The mission of Montford Park Players is to serve as North Carolina’s longest running Shakespeare theatre company, primarily dedicated to performing the works of Shakespeare, and dedicated to providing exceptional dramatic entertainment for the enrichment, education, and enjoyment of our audiences.
Montford Park Players (MPP) was founded by Hazel Robinson in 1973 with a rendition of Shakespeare’s ever-popular pastoral comedy As You Like It, performed in a municipal park on Montford Avenue in the historic Montford neighborhood. MMP was established as a 501(c)3 organization in 1975. Our operating support comes from individuals making annual gifts and audience donations, foundation grants, business sponsorships, donated services and materials.
A few years later, with our summer program well-established, MPP began presenting Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and was instrumental in establishing in A Dickens Village celebration in Biltmore Village as part of Asheville’s winter holiday celebrations. Participating in A Dickens Village continues some 40+ years later.
Performances continued in Montford Park for the next nine years. In 1983 the City of Asheville completed construction of a flat-roofed storage building near Riverside Cemetery for our use. The U.S. Navy Construction Battalion (“Sea-Bees”) terraced the steep hillside to create an audience seating area, and the Montford Amphitheatre was inaugurated with the production of Romeo and Juliet.
Asheville celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1997. In honor of the Asheville Bicentennial and the Montford Park Players’ 25th anniversary, we researched and presented the earliest recorded Shakespearean play performed in Asheville: As You Like It, directed by founder Hazel Robinson. In recognition of our founder’s contribution to the community, City Council renamed the amphitheatre the “Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre.”
Executive Director John Russell became the first employee and CEO in 2006. He has been instrumental in growing the audience and enhancing the audience experience since his arrival. He was appointed to the Board of North Carolina Arts Council in July 2017 by Governor Roy Cooper and currently serves on the North Carolina Governor’s School Foundation Board as Vice President and Fundraising Chair.
MPP exceed all previous attendance records with more than 18,000 theatre goers in 2018. The same year, the Outdoor Theatre Council recognized Russell with the Mark R. Sumner Award, a national award exemplifying the highest standards of American outdoor drama. Recipients are recognized as having played a major role in the production of a specific outdoor drama or they have made a noteworthy impact on outdoor theatre.
In early 2019 the board hired Beth Coakley as its first Director of Donor Relations and MPP’s second full time staff member with the goal of establishing an infrastructure for professional development operations, including growing annual contributions and major gifts. https://thelaurelofasheville.com/arts/performing-arts/montford-park-players-announces-2019-season-new-development-director/
MPP expanded the summer educational offerings in 2019 through the Montford Moppets, our youth theatre division. We expanded from one session to three three-week sessions and the annual holiday production of A Christmas Carol.
We are proud of our nearly 50-year history as the vehicle and venue for those new to theatre to learn, grow, and flourish as actors and technicians. Our members share a common desire to perform the works of Shakespeare and are uniquely passionate about presenting his plays to locals and visitors alike.
Many of our members have continued their involvement in community theatre after an initial experience with the Montford Park Players or the Montford Moppets. Approximately two hundred members donate their time, talent, and expertise to productions annually. We encourage participation by people of all ages and backgrounds and celebrate our diversity.
We are a member of Southeastern Conference (SETC), the Shakespeare Theatre Association, and the Institute of Outdoor Theatre. We are the recipient of support from the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Dept. of Cultural Resources, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts with funding through the Asheville Area Arts Council. MPP ranks among the top three outdoor theatres in North Carolina.
Additional Theatre Highlights:
- We are especially grateful to the Tempie Avery Montford Community Center and to the Asheville Department of Parks and Recreation, who have provided a great measure of physical and logistical support throughout our existence.
- Awarded $125,000 as recipient of one of the early awards made by the Buncombe County TDA
- Montford Park Players is one of only 15 theatres worldwide to have staged every single one of Shakespeare’s plays.
- In 2018, MPP recorded the highest attendance in our history with over 18,000 patrons attending our performances and was named the Community Theatre Award winner by the North Carolina Theatre Conference.
- Approximately 30 percent of our audience comes from outside the Asheville area and those travelers generate approximately $1.6 million annually in revenue for the city and its businesses.
- MPP is the longest-running Shakespeare festival in North Carolina, and annually records the third highest attendance of any outdoor theatre in the state, behind The Lost Colony and Unto These Hills.