The Story of the House of Tomorrow
1936: THE TEXAS CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
After Dallas was selected to be the site of the official Texas Centennial Celebration in 1936, Amon G. Carter began making plans for a celebration in Fort Worth. Several acres of a nearby cow pasture were to become a midway of exhibits, sideshows, a Wild West show and a musical circus. At the center of the complex was to be a large outdoor amphitheatre and restaurant called Casa Mañana, “The House Of Tomorrow.”
Carter hired Broadway producer Billy Rose to produce the “Show of Shows” for Fort Worth. In just a few weeks, the cow pasture was transformed into Casa Mañana, housing the world’s largest revolving stage and accommodating 4,000 guests. A large moat surrounded the stage and fountains projected a wall of water, which doubled as the stage curtain.
For the first time, Broadway magic graced Fort Worth. The show was so successful that plans were made to bring it back each summer for four consecutive years. Rising costs and the threat of World War II, however, derailed the scheme and eventually the entire complex was dismantled and recycled for the war effort.
1958: CASA MAÑANA RETURNS
The dream of Casa Mañana was reborn in the fall of 1957 by the Fort Worth Opera Association’s president, James H. Snowden, Jr., and manager, Melvin O. Dacus. At their request, the city of Fort Worth created a non-profit corporation to build and operate a theatre complex, primarily focused on the production of Broadway musicals. With a budget of $500,000, the project was approved by the city council on January 14, 1958.
Construction began on March 13th and a record-breaking 114 days later, Casa Mañana Theatre was completed as a fully-enclosed, air-conditioned, aluminum-domed theatre. The theatre’s black-tie opening with a production of Can-Can on July 5, 1958, introduced audiences to the 1,805-seat house and to theatre-in-the-round, a stage configuration featuring a stage surrounded by the audience. With no backstage area, the actors and stagehands would use the surrounding concourse and aisles to move set pieces, props and other materials on and off stage. With the back row only 36 feet from the stage, audiences fell in love with the unique, intimate setting of Casa Mañana Theatre.
CASA MAÑANA THROUGH THE YEARS
Casa Mañana Musicals, Inc., the non-profit organization that managed the theatre, was run by a volunteer Board of Directors and General Manager Melvin O. Dacus. In 1962, programming was expanded with the introduction of the Children’s Playhouse, a professional theatre series geared toward North Texas children. Each year since, nearly 150,000 parents, children, teachers and students have attended these popular shows.
Soon after the Children’s Playhouse was established, Casa Mañana’s Theatre School opened to train children in the performing arts. Today, classes for children ages four and older are taught by theatre professionals year-round in acting, musical theatre, dance and voice. After more than 45 years in operation, Casa Mañana’s Theatre School has become one of the largest children’s acting schools in the nation.
With the opening of the Nancy Lee & Perry R. Bass Performance Hall in 1998, Casa Mañana Musicals, Inc. began presenting Broadway national tours year round at the new facility, in addition to staging their own elaborate productions, often featuring stunning local talent. Since then, Casa Mañana Musicals, Inc. has experienced tremendous growth, with historic highs in attendance and record budgets for productions. New programs have been added to Casa’s Education & Outreach programs, including The Betty Lynn Buckley Awards, honoring excellence in high school musical theatre, a summer theatre school program called Camp Casa, and an outreach performance troupe, The Casa Playaz to complement Casa Kids in bringing the magic of live theatre to the community.
After a decade of planning and fundraising, Casa Mañana Theatre was renovated in 2003 into a state-of-the-art performance venue. The renovation also added space for the expansion of Casa’s nationally-recognized educational programs and for the accommodation of a broad variety of community meetings, performances and other events.
In 2004, recognizing that the title “Musicals” did not accurately reflect the broad contributions the organization was making to the North Texas community, the Board of Directors voted to officially change the company’s name to Casa Mañana, Inc.
Since its creation in 1958, Casa Mañana has grown into the largest performing arts organization in Tarrant County. In more than 50 years, five visionary men have led this organization, Melvin O. Dacus, Clarence “Bud” Franks, Van Kaplan, Denton Yockey and Wally Jones. Twenty-three men and women have led Casa’s Board of Directors. Hundreds of dedicated and generous volunteers have given their time and energy to serving beneath them. As Casa heads into its next 50 years, the commitment has never been stronger to present the highest quality live theatre and live up to its namesake, “The House of Tomorrow.”
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