been finalized, it is certain that they will be staged at Pirates Theater. Matanzas High School will allow Flagler Playhouse to use their facilities free of charge except for custodial and maintenance costs – which will be underwritten by the Flagler Auditorium.

The productions may have slightly shorter runs than usual because they need to accommodate Matanzas High School student performances as well. Despite this constraint, Berry hopes that Pirates Theater’s larger seating capacity (450 seats) will attract larger audiences and make up for any lost dates.

Furthermore, Berry has made arrangements with Bunnell Elementary School to host the Playhouse’s second edition of the Penguin Project, a theatrical experience for students with special needs.

The report from Flagler County Fire Rescue provides some details on the fire that destroyed the theater. It reveals that the fire started in the attic and then spread quickly, causing the roof to collapse into the building. While most of the damage occurred in the collapsed attic, fire investigators were unable to determine the exact cause due to extensive fire damage.

Although Playhouse officials have been in contact with their insurer and have engaged forensic consultants to investigate, they still await clearance to enter the building and assess salvageable items. The extent of damage is yet to be determined in terms of monetary value.

Despite these challenges, Berry remains optimistic. While insurance coverage may not be enough to fully rebuild, she believes that through monetary donations and community support, it will be possible to create a new facility that exceeds expectations. The Playhouse has already assembled a committee of rebuild experts as part of their community-driven rebuilding efforts.

While local governments have not provided substantial assistance thus far, Bunnell government has been supportive in reviewing plans before significant expenses are incurred. Additionally, across the street, the Flagler County Historical Society is working towards preserving and incorporating the Playhouse’s iconic steeple into its rebuilt facade.

The Flagler Playhouse’s determination and resilient spirit are evident as they continue planning their upcoming shows at Matanzas High School’s Pirates Theater. With strong community support and their commitment to providing quality theatrical experiences, this theater company will undoubtedly rise again.

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