Downtown Sanford theater celebrates nearly 100 years of entertainment

The Ritz Theatre in historic Sanford is set to turn 100 next year

The Ritz Theatre in downtown historic Sanford is already celebrating 100 years since it opened its doors in 1923.

SANFORD, Fla. – The Ritz Theatre in downtown historic Sanford is already celebrating 100 years since it opened its doors in 1923.

Nancy Ford, 68, told News 6 she’s witnessed the changes it has undergone over the years.

[TRENDING: Did you receive a $450 check in the mail from Gov. Ron DeSantis? Don’t throw it away, cash it | Flight hits ‘unexpected turbulence’ over Florida, sending 8 to hospital | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

“I was able to do things I never would have imagined I would’ve been able to do; perform on the stage of a theatre that would not allow me in the front door when I was a child,” Ford said. The Sanford native recalled she started to visit the theatre when she was about 11 years old, during segregation.

“We didn’t have to pay money. We just had to get RC caps, so we would go around during the week and collect them. We would come here, go down this alley because this was the ‘colored’ entrance. We couldn’t use the front door,” Ford recalled.

Several years later, she went from being a viewer on the balcony to being cast in the show “Crowns” in 2013.

Steve Nelson, executive board member of The Ritz Theatre, was one of the producers of the show. Nelson recalled when he walked the cast over to the stage through the same entrance Ford had to enter through as a child.

“I looked over, and Nancy is in tears, and I’m saying, ‘What did I do wrong?’” Nelson said. “I still get choked up when I tell that story.”

As he reflected on the nearly hundred-year history of The Ritz Theatre, Nelson described it as a place with a spirit for unity.

“We’re a true community theatre, which means when you look on our stage, and you see one (of) the theatrical productions, they’re all volunteers,” Nelson said. “We will always cast anyone that comes in the front door.”

The theatre has been a staple of Sanford since 1923. It’s gone through multiple name changes, but the building’s walls are still original.

“In Sanford, it became known as the Sanford Jewel,” Sheryl Brown, marketing director of the theatre said. “I think the building itself — older buildings have a life to it, and the outside just shines and welcomes people in.”

Today, The Ritz Theatre offers all sorts of entertainment in the arts.

“Whether it’s a concert, whether it’s a play, whether it’s opera, a musical performance, it’s very popular, and we feel that we really are a crown jewel of downtown historic Sanford,” Brown said.

And education is also among their priorities through their summer theatre camp program for children.

“When they leave, they are so built up and so full of themselves and so love themselves, their parents will tell us, ‘My child has changed, and it’s all for the better,’” Nelson said.

For more information on the activities taking place for the centennial celebration, visit the theatre’s website here.

Check out every episode of Riff On This in the media player below: