JUPITER, FLA. -- His dream lasted more than a decade, as 116 productions played out on his stage, graced by such stars as Martin Sheen and Julie Harris and Charles Durning and Judd Nelson. And by the dreamer himself, Burt Reynolds. From the moment they broke ground for it in May 1978, the $2 million Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre -- in tiny Jupiter, Fla., of all places -- was phenomenally successful. Its first season was a sellout months before Sally Field, Tyne Daly and Gail Strickland even started rehearsing for "Vanities," the production that got the theater going in January 1979. Ten-and-a-half years later, with some remarkable achievements and a few fiascoes behind it, the dream has come to an end. On Aug. 5, the curtain fell on both "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and on the theater itself. Reynolds had announced last May that he intended to give the theater, whose current value he placed at $4.5 million, to Palm Beach Community College for use as a performing arts/educational facility. But the theater, which made money in only two years of its operation, was saddled with a $2 million mortgage, and the state of Florida would not allow the college to accept the gift. On closing night, Reynolds announced that he was considering selling the theater to a Pennsylvania production company, Richard Akins Productions. No sales price was announced, but the company's owner, Richard Akins, said he hopes to reopen the theater as early as November. Meanwhile, Reynolds has helped to lead a $1 million fund drive for a new theater on the community college campus. From the beginning, Reynolds had a strong notion of what he wanted his theater to be. "I want a theater for people who haven't seen live theater, at prices they can pay," he said in the fall of 1978. "I imagine we might have as 75 percent of the audience guys who climb down out of pickups. "I also want to have a place where actors, friends of mine who most producers don't have access to, can work... . I've made friends who grew up in theater. They just don't want to get clobbered by the New York critics. They want to have fun. They can do the show they want to {here}. I can't pay much, but they'll get a condo, a car, the royal treatment. "So many dinner theaters go for 'names.' It's tired casting of people I thought were dead. It's a place for them to go when they can't do anything else. No one asks the hot actors." Reynolds did, though, and plenty of them said yes. The stars who played at his theater included Carol Burnett, Charles Nelson Reilly, Shelley Berman, Farrah Fawcett, Eartha Kitt, Ned Beatty, Vincent Gardenia, Elliott Gould, Deborah Raffin, Kirstie Alley, Robert Hays, Marilu Henner, Robert Urich, Alice Ghostley and Ossie Davis. Marsha Mason, Dom DeLuise, Reilly and, quite notably, Reynolds all directed there. The 140 apprentices who earned their Equity cards through the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training took classes from the likes of Liza Minnelli, Sheen, Reilly, DeLuise and Reynolds. But even though he did treat them royally, Reynolds couldn't ensure the kind of professional safety -- freedom from criticism and the freedom to fail -- that he wanted. Bad reviews became painful, and the relationship between the theater and the press over the years was often contentious. "The most difficult part of my job here is putting people back together who come here for the most unselfish reasons," Reynolds said in a 1983 interview. "Like Parker Stevenson, who turned down a film with Charles Bronson to come here because I told him he'd learn more in four weeks on the stage than in 14 weeks on a film -- which I really believe. Then it's really difficult to pick up the paper and read this boy should have stayed on 'The Hardy Boys.' And for him to wonder, 'Why did I come here?' I don't need that kind of pain. "Then Jim Nabors. I make him come down here and do 'The Music Man.' And he got killed. We sat here, and he got tears in his eyes. And I said, 'What are you gonna do? You can either quit, and phone it in, or you can come here for the whole reason that you came here in the beginning, which was to get better.' He did get better. You really aren't an actor till you've been on the stage." Reynolds himself was on his stage as a performer in just three of the 116 shows: with his then-love Field in 1979's "The Rainmaker," which he also directed; with Burnett in 1980's "Same Time, Next Year"; and with Stockard Channing in 1982, in one of the three one-acts that made up Ernest Thompson's "Answers." Putting most of his performing energy into fast-paced moviemaking -- he was the country's top box-office draw from 1978 to 1982 -- Reynolds more often directed at his theater. Besides "The Rainmaker," he directed Sheen and Julie Kavner in 1979's "Two for the Seesaw," Sheen in 1982's excellent "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Durning in a first-rate "Mass Appeal" in 1983, Nelson in 1987's "Wrestlers," Hays in 1987's "Tea House of the August Moon" and Ossie Davis in 1988's much-admired "I'm Not Rappaport." In its decade of doing theater, the theater won 18 Carbonell Awards from the South Florida Entertainment Writers' Association, and Reynolds won a 19th, as the 1982 recipient of the organization's Outstanding Achievement in the Arts award, for establishing the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training. Given its star power and its famous boss, how did the theater come to its closing night and an uncertain future? For one thing, the theater almost never made money. It earned a profit only twice, in 1981 and 1985. Its break-even point was an impossibly high 95 percent of capacity, according to current producer K.R. Williams -- and though it sometimes did business at that level during the season, attendance plummeted during the summer. Too, the conditions that once allowed the theater to flourish changed. Tourists once flocked by the busload to obscure little Jupiter, imagining that Burt himself might greet them at the door. And the big stars theatergoers came to expect on Reynolds's stage have been sticking with films and television. "It has been increasingly more difficult to get stars," Williams said. "We can't be competitive with TV, and the stars' agents haven't been as helpful." This year, the stars have been Desi Arnaz Jr., Gloria Loring, Rip Taylor, Peter Reckell, Michael O. Smith, Marie Windsor and Avery Schreiber. A change, certainly. Where are the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeff Goldblum and Gregory Hines? In Central Park, working for Joseph Papp for a few weeks.