In 1663 the present home of our theatre was erected, as a gristmill by Henry Randolph I. Swift Creek Mill is widely believed to be the oldest gristmill in the United States. During the next two hundred years, the “Mill” changed hands many times and operated in various capacities ranging from manufacturing to serving as a distillery of corn whiskey. In 1929, operating once again as a gristmill, the property became know officially as the Swift Creek Mill and remained in operation until 1956.
In 1965 the “Mill” was purchased by three local families who shared a dream of bringing live professional theatre to the tri-cities area. The then vacant and neglected property was refurbished and transformed into a dinner theatre that provided a unique and intimate atmosphere for its patrons. For over forty years, the “Mill” has been preserved as both an historic landmark and a cultural outlet for the talent of artists, skilled actors, directors, designers and technicians. The legacy of their efforts lives on with each new critically acclaimed artistic achievement at the Mill. Swift Creek Mill is a Chesterfield County historic landmark, a Virginia Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
From December 1965 until June 2001 Swift Creek Mill Playhouse produced hundreds of live dramas, comedies, musicals and children’s theatre productions for local audiences. Beginning in 1994 however, the corporate nature of live theatre began to evolve as Broadway and the major theatre production markets moved away from the development of plays and musicals that were financially viable and acceptable for local markets. As new, “big name” scripts became rare, small theaters, such as Swift Creek Mill Playhouse faced two options. Either close, as the vast majority of small theaters in the United States chose to do, leaving smaller communities without essential cultural cornerstones, or turn to the community for support under a not for profit corporate banner.
In June 2001, the reorganized Swift Creek Mill Theatre Inc. gained it’s 501 c3 status in order to seek needed funding to allow the continuation of the theatre’s mission: to continue the support of local patrons through the presentation of a season of drama, comedy, musical theatre and children’s theatre; to expand and enhance the cultural presence in Central and Southside Virginia; to hire and showcase local talent, providing an outstanding environment for work and professional development; to offer high quality theatre at a reasonable rate; and to offer positive and value driven educational programs for children through theatrical productions and instructional camps.
The Swift Creek Mill Theatre, Inc. produces five to six main stage productions per year with weekly performances resulting in 175 offerings per year. Since 1965 Swift Creek Mill Theatre has continued to produce high quality theatre with the finest talent available in central Virginia. Our critically acclaimed productions have seen such performers as Blair Underwood and Steven Furst move on to exceptional careers in film and television and such performers as Gail Howell, Emily Skinner and Betsy Blanks move on to outstanding Broadway credits. Established Broadway performers such as Betty Ann Grove have graced the Mill stage, finding the Mill an exceptional venue to perform as well. Colonial Heights native Joe Doran is the latest Mill alumnus to move on with great promise. Currently involved in numerous New York projects, Joe is widely recognized as a rising star in the area of technical production.
In 1989, the Mill began providing educational and cultural programs for children and youth. Our Children’s Theatre produces three to five youth and children oriented productions each theatre season resulting in 100 to 125 children’s performances per year. Prior to and at the conclusion of each performance, cast members interact with the children through a question and answer period. Our original productions, such as our Santa series and favorites including, The Little Engine That Could, are carefully written by our staff under the watchful eye of certified classroom educators continuing our rich tradition as a destination for educators seeking to augment instruction with live classic theatre. These productions incorporate all aspects of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL). Listing of selected SOL’s associated with each production is promoted within marketing materials. The youth theatre program is an outreach effort meeting the needs of over 20,000 students in eight surrounding school districts and over 200 independent schools including home schools, private schools and day care facilities. Frequented school systems include the cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Petersburg and Richmond, along with the counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Prince George and Sussex.
Our Youth Theatre Summer Camp offers beginner and advanced camps that focus on the performing arts including, voice, acting, movement and stage design. Camps are held daily from 10:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. during two one-week periods for an average of 45 students and are conducted by professionals in the cultural arts.