The moment of birth for Hershey Area Playhouse was at the Warwick Hotel on the Friday night of Antique Auto Weekend 1998. Skip Becker had made a list of persons to call and meet - he wanted to discuss starting a community theatre in Hershey. That night Skip called Jack Hartman, and they met at Skip's house on Sunday evening. They reviewed the list and agreed to call those they felt would positively respond. After a few calls, they decided there was enough early interest to go forward.
They decided to schedule an organizational meeting in February and asked The Sun and The Hershey Chronicle to run an editorial inviting anyone interested to show up on January 13, 1999. John Zerbe, George Nye, Susan Fowler and Skip Becker met at the Hershey Theatre for a photo op for those papers. The story ran the first and second week in January 1999 and the photo ran just prior to the meeting at the Hershey Public Library.
January 13, 1999
A group of about 50 inspired and dedicated individuals met at the Hershey Public Library, even though the night turned into a blustery ice storm and the library was forced to close before the end of the meeting. The group elects its first Board of Directors, including Skip Becker, Susan Cort, Theresa Ridge, George Nye, Debbie Nifong, Bernie Resnick, Sunday Gallagher-Strange, Jack Hartman and Ken Skelly. The Board selects the name Hershey Area Playhouse because it wants to encourage everyone from the area, not just Hershey, to participate.
March 5, 1999
Hershey Area Playhouse receives 501(c)(3) status.
Playhouse stages first production, Barefoot in the Park, at the Hersheypark Faire Tent. Talented cast performs over sounds of rollercoasters.
First Cabaret Night held at Hershey Country Club. The gala featured local and professional singers and silent auction to benefit the Playhouse. Event conceived by Susan Cort and organized by her, Sunday Gallagher-Strange, Frankie Walters and Wanda Reid.
Michael Leader offers the Playhouse the use of a 136-year-old barn on the campus of Country Meadows of Hershey for the new permanent community theatre. The cost? Just a dollar a year!
Playhouse Board begins work on capital campaign and spends months organizing volunteers, securing community leadership support and negotiating with builders, architects, Derry Township officials and others. The campaign is chaired by Dr. Tom Davis and Clarence Brockman. Key volunteers included John Zerbe, Wanda Reid, Trish Foulkrod, Paul Thompson, Neal Rhoads and the Playhouse Board.
Country Meadows and The Hershey Company each provide a generous donation of $100,000 toward the campaign. Local benefactors Scott and Lorraine Reese and Caylene Rippon soon follow with a donation of $75,000.
Hershey Area Playhouse singers perform at Hershey’s Centennial.
Hershey Area Playhouse offers its first acting class for children, laying the groundwork for numerous acting workshops and the Hershey Area Playhouse Theatre Academy.
April 27, 2005
Senator Jeff Piccola and Senator Chip Brightbill facilitate DCED grant of $125,000.
Ground was broken for the new theatre on the campus of Country Meadows Retirement Community in Hershey.
The final "nomadic" production was staged. A Christmas Story was presented in the former Mikasa store in The Outlets at Hershey. The store has since become a Disney Store.
April 22, 2007
The Grand Opening celebration was held in the new theatre, with over 200 members of the community in attendance.
April 23, 2007
Opening Night of Our Town, directed by Playhouse founder Skip Becker.
The debut of Bravo! The Magazine of Hershey Area Playhouse, which combines news of the Playhouse along with regular features and activities for kids.
Hershey Area Playhouse Theatre Academy Players is introduced - the first such "resident troupe" of school-aged actors in the area.
During the run of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever directed by Karen Dundore-Gulotta, the Playhouse sells out the house for the first time ever. In fact, five of nine performances (including an added performance) sell out. As a special treat for cast and crew, as well as the audience, the author Barbara Robinson travels to Hershey to see the final performance.
Stuart Landon directs an unconventional, staged version of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters. This production stars Hershey area residents and real-life husband and wife Terry Farrell (of TV's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Becker) and Brian Baker (the Sprint PCS guy). The production breaks new Playhouse records and garnered publicity from national theatre publications and global fan blogs.
Cory Wilkerson directs The King and I, which is the first sold-out run in the Playhouse's history (including an added performance). The cast boasted 60 actors and required a tent, the office and part of the lobby to be used as auxiliary dressing areas.