In 1976, Abbeville natives, Ted and Lynette Winter-Cessac and Dave Pierce, found themselves back home after having lived or studied away from their home town. With an interest in theatre and a desire to continue performing, they formed Abbey Players and staged Neil Simon’s “Last Of The Red Hot Lovers” at the Abbeville Country Club. So successful was the first venture that the founders of the Abbey Players decided to incorporate the group as a tax exempt non-profit corporation. On February 1, 1977, Lynette Winter-Cessac, Wayne Summers, Dave Pierce, James E. Fontenot, and Lila Tritico executed the Articles of Incorporation of Abbey Players, Inc., as incorporators.
For the next five years, the Players, with neither capital nor permanent location, but well-supplied with creativity and enthusiasm, continued to produce plays. Six Rooms RIV VU was mounted in the auditorium of Vermilion Catholic High School. James Fontenot’s home, the former Wells Fargo Building, became the theatrical setting for “Ten Little Indians” and “Arsenic and Old Lace”. “Witness For The Prosecution” was appropriately presented in the courtroom of the Abbeville City Court. With the ever increasing public and critical support, the Players rented the old Reaux Lumber Company building at the corner of Lafayette and Main Streets from Representative Sammy Theriot. Ingenuity transformed this warehouse into an arena theatre, complete with backstage area and upstairs dressing rooms.
A homemade lighting system was installed and the group was ready to produce “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”, “The Rainmaker” and “The Man Who Came To Dinner”. Patrons’ Night was instituted with an opening night festivity at which regular supporters enjoyed both a performance of the play and champagne and hors d’ oeuvres. Patrons’ Nights were adopted as standard procedure and the Players were assured not only ever increasing popularity but solvency.
In 1981, The Abbey Players was at a crossroads. Was it going to remain a “gypsy theatre company” or was it going to incur debt to buy and renovate a building in order to provide the organization a permanent home? After much debate, some negotiating, and a lot of begging, Abbey Players bought the old Vermilion Bar and started gutting the building. With plans designed by a Tulane theatre major, the building was transformed into a functioning theatre with a reception area featuring the refurbished, original bar of the Vermilion Bar, and a stadium seating overlooking a thrust stage. The light booth featured state of the art lighting and sound equipment.
This would not have happened without the hard work of members, the generosity of Lifetime Patrons who donated $100,000.00, and a favorable loan package from a local bank.
There was only one thing missing. Dressing rooms! There was no room for them in the original structure. For the first few years cast members put on makeup and did costume changes in the hallways, public bathrooms, and the light booth. The solution to the vexing problem came with the addition of a two-story structure on the west side of the building. At last the Abbey Players truly had a permanent home.
Dim the lights! Take your positions! Create magic!