Built in 1973 on a 54-acre tract of land designated by the city of Vero Beach as a cultural park, Riverside Theatre was erected with $1.5 million raised solely from private donations. For the first few years of its existence, the Riverside Theatre building served primarily as the home to the Vero Beach Theatre Guild, the local community theatre group, and occasional bus & truck tours. In 1980, the Riverside Children’s Theatre (RCT) added education and programming for children to these activities, though it wasn’t until 1985, with the hiring of a full-time education director that classes and productions starring local children truly began. In 1983, the Friends of Riverside Theatre, a fundraising group, started the Celebrity Series with an appearance by Ray Charles, and this series, and appearances by celebrities, became an integral part of the Theatre’s programming.
The inaugural season for the Riverside Theatre Acting Company followed close behind in 1985-86. By 1987-88, Riverside had its first letter of agreement with Equity and had established itself as the first and only Equity theatre company on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Now in its twentieth season, Riverside has moved on to a LORT C (League of Resident Theatre) contract, and has grown to be one of the largest producing professional theatres in the State.
As Riverside grew, so did its facilities. In 1986, a rehearsal hall was added to the west of the Theatre proper. In 1991, the Agnes Wahlstrom Youth Playhouse (AWYP) became the home of Riverside Children’s Theatre and additional funds helped break ground for a scene shop adjacent to the northeast corner of the main Theatre building. In 1998, the Anne Morton Theatre (AMT), Riverside’s second stage, opened. Built primarily as the home for RCT productions, the AMT also serves as the site for Riverside 2, the Acting Company’s second stage series, and the Actors’ Cabaret. In 1999, still more construction renovated the backstage areas and original dressing rooms and moved all the administrative offices out of the Theatre and into the Leonhardt Administration Wing.
All these additions pale however in comparison with what’s to come. In 1999, a Long Range Facilities Planning Committee surveyed staff, patrons and the Board as to the Theatre’s long term facility needs. This survey found that renovation of the audience chamber and the addition of a lobby were the primary concerns of the Riverside faithful. In the summer of 1999, architects were hired to address these concerns. Feasibility studies, three different schematic designs, and fundraising ensued.
Finally on September 1 of 2005, a Building Permit for the all new Riverside Theatre was granted. The new Riverside Theatre opened on schedule in March, 2007, to carry Riverside Theatre to even greater heights, with a permanent home for the Second Stage, a renovated lobby and mainstage audience chamber.