Local News

CURTAINS RISE AGAIN Sebring's Circle Theatre to hold grand opening

SEBRING - As Nancy Hensley walked through part of the newly renovated Circle Theatre Tuesday, she recalled visiting it as a young woman decades earlier. "I know we would come on Saturday afternoons," she said, adding that they would typically watch Roy Rogers movies. But for decades the curtains have been closed on the theatre building that was later used for a lounge and then fell into disrepair. On Thursday at 6 p.m., at least symbolically, the curtains will reopen for the first time in at least 45 years.
Hensley, wife of Sebring Mayor George Hensley, and chairwoman of the board of directors for Champion for Children, which bought the building, said she's pleased with the transformation. Even though it hadn't yet opened Tuesday and some finishing work was being done, a wedding is planned for the facility and local Rotary Clubs have expressed an interest, said Kevin Roberts, chief operating officer for Champion for Children. Roberts said the work that was needed to reopen the building was more than he anticipated, but added that he never regretted the purchase. "In spite of all the setbacks, I have not regretted a single time that I asked the board to move forward with this and programs that help children," he said. He said someone can buy a ship and avoid problems by never using it. "A ship in port is safe, but that's not what the ship is for," he said. In many ways, the theatre looks familiar to the original Circle Theatre, including having some of the original clay tile. The original building contained a sweet shop, as does the renovated theatre, he said. At times, volunteers from organizations that serve youth will operate the sweet shop and a portion of the proceeds will go to that organization, he said. It will sell at least eight flavors of ice cream, coffee, pies, and lower calorie deserts, he said. One major change from the original building is that inside stairs lead to the balcony, he said. Previously, the stairs were on the outside. A sort of patio area that became unsightly has been made part of the building, he said. Although plans call for showing vintage movies at the Circle Theatre, the facility will be a lot more than just a movie house, Roberts said. Among other things, it will be used for arts and theater classes for youth, other types of children's programs, after school activities, weddings, family gatherings, receptions, corporate events, concerts and family reunions. The main restriction is that all events must be family friendly, he said. Brenda C. Heston, director of special projects for the Circle Theatre, said she's excited about the mission of the theatre and in developing programs. She said she met Roberts at a golf event and was interested in volunteering. Her friend, Tricia Davis, also has volunteered and be involved in a children's theatre program. Support from volunteers has been a key in the success of renovating the building, Roberts said. Among those who have volunteered was Rick Mercure, who has worked on the Internet services without charge. Roberts said Nancy Hensley has volunteered many hours. On Tuesday, teens from South Florida State College's Panther Youth program learned about the theatre where they will volunteer. Roberts said the theatre is one of many ventures for Champion for Children, but unlike the others that address a problem in the community, Circle Theatre is a completely positive program. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834