The Panhandle Players are about to embark on an innovative 2018-19 season, presenting not one, but two original plays.

The first, "Secrets and Sweet Tea," written by retired educator Jerry Hurley, will kick off the season Oct. 19-21 at the Chapman Auditorium in Apalachicola.

Auditions for the production will be Sunday, Aug. 12 at 3 p.m., and Monday, Aug. 13 at 6 p.m., both at the Chapman Auditorium in Apalachicola, home of the Panhandle Players. (See sidebar)

This is Jerry’s first attempt at writing a play, coming on the heels of his publication last year of "Wildcrafting, And Other Stories I Share Only With My Friends," a comic memoir of growing up in West Virginia, the heart of Appalachia.

He's thrilled the Panhandle Players chose to produce it. “Having worked with the Panhandle Players has enabled me to see the passion, perseverance and perspiration that this unique group of actors and volunteers possess to bring live theater to Florida’s panhandle," Hurley said.

This Southern comedy takes place at the wake of Samuel Strainwhistle, a local Apalachicola millionaire. Everyone comes to pay their respects, each hoping Samuel has left a little something for them in his will. As the show progresses, everyone learns the true secrets of these mourners.

This show is packed with characters fit for Apalachicola. There is the funeral home director who loves to “show” the ladies the caskets in the backroom; Beulah, the daughter of the deceased; Gertie, the town gossip; Ida, niece of the deceased; Betty Bender, the aging town working girl; Ken Carpenter, who everyone thinks is Samuel’s son; and Woody Stump, the village idiot, or is he really?

There is also Mayor Clark; Pastor Neaze, who preaches a fiery sermon at the Roadside Chapel of the Fordibben Apple; Thorbin Maston, Samuel’s attorney; Ruby, the funeral home cleaning lady; and Jeremy, Ruby’s teenaged grandson.

Hurley said characters for this show are drawn from his 65 years of life experiences. “I knew I wanted a large cast, 12 or so, and I created characters who might ‘people’ play that I would find entertaining," he said.

There is a lot planned for this show, said Judy Loftus, who Hurley handpicked to direct his first play.

“We are going to have music as part of the production, and we plan to use extras in the show, along with other little surprises that the audience will not expect,” she said.

Hurley, who appeared last season in “Deathtrap,” will likely make a cameo appearance in his own show. According to him, you’ll have to join the Players for a performance to find out which character he plays.

December will bring a comedy perfect to kick off the holiday season, “A Nice Family Christmas.” It’s Christmas Eve, and a young newspaper reporter on the brink of being fired has been assigned a last-chance story about a typical family Christmas – his family’s Christmas. He goes home to his recently widowed mother, crazy uncle, eccentric grandmother, and battling siblings and their neurotic spouses, who provide no shortage of material. One by one, we learn each family member’s secrets, problems, and dysfunctions, and when they learn that he’s writing an article with some very personal family information, the fruitcake hits the fan. The question is, will the magic of Christmas bring this family back together?

“Murder at the Chapman,” Royce Rolstad’s second play, will delight, and hopefully frighten, theatergoers in February. This show follows on last season’s opener, the well-received “Murder at the Gibson Inn.” This comedy/murder mystery takes place at the Chapman Auditorium as members of the community theatre troupe prepare to put on a new play. Members of the cast and crew turn up dead and it’s up to those who are left to figure out whodunit.

The season will end with “Dial M for Murder,” written by Frederick Knott and made famous by Alfred Hitchcock who turned it into a movie in 1954. This timeless murder mystery hits the stage in March 2019.

For more information about the Panhandle Players visit them on Facebook. Tickets for the first show will be on sale at PanhandlePlayers.com in September.

Theatre will be alive this season in Franklin County, and in the worlds of Hurley, “everyone knows that live theater is so much better than dead theater!”