It began as many great things do, with a small group of devotees. A woman who apparently wouldn’t take no for an answer, founding president Celia Clafin, detailed the history making Mount Dora's IceHouse Theatre a reality.
In 1948, land located where Mount Dora Boating Center sits today, became destined for the city's community theater. The IceHouse Players Theatre was obligated for $100 monthly rent for an old ice plant building which sat vacant since the advent of refrigeration. The re-purposed ice house was so close to the railroad tracks that performers had to pause until the train passed.
The enthusiastic group of volunteers never knew where the next dollar was coming from, according to Clafin's history. As new crises arose, the group proved persistent by holding an auction, bingo game, dance and rummage sale to continue funding their passion. After much anticipation, IceHouse Players Theatre's first production, “Return Engagement”, opened on February 7, 1949 to an invitation-only audience.
In 1957, Clafin and a new group of volunteers accomplished yet another seemingly-impossible task: they convinced the City of Mount Dora to donate a new location at 1100 North Unser Street, which is the current location of the theater.
The first season of the newly relocated IceHouse Theatre opened in November 1958 with “The Solid Gold Cadillac”. By that time the community endeavor had become widely known throughout the Southeast as one of the best little theaters, according to Clafin. Although an upgrade from its previous location, the brand new building lacked air conditioning until 1965, so no performances were held from April until October.
In 2011, a significant gift from long-time IceHouse benefactors, John and Carolyn Sonnentag, allowed the theater to make renovations both inside and out.
The newly renamed, 270- seat Sonnentag Theatre at The IceHouse, headed up by managing artistic director Darlin Barry, now boasts six productions a year. Barry, who came onboard in 1992 as an actor, is now in her tenth year managing. She, along with scenic designer, David Clevinger, ensure the high production quality of the shows. The modest ticket prices range between $10-$20 and make it affordable to a wide audience.
The theater has come a long way from its early days, yet one thing remains the same: it’s community volunteers and their enthusiasm that help make it work. For information on this seasons shows, click here.
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, click here.
By Aimee Fried, Mount Dora Buzz writer
Above: The Sonnentag Theatre at the IceHouse as it is today. Below: The demolition of the orginal theater on the waterfront.