Founded by Rudy and Marian Eastman in Fort Worth, Texas on June 19, 1981, Jubilee Theatre is the original home of African-American theater in North Texas. Jubilee Theatre was incorporated in 1982 and received its 501(c)(3) status in May 1983.
After one season at 1801 East Vickery, the Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Darwin and Muriel Mendoza, decided to become what the local press affectionately called a “gypsy theatre”…performing on off days in local theaters or nightclubs, while only occasionally getting a chance at weekend runs. For the next five years, Jubilee Players would perform in lobbies, saloons, the former Caravan of Dreams, StageWest, and Pocket Sandwich Theater, just to name a few.
In November 1986, Jubilee staged its first production of the original musical Negroes in Space to sellout crowds at the Caravan of Dreams. Thanks to an Amon G. Carter Foundation challenge grant, Jubilee raised matching funds during that production for a permanent home for the troupe. In 1987, Jubilee Theatre opened its doors at 3114 East Rosedale, across from Texas Wesleyan University. This would be the first theater Jubilee would call home.
In November of 1993, an active Board of Trustees successfully concluded a capital campaign resulting in a newly renovated theater in downtown Fort Worth’s Sundance Square at 506 Main Street. This goal was met with 300-plus individuals and several organizations from all sectors of the city participating.
In 1995, Jubilee Theatre came under the Actors Equity umbrella in an effort to bring professional talent to the Jubilee stage. In 1998, arts patrons Hardy and Betty Sanders gave a pledge to upgrade the quality of work done at Jubilee. This pledge gave Jubilee a chance to produce such wonderful musicals as Travelin’ Shoes, The Tempest, and Attitude Girlfriend, Attitude, and established Jubilee’s reputation of producing original musical works. From 1997 to 2000, a concentrated capital campaign helped to establish an administrative staff and add production capabilities.
During the early part of the 21st century, Jubilee saw unprecedented growth: winning awards and accolades for its artistic integrity, nearly doubling its budget, increasing its audience base to reach some 15,000 each season, launching an educational outreach program that has reached over 38,000 students in the FWISD, and solidifying itself as an artistic and community leader.
In 2004, Jubilee looked to undertake another expansion project; and with overwhelming community support, Jubilee was able to complete a $460,000 renovation project completely free of debt. This renovation project was concluded in January of 2005 and included increasing the theatre’s capacity from 99 seats to 147; enlarging the usable stage space, as well as restroom and dressing room spaces; expanding the lighting system; and upgrading the lobby with ADA-compliant flooring and doors.
However, just as the renovation was being completed, the Jubilee family suffered a tremendous loss. On May 31, 2005, co-founder and artistic director Rudy Eastman passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. For 24 years, Rudy worked to bring forth the Jubilee Theatre that thrives today. His vehicles were many and varied, and always instructive and entertaining; and his vision never wavered as he was determined to help people understand the African-American experience – through theatre.
While the Jubilee family grieved for Rudy, it has continued to keep his vision and theatre alive. Even though statistics on organizations surviving the loss of a founder are not encouraging, due to the strong community support and goodwill that Jubilee has developed over nearly three decades, the theatre not only carried on but continued to grow. The 2005-2006 Season saw a record average attendance at Jubilee performances, record contributed income, and continued critical acclaim including Best Production awards from the Fort Worth Weekly and the Dallas/Fort Worth Theatre Critics Forum.
In June of 2006, after a year-long national search, Jubilee announced the hiring of a truly capable and talented new Artistic Director – Edward “Ed” G. Smith. Ed’s first season with Jubilee was notable for both artistic success and growth. Ed’s work has been called “soul-shattering and soul-saving” and “absolutely enthralling” (Dallas Observer) with “a recent trend of impressive design” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) and “a new level of restraint and subtlety” (Dallas Morning News). Both the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News declared “the future looks bright.”
Jubilee continues to grow under the leadership of Ed Smith and Managing Director Benjamin Espino. An expansion of the theatre’s creative programming has included the introduction of a Music Series, a Reading Series, and a new educational outreach program. Financially, over the past two years, Jubilee’s contributed income has grown 105%, alongside an 8% growth in ticket revenue. And increased technical capabilities, including online tickets sales, new lighting technologies, and sound equipment, have all been added within the past year. With a strong financial base, growing audiences, a dedicated Board of Trustees and Staff, and a tradition of artistic integrity, Jubilee has maintained its status as a gem in the Fort Worth cultural and arts scene. We hope you will learn more about Jubilee first-hand by visiting the theatre and joining in our celebration of A PROUD HISTORY AND A PROMISING FUTURE.