Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Theatre Producer Richard Akins, 1946-2009

It's funny how things happen. Just yesterday, I posted that Richard Akin's record attendance at Jupiter Theater was broken, and today I find that he passed away that very day.

Richard Akins took over the Jupiter Theater in 1989, leasing it from Burt Reynolds until 1997. The theatre lost some of its lustre under Akins, losing some of the star power that Reynolds had provided, but continued a very full production schedule until he ceased operations in 1997. He moved out of South Florida a few years later.

An email from Richard's wife, Janina, was forwarded to me by one of the many interns who worked at the Jupiter Theatre for him over the years:
Richard Chisholm Akins, November 14, 1946- March 31, 2009 Richard died peacefully in the company of family and friends. He will be missed. Many thanks for your kind messages, each one was appreciated. A memorial will be planned.
No, this is not an April Fool's joke. He sent out this letter shortly before his death; it was forwarded to me by one of his former employees:
Dear Friends:

It is with great sadness that I contact you.

While some of you have played a major role in my life and others have had more of a supporting part, you have all touched me in a tender and profound way and I am grateful for every moment we have spent together.

Always remember, there are no small roles, only small actors

And so, because of that love and friendship, I wanted to send you this very personal message.

Six weeks ago, I went to my doctor complaining of back pain. I was told, “a muscle strain” or perhaps something 9 C skeletal.” A week later, I returned, insisting, “It sure doesn’t feel like a muscle strain.” Sadly, I was right.

After two weeks in the hospital, being poked and prodded and receiving more tests than anyone deserves, it has been determined that I have a very aggressive, very rare and untreatable form of pancreatic cancer. My prognosis is not good and to add insult to injury, it’s quite short.

I would love to hear from you and can best be reached at this address or by cellphone or you can email Janina at ******@****.com.

Thank you for our time together and I wish you and yours nothing but
the best.
Richard took over the Jupiter Theatre after Burt Reynolds had decided he'd lost enough money in the venture. Initially, the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training continued at the Jupiter, until Richard and Burt realized they had very different views on what theater interns should be doing. Burt took the Institute to its own facility in Tequesta, and Richard started his own internship program.

While it can't be said that the Jupiter Theatre thrived under Richard Akins, it did continue to operate, and was a major employer of South Florida actors, designers, and technicians. The theater did achieve 99% attendance for its production of Crazy For You, a record that remained unbroken until the current management hit 100% with its production of Evita.

Akins produced a tour with Tim Conway: Just for Laughs, and Evening with Gates and Mills. It was one of the top money-making tours of 1994, due in part to its star power (Tim Conway and Tom Poston) and its very small size (one truck and 7 actors, compared to Tommy, with over a dozen trucks and two dozen cast).

It wasn't all success; he closed the Jupiter Theatre abruptly when Burt Reynolds announced he was selling the building. Richard had the right of first refusal, but didn't have the funds to excercise it. He closed a very successful production to concentrate on raising funds to purchase the theatre from Reynolds, and ultimately failed to raise sufficient capital. The sad part is that the sale fell through, and the theatre sat dark for years. Had Akins continued operations, he might well have been able to purchase the building at a later date.

He eventually moved to South Carolina, where he managed Myrtle Beach's Palace Theatre until resigning in August, 2000. He later entered into a partnership with Ralph Miller to run the Bucks County Playhouse. Akins had worked at the Playhouse back in the 1980's, both on and off stage.

No one was indifferent to Richard C. Akins: you loved him, you hated him, but you absolutely had a position on him.


  1. Not sure what part of this article leads you to call me names. What facts do you believe I'm missing? Calling someone names isn't as effective as providing facts to back your assertion. I worked for the man for five years at Jupiter Theater; I was there when he almost completely sold out one production, Crazy for You, and I pointed out that Burt never managed that. And certainly, there were sold out performances of other productions, but nothing approaching a sold out run; our average audience was 60%.

  2. Wow, Chris; there's been a lot of (unnecessary) vitriol on the comment boards from people who won't leave their names. Perhaps anonymous comments shouldn't be allowed?