Community Players has a long history of documenting our productions. You can learn more about the resources we have gathered on this page.

Past Show Archive

Community Players began producing shows in 1923. We have a complete archive of information about those shows available on our Past Shows page.

Theatre History

We also published a ten-part history of these productions in our print newsletter Curtain Calls for our 95th season celebration. You can find a summary of these articles below.

90 Years of Theatre — The History of Community Players Theatre

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

 Part 1 covers the founding and the first decade.

 

The date was March 6, 1923.  The place was Turner Hall on South Main Street near the Big 4 railroad tracks.  The event was the one act play Overtones.  The producer was the Women’s Club.  The plan was to sponsor a Little Theater movement.  Those were the days of the silent movie, when the spoken word and the real presence of the actor had all but vanished in small cities like Bloomington and Normal.  There was a need to keep legitimate theater alive.  March 6 was an auspicious evening.  The responsive audience was dressed to the teeth.  The four attractive actresses were elegantly costumed.  Does anyone alive remember their names?  Winifred Kate James, Grace Kessler Green, Edith Elliot Kuhn, and Lucy Park Williams took the stage to begin a tradition that would have a very long run.

So great was the enthusiasm of the audience and the production crew that before the theater was darkened that night, Community Players was organized.  The first membership was 150.  Carl Vrooman was elected president.  A Bloomingtonian, he had served as assistant secretary of agriculture in the Woodrow Wilson administration.  (Vrooman attended the formal dedication of our new theater in May 1963.  Talk about a Players booster!)  Rachel Crothers, a Bloomington native and a leading Broadway playwright and director, was named honorary president.  She sent a telegram reading, “I accept with pride and great pleasure.  All Success to you.”

At the beginning, the programs consisted of readings, one act plays, and musical numbers.  In 1924 Lewis Greene Stevenson was elected president for two terms.  A member of the cast of Captain Applejack, also 1924, went on to bigger triumphs, but not as an actor: Adlai Stevenson would serve as Illinois governor and two-time Democratic nominee for the presidency.  His sister, Elizabeth (Buffy) Stevenson Ives was also on stage a few times.

Early on, the 800-seat Illini Theater on East Market was the venue for the shows.  (It later housed the Biddle Advertising Agency.)  The Whole Town’s Talking was billed as the funniest show ever given in Bloomington.  The gross income from The Second Mrs. Tanqueray was donated to the Red Cross fund for the victims of the Mississippi Valley flood of May 1927.  Eula O’Neill, one of the most ardent and talented Players, made her debut as Nora in Ibsen’s The Doll’s House in 1928.  She went on to direct some 30 shows for Players.  Ruth Bower and Joseph Hannie scored stage triumphs as the leads in The PatsyThe Haunted House in 1929 had nature on its side when one performance was accompanied by thunder and heavy rain.  That play carried an usual list of props, including a pool of blood, a plaster cast of a footprint, and clanking chains.  After the opening night performance of The Youngest in 1929, one of the leads, Dorothy Garrett, was struck by a car and couldn’t continue the run.  A young woman (later Mrs. Freida Frey) was given the script at 7:00 A.M. the next morning and went on that night.

In 1931 the average cost of each play was between $600 and $800.  Those were the days!

Famed Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay was in the audience for The Royal Family in 1931.  He was delighted by the show and spoke particularly of the tempo, professional verve, and careful direction.  E. Melba Johnson Kirkpatrick, a familiar name in Bloomington-Normal theater, appeared in The Trial of Mary Dugan in 1932.  In 1933 Players returned to old Turner Hall to celebrate their 10th anniversary with If.  Grumpy was staged at the Majestic Theater at East Washington and North East Streets.  Community Players was honored when Rachel Crothers made them the first non-professional theater to be granted rights to her latest hit, When Ladies Meet.

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

 Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looks at the second decade, 1934-1944.

 

As the country worked its way through the Great Depression, Community Players were entering a new era.  The February 1934 show, Lombardi, Ltd., was a vehicle for the advance showing of the season’s fashions.  Dr. Hubert W. Hodgens of the IWU School of Drama directed Big Hearted Herbert in 1935.  The Pantagraph editorialized, “The Community Players, instead of reaching a peak to begin a decline, seem to be on the upward and brightening ascent toward better things in a sphere of self-expression which seems to represent ever-widening possibilities.”  That year, Edward H. Davison left Players to become Director of Radio Drama for NBC in Chicago.  Also in 1935 a man pretending to represent Theatre Arts Magazine attempted to bilk Players in a confidence game involving subscriptions.  He was caught and jailed.  In a surprising and innovative move during Philip Barry’s Holiday, that same year, the curtain was left open between acts while the set was being changed.  It was to acquaint the audience with “stage work.”

During rehearsals for Ceiling Zero in 1936, J. Paul Hughes had his appendix removed at Mennonite Hospital.  He recovered in time to be on stage for two nights of the run.  Transforming the bobbed hairstyles of 1937 into the coiffures of the turn of the century posed a problem for the women in The Passing of the Third Floor Back.  Happily, they succeeded in achieving the right look.  Teresa Coltreaux played Susan in Rachel Crothers’s Susan and God in 1939, with Eula O’Neill directing.    The audience for The Night of January 16th was immediately swept into the spirit of the drama by being ushered to their seats by uniformed McLean County Sheriffs.  City policemen served as ushers to lend atmosphere to I Want a Policeman.  Not to be outdone by the men on the force, Chief of Police Clyde Hibbens was onstage as the Police Commissioner.

During World War II, Players carried on with programs of one-act plays, which could be arranged with minimum effort and time.  Although hindered, hampered, and understaffed, due to wartime conditions, Players maintained the excellence of previous productions through the war years.

Players ended their twentieth season with Tovarich.  C. E. Mulliken and Alice Mulliken took their roles of husband and wife in real life right on stage in Mr.  & Mrs. North.  After this season, the Scottish Rite Temple (now the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts) would be Players primary home for the next fifteen seasons.

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

 Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looked at the second decade, 1934-1944.  Part 3 surveys 1945 to 1958.

 

As World War II ended, Community Players began a membership drive that would see season-ticket member’s increase from 1,025 in 1945 to 1,500 in 1947 to 2,000 in 1948 to 2,260 by the end of the 1950-1951 season.

During rehearsals for Janie, the popular war-era comedy about a spunky teenage girl, the cast never rehearsed together, due to illness.  In fact, the female lead didn’t know until three hours before curtain time if she would be able to perform.  One luminary who appeared on the Players stage was Mrs. Don Glasgow, a former dramatic actress with a British company in the Haymarket Theater in London.  She also worked with Eva Le Gallienne’s legendary Civic Repertory Theater in New York.  Another member, former Pantagraph play reviewer Jerry Sohl, went on to fame in Hollywood as a film and television scriptwriter.

For the 1946-1947 season, Players scheduled two performances of each show.  Another first!  Ten Little Indians, staged in 1947, marked the first twenty-five years of Players productions.  For that show, Joan Saylor (Jobie) Tick fashioned clay Indians around beer bottles.  Indians was revived in 1993, with Tony Holloway directing, and again in 2011 (under the title And Then There Were None), with Cathy Sutliff directing.  Dear Ruth, a comedy about returning soldiers, opened the 1947-1948 season and was co-directed by C. E. Mulliken and Eula O’Neill.  The show went on the road to Chanute Field for a presentation to the servicemen.

William Duell, who played a leading role in 1949’s John Loves Mary (revived in 2011), later appeared on Broadway in 1776 as well as in the film adaptation.  Among his other Broadway shows were The Threepenny Opera, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Man Who Came to DinnerGood News, co-directed by Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Mulliken, opened the 1950-1951 season; it was Players’ first musical.  More than 100 people were involved in the production.  Part of the publicity for Father of the Bride that season was a wedding announcement in the social column of the Pantagraph.  In My Three Angels, Don Freese, who first appeared with Players as a boy of ten, made his first adult appearance, in the role of Alfred, one of the three convicts.

As Players’ fourth decade began in 1956, the company was still performing in the Scottish Rite Temple (now Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts).  Colene Hoose, after whom the Normal elementary school was named, was president.  The first play of 1956 was The Solid Gold Cadillac, revived in 2011.  In one scene of the drama Anastasia in 1957, a roll of masking tape was found on the sofa by the unsuspecting Jean Smith as the Dowager Empress.  She nonchalantly handed the tape to Jacqueline Haviland in the role of a lady-in-waiting and ad-libbed, “Here.  Take this with you.”  Lily Weatherly, who also appeared in Anastasia, was the focus of an article in the Pantagraph.  She managed to perform in at least one show per year with Players from 1936 through 1957.

The final production of the 1956-1957 season was Tonight at 8:30, a Noel Coward trio of one-acts.  While the reviewer liked only one of the plays, he praised Players for undertaking such a difficult production and encouraged support for the organization.  In the 1957-1958 season Players was one of the few groups to obtain the rights for the Agatha Christie drama Witness for the Prosecution.  Attorney E. William Rolley, who had attended a murder trial in the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court in London, assisted with technical advice.  The audience for the play served as the jury members.  No secrets were revealed other than the facts as they were presented in the play.  It was after this play that Players briefly secured the Esquire Theater.

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

 Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looked at the second decade, 1934-1944.  Part 3 surveyed 1945 to 1958.  Part 4 covers the building of the Robinhood Lane Theater and moves on to 1968.

 

As we left the Community Players history, the group had just secured the Esquire Theater on South Madison Street for its new home.  Alas, no sooner had plans been made for the theater than the city decided it wanted the site for a parking lot.  Despite an impassioned letter to the Pantagraph, the building was condemned, and Players lost their short-lived home.

The 1959-1960 season was a down one for Players.  Having lost their theater, they were in limbo, but through the hard work of C. E. Mulliken, the Robinhood Lane property was acquired.  This season contains one remarkable bit of trivia: although longtime members have insisted that there were no tickets sold for a production that season, Players did sell tickets to a 45-minute melodrama presented twice, once to the annual membership meeting and any interested patrons and the second performance was for the Chamber of Commerce.

The new Bloomington High School was the site for two plays in the 1960-1961 season, while construction began on the Robinhood Lane building.  Players launched Showboat in 1961 to raise necessary building funds.  There was a cast of 120 actors, and 25 members of the Bloomington-Normal Symphony volunteered to perform for this challenging production.  Even with production costs growing to $5,000, Showboat was so successful it brought in $10,000 profit to build walls and the roof for Players’ new home.  Showboat was the only Players show to be directed by theater legend Chaunce Conklin; Dr. Howard Rye conducted the orchestra.

The first play presented on Robinhood Lane was Death of a Salesman, the only show of the 1961-1962 season.  The theater building was no more than a shell: there was no raised stage, and patient theatergoers sat on folding chairs and boards supported by cinder blocks.  Still, the production received rave reviews.  In the 1962-1963 season, Players realized an old dream: to produce an entire season in their own playhouse.  It was their 40th continuous season.  The thriller The Desperate Hours finally played that season (revived in 2006), with Dr. Tony Chrisman and his wife Ruth Marie as the leads.  They appeared together in several shows.  In 1964’s On Borrowed Time, Jobie Tick’s apple tree held 1,200 handmade leaves and two bushels of real apples.  Also in 1964 Joan Wahl, a former professional actress, directed Guys and Dolls (revived in 1993 and 2008).  The Sound of Music, in 1965, was a frightening experience for some of the actors.  Robert McFarland and Dr. Wilson Baltz had to ad lib in German for several minutes when another actor missed an entrance.  In another scene the late Jack Ingold and Ginger Englesman were onstage when curtain equipment broke and fell to the ground.

At the close of their fourth decade in 1966, Players paid off the mortgage on Robinhood Lane.  It had taken only five years.

In 1967 the Pantagraph announced Players’ acquisition of a new lighting system.  It was reported that General Electric and Art Lee, a G.E. electronics engineer and a Players member, would make available a solid-state, automated, console-type light board.  The board had a spacious capacity of 30 circuits and 30,000 watts, as compared to the then-used 12-circuit board.  Players were the first non-professional theater to have such a board.  The board had a value of $30,000, but due to the generosity of G.E. and Lee, Players purchased it for $1,000.

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

 Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looked at the second decade, 1934-1944.  Part 3 surveyed 1945 to 1958.  Part 4 covers the building of the Robinhood Lane Theater and moves on to 1968.

 

The 1968-1969 season featured the Neil Simon hit The Odd Couple, the Pulitzer Prize –winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Edward Albee’s dram A Delicate balance and Two for the Seesaw.  All four shows received rave reviews in the Daily Pantagraph, with particular praise for the quality of the designs.  Among the veterans and the new-comers who worked on these shows were: Jack Ingold, Dr. Wilson Baltz, Carolyn Beyer, John Kirk, Jobie Tick and Shari Eubanks.  All of them went on to become board members, past presidents and one professional actress.  The second show of the 1969-1970 season, You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running, was criticized as risqué owing to the subject matter and partial nudity (an actor appeared in his underwear).  (The play was revived in 2012 with no such complaints)  In the summer of 1970 Players offered a class on developing acting skills, which concluded with a production of Spoon River Anthology.

The 1970-1971 season opener Any Wednesday marked Tony Holloway’s debut as director.  In a move to regain some of the splendor of past opening nights, Players decided to hold a Gala Night for the musical Stop the World!  I Want to Get Off.  Special invitations were sent to the Twin Cities’ mayors, past and present board members, trustees and past presidents.  Bill Hoffman, who played the lead moved on to new York, where he became a successful scenic designer.

The 1971-1972 season was advertised as ‘G-Rated’ (probably in response to complaints about that actor in his underwear and the subject matter of a number of the plays), and included the regional premiere of Hello, Dolly!  (Dolly! Was revived in 1987 under the direction of Phil Shaw.0  Wait Until Dark was notable due to the casting of Penny Hall in this drama about a blind woman tormented by sadistic killers.  Penny was legally blind, so the entire set had to be constructed by the time rehearsals began so she could memorize her surroundings.  Wait Until Dark was the last play that Dick brown directed.  He passed away shortly after the closing of the play.  Wait Until Dark was revived in 1997 under the direction of Carolyn Beyer.

A reception was held after the opening night of Butterflies Are Free in 1974 to honor the late Dick Brown. The green room (the actor’s waiting area) was renamed in his honor.  It was the first time that Players dedicated a space to any one individual in the organization.  There are now four such areas named.  The Dick Brown Room, The Adele Litt Box Office, The Tony Holloway Lobby and the Bruce and Kathy Parrish Stage.

The highlight of the 1975-1976 season was the musical 1776, which ran twelve sold out performances, four more than had been originally scheduled.  Every performance received a standing ovation from the audiences.  The show was directed by Neil Cobb; assistant director Ruthie Cobb, also a librarian, brought in numerous references books to help each actor’s characterization.  Newcomers to this production included Scott Myers, Bruce Parrish and J.D. Scott.  (1776 was revived in 1998 for the 75th season and was directed by Sally Parry.)  Oklahoma!, in 1977 had a large cast, including newcomers Gary Schwartz and John D. LeMay, who went on to work professionally in films and television.  (Oklahoma! has been revived in 1989 with L. Jane Thomley directing, and in 2006 with Penny Wilson directing.)  In that year of energy conservation, Players responded by reducing the temperatures throughout the building to 60 degrees.  The cast remembered quite a disagreement between director Tony Holloway and then-trustee president Dan Gehrt over thermostat setting in the building during a severe winter of 1977.  On several occasions, many out-of-town actors were snowbound overnight in Bloomington.

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

 Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looked at the second decade, 1934-1944.  Part 3 surveyed 1945 to 1958.  Part 4 covered the building of the Robinhood Lane Theater and moves on to 1968.  Part 5 took us up to the winter of 1977.

 

Five shows were selected for the 1978-79 season, the first time since 1963-64 that Players had attempted so many.  The first show was the Victorian thriller Angel Street (a.k.a. Gaslight).  Longtime area printer Bernie Gummerman set the cover of the program by hand, using 100-year-old type.  The show featured newcomer Rosemary Luitjens.  At the close of the season, Players held an awards banquet, a tradition that had been discontinued many years before.

The second show of the 1979-80 season was My Fair Lady, which featured a cast of 35.  (My Fair Lady was revived in 1997 as part of the 75th anniversary season.)  This production had to add a performance due to a citywide blackout.  The cast performed several songs from the show under emergency lights until the audience was able to leave the building.  L. Jane Thomley was caught in the basement by the outage, and at the time there were no emergency lights for her to find the stairs.  Producer Ruth Cobb, using candles purchased from the old Eagle grocery store, rescued her.  The show finally ran all 14 performances to sold-out houses, including one on Thanksgiving evening.  The cast sold bunches of silk violets in the lobby to raise money to repair the leaking auditorium roof.

The next show was My Three Angels, which marked Bruce Parrish’s directing debut.  The set featured a tropical thatched-house motif created by shellacking woven strips of paper grocery bags and stapling them to cardboard and then to frames.  The final show of the season was Godspell, which introduced the use of an amplified orchestra in the rear of the stage area.  Because the proscenium was being replaced, audience members were seated in three-quarter round.  After the run, the new proscenium, still being used, was installed to increase stage space.

During the awards banquet at the close of the season, Dr. Wilson Baltz did a slide presentation called “I Foresee a Future,” which was the history of Community Players.  It was the only documentation Players had until Bruce Parrish began reconstructing the history in 1990, a project that continues to this day.

The first show of the 1982-83 season, Mame, opened later than usual to accommodate a complete renovation of the restrooms as well as a face lift to the rest of the building.  The new box office was built as a tribute to Adele Litt for her many years of service as box office chairperson.  The project was financed by H. Dean Litt and family in memory of Adele.

The 1983-84 season went to six major productions: two musicals, two comedies, a drama, and a children’s show.  For the second show of the season, Desk Set, Dan Blake and Paul Dillow built a working replica of the 1950s computer EMERAC.  For the third show, They’re Playing Our Song, a new tracking system was installed to allow quicker movement for drops or suspended flats.  A three-day run of Androcles and the Lion was the first Theater for Young People production.

In 1984-85, Players presented the first of its Holiday on Robinhood Lane series.  These original scripts featured Broadway favorites and Christmas music over a three-night run.  New seats were supposed to be installed prior to Once upon a Mattress during the 1985-86 season as funded by the “Buy a Seat” program.  Due to reorganizations in the company, the new seats didn’t make it on time, so audiences sat on folding chairs.  The actual seats still used today arrived a full three weeks after Mattress closed.

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

 Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looked at the second decade, 1934-1944.  Part 3 surveyed 1945 to 1958.  Part 4 covered the building of the Robinhood Lane Theater and moves on to 1968.  Part 5 took us up to the winter of 1977, and Part 6 ended with the installation of new seats in 1986.

 

The 1988-1989 season began with another face-lift for our stage.  A new stage floor was installed during rehearsals for Cabaret.  It saw double-duty right away: to bring the audience closer to the action, small tables were attached to the front of the stage and patrons could buy tickets to sit at stage level.  Cabaret also began the tradition of corporate sponsorships.  The final show of the season was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, an audience-participation show, where near the end of the second act, audience members vote to determine who the murderer is.  Thus the ending can be different at every performance.

The second show of the 1989-1990 season was Blithe Spirit (revived in 2011), for which Bruce Parrish cross-dressed to portray the medium, Madame Arcati.  Also, the show was updated and brought into the video age by the use of television monitors to present the finale.  For the sixth Holiday on Robinhood Lane, Players presented The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, with a cast of 72, but only nine adults.  Among the newcomers in this production were Marcia Weiss, Taylor Phillips, Elizabeth Parrish, and Chris Terven.

For the 1990-1991season, the Board decided to create a unifying theme for which they could produce a brochure to distribute throughout the Twin Cities.  The first brochure announced the theme of “Community Players Goes to the Movies” and included two season ticket packages: a four-star package to the four mainstage productions; and a six-star package to the four mainstage productions plus the choice of two of the three remaining productions.  The opening show of the season was The King and I, with a cast of 56, including newcomers Christie Vellella and Chris Fuller.  The musical Grease featured Stuart Cartwright’s innovative set: a 14-foot high jukebox, through which a battery-driven car could roll onstage.  The floor was decorated with replicas of 45 rpm records and memorabilia of the 1950s.

The 1991-1992 season was the first to see sign boards announcing shows on the front of the building, through funding from the McLean County Arts Center and the Illinois Arts Council.  Work also began on installing a new furnace and air-conditioning.  When Players produced The Royal Family in February 1992, two actresses from the 1931 production, Ruth (Bower) Jaeger and E. Melba Kirkpatrick attended the opening night and were introduced to the audience.  Thanks to the new air-conditioning, Players was able to offer creative drama classes for young people during the summer, culminating in a production of Peter Pan in July.  In summer 1993 there were workshop programs for children and adults.  The adult class performed Spoon River Anthology in August.

The theme of the 1994-1995 season was “Broadway to Hollywood,” and for the Tinsel Town comedy Boy Meets Girl, a film preview for the fictional film within the play was created.  The opening show for the 1995-1996 season was Little Shop of Horrors, which required renting a set of puppets (at a cost of $1000) representing the man-eating plant as it grows.  The final giant plant required two people, Dave Schick and Stace Jenkins, to manipulate the movements.  For the February 1996 production of Bleacher Bums, scenic designer Gray Schwartz used photos of Wrigley Field as the basis for his painted flats.  Ushers threw Beer Nuts to the audience and hawked popcorn, candy, and soda prior to the show.  The final production of the season was the hugely successful Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, directed by L. Jane Thomley.  It was scheduled for ten performances, but an additional six were added to handle the demand.  Joseph holds Players’ all-time box office record.  (It was revived in 2000 and 2007.)

The 74th season ended with a musical revue, Broadway Our Way, coordinated by Sally Parry and directed by Marcia Weiss, to raise money for the Theater for Young People Program.  During tech week, Paul Dillow and Terry Dawson installed choir microphones, purchased through a Town of Normal Harmon Grant.  Also at this time, Players refurbished the lobby to prepare for the 75th season.

Bruce Parrish and Bob McLaughlin

Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looked at the second decade, 1934-1944.  Part 3 surveyed 1945 to 1958.  Part 4 covered the building of the Robinhood Lane Theater and moved on to 1968.  Part 5 took us up to the winter of 1977, and Part 6 ended with the installation of new seats in 1986.  Part 7 left us in 1997 with preparations for the 75th anniversary season underway.

 

Community Players began its 75th season with the gala opening of the classic Broadway musical My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.  All the shows this season had important corporate sponsors; this show was sponsored by State Farm Insurance.  As a special offering for the opening and closing nights, Jeff Norton, banquet captain for the Radisson Hotel in Bloomington, provided hors d’oeuvres for audience members. Patrons entered to a newly redecorated lobby, rest rooms, and the Dick Brown Green Room.  The Pantagraph wrote “‘My Fair Lady’ was a remarkable achievement. . . . The cast of 37 actors, 16 orchestra members and a huge staff of other volunteers have created an elaborate production, marked by countless time-consuming details. . . . Volunteers include newcomers and folks who have been involved at Players for two, three and even four decades.” My Fair Lady had first been performed at Players in 1978.

Closing out the season was a revival of the musical 1776, which marked the directing debut of Sally Parry. There were two connections with Players’ original 1976 production.  They used the same scrim, a curtain that can show figures when lit properly from behind, to show the names of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  There were also four actors from the earlier production: Scott Myers, Bruce Parrish, J. D. Scott and Gayle Thomas.

To celebrate the millennium, the 1999-2000 season was themed “A Century of Theatre.” The first show of 2000 was a revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  During the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” the cast assembled Gary Schwartz’s set, with the last piece put in place with the last note.  Jesus Christ Superstar featured a cast of 40 and an orchestra of 44.  The show had a high-tech, modern-dress, and rock-concert approach.  Four television monitors were mounted on each side of the proscenium.

The theme of the 2001-2002 season was “Classics Old & New.”  Due to the demand for tickets the number of performances for musicals was raised to twelve and the number for plays to eight. The first show, Man of La Mancha, opened two days after the attacks of September 11.  In the Pantagraph Marcia Weiss wrote of the silence of the opening night patrons outside of the theatre, hearing a plane fly by and someone quietly cheering it on.  In the lobby, near a framed picture of the New York City skyline, was a large glass goblet collecting donations for the Red Cross Disaster Fund.  During this show, the Board of Governors honored longtime Players’ actor, director, and board member Tony Holloway.  The theatre lobby was rechristened the Tony Holloway Lobby.  Presenting Tony with his award were Past Presidents Eddy Arteman and Nikki Phillips.

In January 2002, during performances of Pump Boys and Dinettes, audience members had the chance to win homemade pies and car air fresheners in three varieties.  Local celebrities, such as Twin City mayors, school superintendents, fire and police chiefs, and radio and television personalities had their photos taken with the girls of the Double Cup Diner for display in the lobby.

Opening the 81st Season or the 2002-2003 season was a revival of Show Boat, the show that made the building of the theater possible.  The production featured 67 performers.  During one of the Sunday matinees of 42nd Street, the power went out just before curtain time, due to the ill-fated meeting of a curious squirrel and a transformer.  Patrons were accommodated at other performances.  Opening weekend, because of an emergency, director Alan Wilson had to play the part of Pat Denning, suitor to the leading lady of the show.

On the opening night of Gypsy, Oct. 24, 2003, the switch was thrown on Players new, $110,000 lighting system, replacing the 35-year-old system.  The new system tripled the lighting capacity and also increased the subtlety with which a scene can be lit.

During the run of Gypsy, longtime Players and community arts figure Tony Holloway passed away on November 1, 2003, at the age of 81.  Tony spent 44 years with Players, including two years as President.  He continues to be missed.

Dr. Wilson Baltz, Tony Holloway, and Bruce Parrish

Part 1covered the founding and the first decade.  Part 2 looked at the second decade, 1934-1944.  Part 3 surveyed 1945 to 1958.  Part 4 covers the building of the Robinhood Lane Theater and moves on to 1968. Part 5 took us up to the winter of 1977, and Part 6 ended with the installation of new seats in 1986.  Part 7 left us in 1997 with preparations for the 75th anniversary season underway. Part 8 ended with the 2003 death of Tony Holloway.

 

February 2004 saw Players perform the classic prisoner of war comedy-drama Stalag 17 by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski.  During one rehearsal, this production was blessed with three visitors, Harold Born, Mark Bauman and Gary Simkins, veterans who offered the actors insight into being in the military.  Mr. Born had been a prisoner of war in both Stalag 2A and 11B.  It was during this production that Community Players began its practice of designating the first performance of every show a Pay What-You-Can Preview Performance, providing the chance for everyone in the community to experience the joy of live theater.

That summer, Players offered the classic Meredith Willson musical The Music Man as a fundraiser to help defray the cost of the newly installed lighting system  The production had a cast and crew of close to 80 people.  The production had the pleasure of using two quartets from the Sound of Illinois Barbershop Chorus.  The show raised $3500.00 for the Keep the Lights Shining Campaign.

The theme of the 82nd Season was “Something to “C”: all of the shows had the letter ‘C’ in the title.  To open the season was the Alan J. Learner and Frederick Lowe musical Camelot.  This show marked the return of Joe Penrod, as King Arthur, after a sixteen year absence.  The popular musical Chicago closed the season and introduced Curtain Calls, a newsletter that offered director’s insights and information on upcoming shows, future audition requirements, news from the Board of Governors, volunteer opportunities, and other news.

The theme of the 83rd season was “A Season to Die For,” and on August 12, 2005, Players presented An Evening to Die For, a murder mystery dinner theater that was held at the Radisson Hotel as a fundraiser.  The fundraiser made over   In November the company presented Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, directed by Kathleen Parrish.  A very talented group of singers and actors answered the call to become a part of one of the most difficult musicals that Players had ever performed.  The first show of 2006 was Deadwood Dick, or a A Game of Gold, the first old-fashioned ‘mellerdrammer” Players had done in 60 years.  Closing out the season was Players third production of Oklahoma!, with John Lieder and Bruce Parrish reprising their roles from the 1989 production.

The 84th season was themed, ‘A Season of Changes,” and in In January 2007 Players produced The season opened with a poignant comedy-drama, “Over the River and Through the Woods, a play that discussed family traditions.  In January 2007 Players produced Michael Fayen’s off-beat and fast paced farce Noises Off.  The unique set shows us first the play from the audience perspective and then after the set revolves, act 2 brings the story backstage, Act 3 is the show once more, only now it is a battleground for the actors taking their disagreements to the next hilarious level of fighting.

On January 16, 2007, Dr. Wilson Baltz passed away.  Dr. Baltz was a longtime board member and officer, actor, producer and stage manager.  Dr. Baltz had 15 stage roles and was stage manager for five musicals and seven plays.  Dr. Baltz was also Players Historian for a number of years in the 1970’s.  He worked with Gary Schwartz, Tony Holloway and Bruce Parrish to help produce the booklet Road to Robinhood.

The 2007 Summer Theater for Young People was the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  The show was a fundraiser and featured a Dreamcoat Raffle that included four one-day hopper passes to Walt Disney World in Florida, among other prizes.  The cast totaled 100 actors and musicians.  Ben Laxton as Joseph received high praise for both is acting and singing.  Shortly after Joseph, Ben was in the national touring company of Catch me If You Can.  The eleven-night-run and the Pay-What-You-Can Preview were all sold out, resulting in a box office of $37,000.00.

Bruce Parrish and Bob McLaughlin

Part 9 ended with the summer 2007 revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

 

The 85th Season featured an unusual fundraiser.  On October 6, 2007, Las Vegas Magician Gary Carson and his wife and assistant Kelsey brought an amazing display of magic, animals, and laughter to Players’ stage.  The evening raised $1,300.  For the last show of the season, Father of the Bride (first done by Players in 1951), director Marcia Weiss and Sherise Kirvan choreographed the scene changes, which were performed by the cast in full view of the audience.

During the October 2008 revival of Guys and Dolls (previously done in 1964 and 1993), Players held a food drive.  Donated items were on display in the lobby.  Over 415 items and cash were donated to the Salvation Army Food pantry at the close of the show.  The November Lab show, Woman in Black, put the audience on the stage to draw them into the frightening world of this thriller.  Director Sally Parry and lighting and sound-effects designer Dan Virtue created a truly creepy experience.

The summer 2009 Theater for Young People production was the popular Tony Award-winning Les Misérables School Edition.  Intermission raffles raised $1,100.  Closing out the 87th Season was The Producers, based on Mel Brooks’s 1968 film.  The show won a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards in 2001.  This politically incorrect musical had audiences laughing and applauding all night long.

In January 2011 Players presented Norman Krasna’s comedy John Loves Mary (first performed at Players in 1949), about returning-serviceman, his war bride, and his State-side fiancée.  Before one performance, Illinois State University professors Robert McLaughlin and Sally Parry offered a presentation on the returning veteran and popular culture in World War II.  The last show of the 88th Season was Peter Stone and Maury Yeston’s Titanic: The Musical, a titanic undertaking for the large cast of singing actors, the orchestra, and the designers.  Tears and sniffles could be heard from the audience every night.  A special abridged matinee performance was given for people with special needs, thanks to a generous grant from the Illinois Arts Council.

Players’ 89th Season offered an interesting bit of trivia: we presented plays with two of the longest titles we have ever staged.  The musical Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? was a nostalgic look at growing up Catholic in the 1950s.  A Lab show, You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running, by Robert Anderson, consists of four unrelated one-act plays, which offered the opportunity for four first-time directors—Dorothy Mundy, Joel Dwight Shoemaker, Brett Cottone and Sherry Bradshaw—the chance to develop their art.

Community Plays’ 90th Season was celebrated with a full slate of activities, including a kick-off picnic in Fairview Park, a tailgating party at a Normal Cornbelters baseball game, and a lecture by Julie Hedgepeth Williams, author of A Rare Titanic Family, the story of her great uncle Albert Caldwell and his family.  Titanic-survivor Sylvia Caldwell eventually moved to Bloomington and joined Community Players.  Players Historian Bruce Parrish helped Dr. Williams with her research.  The event was bracketed by two songs from the musical Titanic.

In December 2012 Players celebrated the holidays with Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the first time since 2004 we had performed a Christmas show.  At one performance, one of the principal performers became ill and was not able to perform.  The box office staff was able to accommodate all of the audience requests for the remaining performances.

On March 6, 2013 Players’ first show, Overtones, a one-act comedy by Alice Gerstenberg, was performed for the Chamber of Commerce, Past Presidents, and the community at large at a 90th Season Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Cristan Embree, Wendi Fleming, Sally Parry, and Opal Virtue performed the special reading about two proper ladies and their not-so-proper alter egos.  In April we presented Broadway in Bloomington, a musical revue that traced the history of Players and featured performers re-creating songs from favorite roles.

During the 90th Season, we lost two longtime members.  Jack Ingold, a Past President, board member, producer, Trustee, actor and Board Member Emeritus passed away on November 15, 2012.  Jack was in the first play performed in the Robinhood Lane theatre, Death of a Salesman.  Don Freese, a board member from 1957 through 1964 and member of the Executive Board as Recording Secretary, passed away on January 23, 2013.  Don first appeared as in a Players show in 1935.

The current generation of Community Players is keenly aware that our organization exists only through the efforts of the many dedicated people who founded it, built it, expanded it, and preserve it.  We strive to follow their example and help Community Players continue to grow.  Here’s to the next 90 years!

If you have questions, comments, or materials to add to our history, please contact Bruce Parrish, our historian, at [email protected]