Pensacola Little Theatre has been providing live theatrical events to Pensacola for over 80 years. The Pensacola Civic Drama Players was formed in 1926 by a group of individuals at the San Carlos Hotel. The organization performed dramatic theatre for three years before the Great Depression. In 1936, after a period of “dark years,” the organization was reestablished through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which created theatre companies across the country as part of the federal government's recovery program after the Great Depression. The new organization was incorporated one year later as Pensacola Little Theatre, Inc.
PLT's early performances were held in the old Chamber of Commerce auditorium and later at Pensacola High School. By 1949, the Board of Directors developed a plan for a home that Pensacola Little Theatre could call its own. In January of 1952, the first show opened in the Quonset, and our all-volunteer productions continued there through the 1970s.
After two decades, the Quonset had deteriorated, and improvements such as a sprinkler system were prohibitively expensive. The construction of a new building was also out of reach, so the Board of Directors considered existing buildings. In 1977, the Quonset was sold, and PLT moved into the old Florida Movie House on Palafox Street.
Board members and other dedicated volunteers never gave up the dream of moving Pensacola Little Theatre into its own home again. Through a commissioned study, PLT found that 24 local arts organizations had similar needs. Convincing the Escambia County Commissioners that a central location with space and facilities for existing and new arts groups was needed, PLT was deeded the Escambia County Court of Records Building and Jail. Built in 1911, the long-abandoned landmark was renovated into the Pensacola Cultural Center. In January 1996, PLT offered its first production - The Wizard of Oz - in the Pensacola Cultural Center.
Pensacola Little Theatre finally had a glorious home to call its own, with a state-of-the-art theatre offering unobstructed views from every seat in the house. Ten years after opening, the theatre was named the Valerie Jones Russenberger Theatre, after a generous patron, performer, and volunteer. The Russenberger Theatre is never dark for long. In addition to PLT's ambitious production schedule each year, local schools, traveling shows, and other arts organizations often perform in the space.
Pensacola Little Theatre is more than a building; it's made up of thousands of volunteers. Special recognition goes to the Pensacola Little Theatre Guild, which formed in 1977 to support the theatre's mission and its efforts to find a permanent home. Guild members volunteer their time greeting patrons, preparing mailings, and holding fundraisers.
PLT is the area's leader in quality community theatre. Volunteers from all walks of life have banded together across generations to showcase the artistic talents of local residents. Now it's your turn to become a part of Pensacola Little Theatre history.
Historical information provided by historian and former PLT Board Member, B.J. Miller.