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Front Page » April 5, 2007 » Focus on the arts » Fifty years of entertainment
Published 2,756 days ago

Fifty years of entertainment


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Matt Cole (Mike Hughes) tries to convince Agatha Reed (Krystle Noyes) that he is the one she really wants to be with during a rehearsal for Goodbye, Mr. Fancy that will be presented by the CVCT on April 1, 12, 13, 16, 19, 20, 21 and 23. The production is a recreation and celebration of the first play the CVCT did in 1957. A special celebration, with three of the original cast members will be held on April 13 at 7 p.m. before showtime.

It has been said that a community is only as great as the endeavors its people pursue.

With the emphasis on survival in a mining and railroad industry over the years, Carbon County has made a continual effort to thrive and survive. But in the last 50 years, despite the bad and good times, the Castle Valley Community Theatre has been there to entertain the residents of the area.

The story of the theatre group is a rich and complicated, with its beginnings as interesting as any part of the story since.

It was 1957. It was the year that Elvis ruled the popular music scene, United States President Dwight Eisenhower was beginning his second term, the Soviet Union launched the first man made object, Sputnik, into outer space and that John Lennon and Paul McCartney, future partners in the Beatles, met for the first time as teenagers.

Sheldon Allred, Hazel Jeanselme, Earlene MacKnight and Mary Platis were some of the original cast in the 1957 production of Goodbye , Mr. Fancy. The first production took place in the Price Civic Auditorium.

It was also a time when America had a very optimistic spirit, one in which the people of the country could do anything.

It was with that attitude that the CVCT was formed. It started with a conversation in late 1956 between Neil Warren, who at the time taught at the Carbon College/Carbon High School campus (the two hadn't been divided as of yet) was approached by the school's librarian, Helen Wilson about forming some kind of community theater group.

"Helen had a theater background and thought it would be a wonderful thing to form that kind of group," said Warren. "I told her I would talk to Elmo Geary (who ran the drama program) and see what he thought."

The community theatre movement originated in the United States between 1910 and 1920 in a response to the demand for theatre created by the disappearance of the resident stock company and the decline of traveling road productions. Today, most towns with a population of 30,000 or more have a community theatre of some kind. The movement grew until community theatre was second only to educational theatre in the total number of producing organizations.

Elmo Geary surveys the construction of the theater not long before he passed away.

A community theatre is basically a non-professional organization and the actors and the other participants are usually amateurs. An "amateur" is one who works without pay for the pleasure of creative activity. Since most participants of the theatre-minded group hold a full-time job, they are only able to devote a few hours in the evenings to the planning and preparation of a performance. Often qualified professionals are encouraged to participate with or in the organization; sometimes key personnel are paid. But most groups can't afford to hire workers, so the majority of community theatres are operated entirely by generous individuals, offering their time and talents freely to the promotion of cultural activity.

Carbon and Emery counties had many theatrical groups over the years that prepared and presented plays and musicals. The Price Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1939 started what they called a community theatre; they produced one play, "Lady Windermere's Fan," in 1940 and then the group disappeared. Mrs. Clara Ruggeri, and others, used to read and even produce plays for charitable purposes.

One of the first plays presented in Price by community players was produced to raise money to purchase trees for the new Price City Park. On another occasion, a performance was given to aid Service Star Mothers in erecting a fountain in memory of their sons. Community-minded people gave performances to help finance seats in the Tabernacle. These groups of willing men and women gave freely of their time and talent but no sustained organization was created until CVCT was formed.

Barbara Jacobsen, Harold Bithell and Lynn Broadbent were some of the actors involved in the second production, The Man Who Came to Dinner.

After Warren talked with Geary he thought it over for a few weeks and then called a group of people who he knew enjoyed theater and would be interested in such a project.

"Elmo told the group if that is what they wanted to do he was all for it, but that it would require some real thought and effort to get started," said Warren. "He told them first of all they needed a real theatre house, some professional supervision, the community would have to come up with enough actors and staff to provide good support and finally that the financial backing would have to be solid. It cost a lot, even those days to put together and produce plays."

Geary went to Aaron Jones, president of Carbon College at the time and asked for help, both financially and for logistical support. The president said he would help.

With that the CVCT was off and running and by the middle of January of 1957, the first show was ready for public viewing. That show was Goodbye, My Fancy.

Joane Pappas White and Kim Bond act out their parts in a real courtroom at the county courthouse. This play was produced in May/June of 1989.

In a flyer advertising the formation of the group, those involved invited the community to come be a part of the programs in the coming years.

"The production of Goodbye, Mr. Fancy marks the birth of a new cultural institution in southeastern Utah, the Price Community Theatre. The young organization, established only this season, is the fruition of an old dream...a fine beginning this year indicates that the coming theatrical seasons will be successful, and that our citizens, like those of Pasadena, Salt Lake City and other progressive cities, may take pride in supporting an active community theatre."

With the confirmed success of their first performance, the community theatre group of Price gathered on February 12, 1957, to firmly establish their organization. Knowing that they were going to elect officers, and evidently having made up their minds as to who they wanted to guide the organization that year, the group elected Earlene MacKnight, star of the first show, president. David Hammond was the unanimous choice for vice-president. The members voted to unite the offices of secretary and treasurer, and they elected Mary Delpha to that post. Hazel Jeanselme was elected membership chairman, with Fay Johnson as historian.

With the election of officers, members were able to promote their organization by discussing their plans formally and systematically. They decided to limit the age of persons joining their group to above high school age. If they needed children or adolescents for special parts in a performance, they would go outside their group. Membership would not be limited to those taking active parts in the production.

CVCT play timeline

1957 - Goodbye, My Fancy
1957 - The Man Who Came to Dinner
1958 - Cracked Ice (One Act)
1958 - The Potting Shed
1959 - Our Town
1959 - SHAM (One Act)
1959 - Suppressed Desire (One Act)
1960 - Accidentally Yours
1960 - Dark Interlude (One Act)
1960 - The Vigil (1)
1961 - A Night of Drama
1961 - George Washington Slept Here
1961 - Is Zat So
1961 - The Vigil (2)
1962 - 2 One-Act Plays
1962 - Birth of the Child (2)
1962 - Counselor-at-Law
1962 - Four One-Act Plays
1962 - Mr. Popper's Penguins
1963 - Shakespeare's Leading Ladies
1963 - The Mall (One Act)
1963 - The Wayward Way
1964 - Born Yesterday
1964 - The Emperor's New Clothes
1965 - 2 One-Act Plays: "Trifles" and "The Florist Shop"
1965 - Guys and Dolls
1965 - My Three Angels
1965 - The Ghost of the Chinese Elm
1966 - Be a Little Cuckoo
1966 - You Can't Take it with You
1968 - Barefoot in the Park
1968 - The Music Man
1970 - Calamity Jane
1971 - Room Service
1972 - A Thousand Clowns
1974 - Harvey
1975 - The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail
1976 - 2 One-Act Plays
1976 - Our Town
1976 - Saga of Castle Valley
1977 - 2 One Act Plays
1977 - Finishing Touches
1977 - Forty Carats
1978 - Curses on My Fatal Beauty
1978 - Scenes from: Chapter Two
1978 - The Prisoner of Second Avenue
1979 - Hamlet
1979 - Oklahoma
1979 - The Torch Bearers
1980 - Macbeth
1980 - The Merry Widow
1981 - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
1982 - Ladies of the Mop
1982 - Romeo and Juliet
1982 - The Girl of the Golden West
1983 - A Midsummer Night's Dream
1983 - On Golden Pond
1983 - Othello
1984 - The Patient
1985 - "Dragun"
1985 - 2 Christmas One-Act Plays
1985 - Die Fledermaus
1986 - The Spiral Staircase
1986 - The Ugly Duckling
1986 - Tom Sawyer
1986 - Scrooge, The Stingiest Man in Town
1987 - Bullshot Crummond
1987 - CANDIDA
1987 - The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
1988 - The History of Tom Jones
1988 - The Man Who Came to Dinner
1988 - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardro
1989 - Anything Goes
1989 - The Night of January 16th
1990 - 'Be-Deckin' the Halls
1990 - Great Grandson of Sherlock Holmes
1990 - Oliver
1991 - Brigadoon
1991 - Don't Drink the Water
1991 - Love, Sex and the IRS
1992 - A Century of Dreams
1992 - Breaker Calling Cinderella
1992 - Catch Me If You Can
1993 - My Fair Lady
1993 - Nightmare Theatre
1994 - 1940's Radio Hour
1994 - Bye Bye Birdie
1994 - Nightmare Theatre
1994 - The Amorous Flea
1995 - Annie
1995 - Annie Get Your Gun
1995 - Nightmare Theatre
1996 - The Cemetery Club
1996 - You Can't Take it with You
1997 - Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch
1997 - Fiddler on the Roof
1997 - Nightmare Theater
1998 - Guys And Dolls
1998 - Kiss Me Kate
1999 - Nightmare Theatre
1999 - The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
1999 - The Music Man

They decided that the organization would have regular meetings, perhaps once a month, where members would have programs or workshops on acting, make-up, stage lighting, pantomime, voice production, and other arts and crafts of the theater. Such programs would not only keep interest alive between major productions, but would also help train the members in the many phases of play production.

When the new constitution was completed, it included the addition of more officers and a Board of Directors. Elected to fill these spots were Geary, Jeanette McAlpine, Bruce Bryner, Clara Ruggeri and Don Moffitt.

One of the first steps taken by the officers was to write a letter to the Utah House of Representatives, asking for the appropriation of funds sufficient for the building of a theater on the Carbon College campus. The college at that time had never owned a building where its student body and patrons could meet for assemblies, plays, or cultural events. Subsequently, the request was granted and the plans for the new theater were underway

In September The Man Who Came to Dinner was produced with Harold Bithell playing the title character.

The theater group was on it's way to producing many plays, and a few people went along for the ride for four to five decades.

But in the first years of the theatre group, despite the public involvement, Geary was much of the driving force. He believed in the project and led it by directing plays and putting everything together, just so the community group would have a home to call it's own.

That home would eventually be the Geary Theater which opened in the early 1960's.

However when the plans came in for the new theater it was learned that state officials wanted the college to build a "low ceiling" theater instead of the typical high stage theater that accommodates quick scenery and curtain changes. Geary went on to design a special curtain and scenery system for the low ceiling stage.

Geary, along with the community lobbied everyone they could think of to get that theater built the way they wanted it to be. Eventually they got their way, but only after the community raised over $15,000 (a lot of money at a time when one could buy a well equipped family sedan for under $2500) for the upgrade to a high ceiling stage area.

From then until the late 1970's most of the plays CVCT did were in the Geary Theater.

In 1960 Elmo Geary, then in his early 50's became very ill and it became known that he would not live through the disease that was attacking his body. Before he died the community decided to name the theater after him, so he would know about it. He passed away before the completion of the theater and was never able to see a production produced in building.

"The building was finished in three stages," stated Warren. "First it was finished up to the presidium, then they built the high stage ceiling with the fly system and finally under the stage they completed a little theater, dressing areas and a radio studio."

From the beginning and over the years the group has been experimental about productions. In the early years some theater in the round was done in the rock building north of the old gymnasium. Both were torn down in the late 1990's to make room for the Leavitt Student Center.

The group also held a play about a trial, The Night of January 16, in the county courthouse at one point.

The theater group has done Christmas festivals, Halloween plays and spook alleys over the years.

In the last 50 years the organization has put together over 110 productions. It is a legacy that has been contributed to the area by hundreds of actors, set builders and technical people.

While much of the wealth in this county has always come from the coal and gas that is extracted from the ground, one of the true treasures has been the people that have provided 50 years of entertainment to the community.

(Neil Warren was a major contributor to this article in both graphics and text).


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