GLENS FALLS — It has been 25 years since a trio of New York City 20-something friends decided to the leave steamy city summers behind and start an upstate theater company, showcasing playwrights and their new plays.
At the time, Martha Banta, David Turner and David King had no way of knowing how huge the seed they planted in 1994 at an outdoor theater in a Lake George RV park would grow.
It was the inaugural benefit performance of A.R. Gurney’s two-person play, “Love Letters,” featuring renowned actors Elaine Stritch and Jason Robards, that set the stage for the Adirondack Theatre Festival, now housed in the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls.
And because this year marks a quarter century of presenting new works — many of which moved on to play for New York City audiences, including on Broadway — Rabinovitz said they are throwing an early February party at the Queensbury Hotel.
But it’s not just any party, it’s a “25th Birthday Celebration Anniversary Benefit Gala Party,” he said.
“There will be so many people from the past attending,” he said, adding that Banta, Turner and King will be there to toast the theater’s success. “We want to honor the past and get ready for the future.”
Since that first show, along with an eventual move and multimillion-dollar renovation, ATF summer shows have become a destination, with attendance increasing year after year.
“That first-ever production led to a full season the next year,” said Chad Rabinovitz, ATF producing artistic director. “There’s 25 years of history that we are building on. It took a long history to grow something that was improbable. … To do this with mostly unheard-of material and not standard shows.”
At the time, theater professionals told the founders well-known musicals would make them successful. But the trio didn’t waver, and since its first season, ATF has produced more than 25 world premieres that have gone on to Broadway and international audiences.
A 1998 premiere, “Fully Committed” by Becky Mode, was produced on Broadway in 2016, starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson (known for his role as Mitch in the TV series “Modern Family.”)
In previous years, the benefit gala featured a short performance. But Rabinovitz said this year the show will be the food. Attendees will choose from 25 wines and beers at a complementary open wine and beer bar; top an ice cream sundae with one or all of 25 toppings; sample sliders, cupcakes, shrimp and fresh-made pasta; or visit a chef’s carving station.
“There’s a chocolate fountain and magicians and balloon magic,” Rabinovitz said. “We’re bringing in air hockey, a green screen photo booth with 75 different backgrounds. There will be couches to just hang out.”
Additionally, there will be the traditional silent and live auctions, including a live auction for tickets to Saturday Night Live and tickets for four to any Broadway show.
“And I can’t wait to announce the 25th anniversary season,” Rabinovitz said.
Partygoers will be the first to hear what this summer’s shows will be.
“It will be everything from intellectual drama to hysterical comedy. I’m really proud of this season,” he said.
The theater’s success goes beyond attendance statistics, he said.
“What’s most exciting about ATF and the Wood is to see how the arts have impacted the community,” Rabinovitz said. “Its one of the reasons I came here ... we want to continue to be a destination here and continue to bring folks from all over ... let’s all celebrate together.”
Tickets for the Feb. 2 event can be purchased online at www.atfestival.org/25th-celebration.