During the 1930’s, an active group of Thespians had been staging plays at Joplin High School, the Paramount Theatre, the Scottish Rite Temple and anywhere else they could find a stage. In 1939 this group incorporated into Joplin Little Theatre and today is known as the longest continuously running community theatre west of the Mississippi.
The Royal Heights Playhouse, located at 2201 N. Florida, was the first home for JLT. A former movie house, it had neither seats nor heating. Patrons brought their own folding chairs. In 1945, JLT found a new home at the corner of 12th and Main at the Market Square. The new theatre was on the 2nd floor, above the city market and a saloon.
In November 1946, JLT realized the need for its own building. With money raised by investments in Victory bonds, as well as a generous gift from George A. Spiva, the purchase of an old riding academy and twenty lots just north of Schifferdecker Park was made. The new theatre was named “Park Playhouse” and has since been the home of JLT.
After much renovation, Park Playhouse opened in July, 1948 – with a full house attending a formal night opening of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” Elegance was added to the evening by a uniformed doorman, gowned usherettes and special souvenir programs presented to the patrons.
In the early 1990’s, momentum for improvement to the theatre allowed for much needed expansion. An addition to each side of the lobby brought new office, restroom, meeting and kitchen space. New seating increased the comfort of patrons, and a large stagehouse with dressing rooms, tool and shop space, storage and fly gallery along with new lighting and sound systems increased the technical capabilities and facilities for actors, directors and designers.
Today, Joplin Little Theatre proudly looks back on a rich history of continuous activity, presenting high quality productions to the people of the Four-State Area. The theatre operates on ticket sales, sponsorships and donations, and currently does not receive any support from taxpayers.