The Montford Park Players’ purpose is to bring Shakespeare and other classic plays to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Believing that Shakespeare is a vital part of our common heritage, we set out to make his plays available for everyone to experience, by presenting them to the public free of charge. For the past thirty-nine years, we have continued to fulfill this important need in the performing arts community: providing quality productions of classic drama in an authentic outdoor setting.
Our theatre company began in 1973, at the municipal park on Montford Avenue, with a rendition of Shakespeare’s ever-popular pastoral comedy As You Like It. A few years later, with our summer program well-established, we began presenting Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as part of Asheville’s winter holiday celebration.
We continued to perform at Montford Park until 1983, when the City of Asheville completed construction of a flat-roofed storage building near the Riverside Cemetery for our use. It was perfectly suited to our needs: accessible from the Montford Community Center, facing a hillside, with a flat playing area at ground level and the flat rooftop providing a second playing area. The U.S. Navy Construction Battalion (“Sea-Bees”) terraced the hillside to create the audience seating area, and the Montford Amphitheatre was inaugurated with Romeo and Juliet.
1997 marked the two hundredth anniversary of Asheville, and we decided to take a part in the celebration by determining which of Shakespeare’s plays was the first to be performed publicly in Asheville, and present that play as our new play for this summer’s season. After months of exhaustive perusal of microfilm records of old newspapers, it was found that on February 14, 1889, in the Opera Hall on the third floor of the old courthouse, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It was presented by the company of Prescott and McLean, featuring Miss Marie Prescott as Rosalind.
Therefore that year, we invited the public to join us for a double celebration. In honor of the Asheville Bicentennial and the Montford Park Players’ twenty-fifth anniversary, we proudly presented the earliest recorded Shakespearean play of both the City and the Company: As You Like It, directed by Hazel Robinson. The Asheville City Council, in recognition of our founder’s contribution to the community, renamed our theater the “Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre.”
In 2006, following a strategic planning process, the board hired John Russell as its first professional managing director and CEO. Under his leadership, the Montford Park Players now performs a 20-week summer season of between five and six productions, plus an indoor Winter Season, and now entertains more than 10,000 patrons a year, ranking in the top four among outdoor theatres in North Carolina, just behind The Lost Colony, Unto These Hills and Horn in the West.
The actors and technicians of the Montford Park Players are all volunteers. In any given year, about two hundred people donate their time, talent, and expertise to our productions. Our membership includes all sorts of people: from young students to retired professors, auto mechanics to librarians, homemakers, news editors, artists and attorneys. We encourage participation by people of all ages and backgrounds, and we celebrate our diversity. What we all hold in common is a love of Shakespeare and a delight in presenting his plays to our friends and neighbors in Western North Carolina.
We also provide a vehicle by which persons new to the theatre community can learn, grow, and flourish. Many of our members have continued their involvement in community theatre after an initial experience with the Montford Park Players. All of us have gained in knowledge and experience, formed new friendships and reaffirmed old ones, and helped to make each production greater than the sum of its parts.
Our support comes from audience donations, playbill advertisements, contributions of funds, services, and materials from local businesses and patrons. We are especially grateful to the Montford Community Center and to the Asheville Department of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities, who have provided a great measure of physical and logistical support throughout our existence. We are a non-profit corporation under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and as such all contributions are tax-deductible.