Putnam County Playhouse enters 21st century on a roll

Friday, May 27, 2011
Larry Sutton and Vickie Parker perform a scene from "On Golden Pond."

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of five articles exploring, by decade, the 50 years of Putnam County Playhouse in advance of an open house Saturday at the Hazel Day Longden Theatre. Starting at 3 p.m., the public can tour the theater and buy tickets for "The Music Man" or the 2011 season.

I began my association with Putnam County Playhouse in 1979 in "An Evening With Cole Porter," directed by Evelyn Robbins. After three seasons of work onstage and backstage, I was invited to join the board of directors in 1981. It was a great opportunity for me, and I was lucky enough to be on the board when the new Hazel Day Longden Theatre was in its planning and building stages.

During the decade of the 1990s (during which I served two terms as president of PCPH), we saw many challenges and changes. As always, the board itself was an ever-changing entity.

We opened the 1992 season with "Steel Magnolias," our first non-musical to sell more than 1,000 tickets. It was directed by Brad Sandy. Our second non-musical that season -- "The Nerd," directed by Peggy McClaine -- also sold more than 1,000 tickets.

For the next season, the board had made a decision that some structural changes should be made to the theater itself. Since 1983, our audiences had sat in metal chairs with padded seats. In 1991, we changed them for more comfortable auditorium chairs.

We next increased the backstage area and added a new shop and costume loft. The changes made it easier for us to produce our seasons. That year we presented the musicals "Camelot" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," along with two non-musicals.

Other hits during those years include "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "On Golden Pond," "Once Upon a Mattress," " Annie" (again), and "Joseph" (again). We also had our box office and performance champion in "Grease," directed by Lita Sandy which sold 1,938 tickets.

We also began our Children's Theatre Workshop that gave younger members of the community the opportunity to learn about theater firsthand. Many participants later appeared in our mainstage productions.

Because we are a working board, many of our members took on new duties. It was fun to watch someone grow from being a performer to have the confidence to direct a show as well. Ernie Ford, Kathy Stephan, Brad and Lita Sandy, and Peggy McClaine all directed their first productions for the Playhouse during that decade.

PCPH headed into the 21st century with high season ticket sales, great community support, and talented participants.

In the fall of 2001, we were presenting the Neil Simon comedy "The Odd Couple." It was directed by Joe Cook. Ernie Ford was playing Oscar and I was playing Felix. It was in the middle of our run that the events of 9/11 unfolded. That Tuesday night at our brush-up rehearsal, there was talk of canceling or postponing our shows that week. But it was our consensus, and that of the board, that "the show must go on."

I will never forget stepping onto the stage that night of Sept. 12. Our mood of uncertainty certainly reflected that of the rest of the country. But we made it through -- with tremendous audience response. And many of those in the audience told us afterward that they appreciated that we could help lift their moods, and that we went on as scheduled. We received many of the same comments for the rest of the weekend.

Theater is magical and special and can do so much for the audience. I can tell you, though, that it does even more for those who participate!

As we made plans for the next season, board members were looking for new shows to entertain our audiences and productions that would challenge us as technicians and performers!

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