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Collage of photos from the history of the Avondale Theatre.

 

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The Avondale Playhouse was a not-for-profit theater company active from the 1950s to the 1970s. The first iteration was a summer stock theater with seasons running from July through August each year from 1954-1966 that offered performances in an eye-catching striped tent. Founded by Allen W. Clowes, the company distinguished itself among the vibrant Indianapolis theater scene of the period by inviting popular guest actors to perform such as Vivian Vance, Cesar Romero and Dorothy Lamour.

 

The company opened in 1954 under the name “Town and Country Playhouse” in Devon Woods. Displaced after a housing development bought the spot, it opened as the Avondale Playhouse the following year on Millersville Road. Zoning could be challenging and the theater faced the high costs of moving and occasional vandalism. After a stint at 116th Street and the White River, it finally found a home at the Meadows Shopping Center in 1958 with a 1000 capacity tent and parking. After this this move, the Avondale Playhouse began hosting a children’s theater, advertised as a place to leave kids while parents did their shopping. Clowes resigned as head in 1962 to focus on Clowes Memorial Hall, replaced by W. Taylor Wilson, but he remained on the theater board.  The contract with the shopping center provided stability for the theater for eight years, until a failed attempt to expand to Louisville and other tax issues cause the playhouse not to return after the 1966 season.

 

Though the original Avondale tent theater ended after the 1966 season, it was brought back as the Avondale Dinner Theater in 1972 in nearly the same spot, this time as a year-round operation in a more permanent structure with four tiers and 600 capacity. The stage was converted to a dance floor after the shows. They hosted music as well, including the Glenn Miller Band in 1973.

 

This collection comprises over 150 photographs, programs, and clippings from performances spanning 1955 to 1973. Iconic performers such as Ethel Waters, Vivian Vance, Frances Farmer are many more are featured. The collection also features a program for a 1961 production of “You Can’t Take It With You,” which would be the final performance of Academy Award-winning actor Charles Coburn.

 

 

Made possible by the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, Inc. and Friends of the Library through gifts to The Indianapolis Public Library Foundation.  

 

 

 
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