"Hey, Let's Put on a Show!"
In 1968, 18-year-old Dennis Soens had a vision of summer theatre in his hometown of Avalon. Supported and encouraged by his parents, Roger and Mary Soens, Dennis asked Mayor Edgar V.H. Bell for a venue. The mayor agreed to provide Avalon Community Hall.
With the musical help of Ginny Lynch and the production assistance of Bonnie Matt, Dennis directed and choreographed “A Taste of Broadway,” which incorporated musical numbers from “Hello Dolly,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Man of la Mancha.”
The production was an immediate success, leading to additional performances and the formation of the Avalon Players.
A program from the Avalon Players' first production in 1968: "A Taste of Broadway."
A poster advertising the Avalon Players' first production.
As a founding member, Dennis directed many of the Avalon Players' first productions. After attending the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, he pursued an acting career on and off Broadway - though he still returned to Avalon every summer.
This telegram was sent to Dennis Soens after the Avalon Players' first production. It is unlikely this telegram was sent by the "Greg Peck" who starred in Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Following their achievement with "A Taste of Broadway," the Avalon Players decided to hold auditions for their next production in the summer of 1969. A flyer was circulated, which resulted in dozens of children showing up. No one was turned away and each child was promised a part in the show - a tradition that continues to this day.
With a much larger cast, the Avalon Players were able to put on their first full-scale musical, “Oliver!” This was followed by four more musical productions over the next three years.
A program from the Avalon Players' production of "Oliver!"
A poster advertising the Avalon's Players' 1969 production of "Oliver!"
In 1970, the Avalon Players put on two complete productions in a single summer: “A Taste of Broadway 1970” and “Bye Bye Birdie."
In 1971, the Avalon Players put on the lesser known (but no less entertaining) “Maggie Flynn.”
The 1950s returned with “A Taste of Broadway 1972,” which featured numbers from “Grease" and other musicals.
The curtain stayed down in 1973, but the Avalon Players returned under the direction of Jody Rosenburg in a 1974 production featuring song and dance numbers from “The Wizard of Oz” and “Hello, Dolly!”
Dennis Soens then returned in 1975 to direct “Mack & Mabel” before the Avalon Players took an extended break that lasted until 1985. That year, the Avalon Players returned to great applause with “Sand in My Shoes," followed by “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
A program from the 1991 production, "Avalon... Cooler by a Mile" (left); A program from the 1990 production, "The Dream" (center); A program from the 1992 production, "Avalon... Still Cool" (right).
The early 1990s were marked by two big events for the Avalon Players. First was the death of Dennis Soens in 1989. His legacy was celebrated in a special 1990 project titled "The Dream," which featured musical numbers from several of his early productions.
Then, in 1991 and 1992, the ensemble participated in Avalon's centennial festivities by producing two original musicals featuring characters and stories from Avalon's past and the present day. Both of these productions were directed by Sage Sennhenn.
In the mid-1990s, Avalon Player alumna Sage Sennhenn set up “Sage’s Stage" for retired players who wanted to take the stage once again. All performers had to be over the age of 16.
In 1996, Sage's Stage put on their first production, “Little Shop of Horrors,” which was directed by Sage Sennhenn herself.
A program from the first production by Sage's Stage: "Little Shop of Horrors."
Fifty Years and Counting
Over the succeeding years, the players have continued to grow and entertain the people of Avalon. As a service to their community, the ensemble started taking their shows on the road to perform at area nursing homes and the Diller Home for the Blind.
In 2018, the Avalon Players celebrated their 50th anniversary.
These shirts were worn by the cast and crew for various productions in the 1990s.
Throughout this time, the Avalon Players have enjoyed the support of local businesses, administrative leaders, and countless volunteers. Most of the performers’ costumes can be attributed to the hard work of parents, siblings, and grandparents - likewise for set design and construction, promotion, refreshments, and ticketing.
From their humble beginnings in 1968, the Avalon Players have become a staple of the community and the summer season.
The costume worn by Eddie Dunlevie as Captain Hook in the Avalon Players' 2001 production of "Peter Pan" (left); The costume worn by Eddie Dunlevie as Harold Hill in the Avalon Players' 2002 production of "The Music Man" (right).
The Avalon Players' 2002 production of "The Music Man."
The Avalon History Center
Want to see more? Visit the Avalon History Center to explore our full exhibits in person!