In Our Own Words CCP

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“Thank You,” and “Congratulations,” from Uplands Village

After living on the Cumberland Plateau for just one year, we realized the best live entertainment in East Tennessee was at the Cumberland County Playhouse. The best way not to miss a fabulous show was to buy season tickets and enjoy all the perks that go with them.


Then, in 2012, we discovered the gracious giving of the Resident Acting Company and Performance Interns in Chris Rayis’ wonderful Signature Concert Series, “ History of the Musical Theatre,” at the Art Circle Public Library on Mondays at 11:00 AM. We really got to know these talented performers up close and personal.


We appreciate that cast members give their time to visiting and performing upcoming production scenes at Uplands Village in Pleasant Hill, where we live. We are just so fortunate to have The Playhouse just seven miles from our home!  Congratulations on your 50th anniversary.     



 Don & Jean Nelson

© 2015 Don and Jean Nelson

Used by Permission

In the Beginning: An interview with Bette Evans Halverstadt recorded and edited by Jane Heald — July 2, 2015

(Bette Evans Halverstadt was on the Board of Directors.)

Can you remember when the Playhouse was first started?

Well, in the beginning, I knew Mary Crabtree’s mother (Eula Ducey) from church, and she told me that they were coming to town. Eula wanted me to meet Mary. Mary was from near Pittsburgh, and I was from near Pittsburgh. Mary had a bunch of kids and I had a bunch of kids. I had six, and she had more than that, maybe.

The Crabtrees were wonderful, coming into a little town and being thrown into it right away. They had Children’s Theatre. That was one of the first things. Big show. It was everything: singing, dancing. I think they did it in one of the schools to begin with. And their kids were great–smart kids. Mary’s children already had some experience on the stage before they came here … up in New England I think. Paul was the director.

A committee got started. I can’t tell you exactly how. We had to raise money for the Playhouse. A lot of people worked on that. It was an exciting time, I’ll tell you. It was all new. Everybody got interested … the parents, my kids saved their allowances to get a share of stock. And it wasn’t just my family. A lot of kids did this.

Everybody was so excited.

Everybody in town, almost, bought shares. I was treasurer. For some reason I got to take up the pledges (that’s a long time ago for me). It was the Crabtrees coming to town. The building was built from the money … from the pledges.

I was involved in nearly all the details, the rehearsals. Everybody had to make costumes (they didn’t have anything like that) … all kinds: angels, and pirates. They had committees to help Mary and Paul.

What kind of things did Mary do?

She did everything. They didn’t even know the people that well. They got to knowing people by their interactions … had to learn the kids and their skills; what they might be able to do; who would be good at singing. She helped train kids for the parts. She helped with a little of everything.

My name was Evans. Jack Evans was my husband. He was in the plays, too. He played a good part. He did theater before I did, up in Philadelphia. He was friends with Paul and Mary. They stayed at our house and everything.

Nobody had experience. It was new to everybody. It was fun for the kids.

I was in Kiss and Tell. I told, and I kissed. I can remember … I was one of the main characters … that kissed, I think …

What did Jack Evans think of that?

He was all for it.

Do you have a collection of early programs?

I do but I don’t want to lose them. I think I have all the ones that I was in. I have all the ones my son was in. He grew up with it. In fact, my son Bruce ended up being an actor in Washington, DC. And he started right here. Great for kids to have that opportunity.

That’s the good thing about the Crabtrees. Mary and Paul were wonderful. They were a wonderful family.

It’s all true.

© Jane Heald
Used by Permission

“Smokin’” at a Young Age

I began “Smokin’” at the young age of 16. It was the best decision of my life. I gained an amazing amount of experience and a footing of expertise that I would continue using in my life as a musician, performer, and human being. And don’t even get me started on the health benefits…

I made my first CCP stage appearance in 1993 during the Jet Theatrix production of A Brand New Beat. I was smitten with the stage–instantly bitten by the bug. From there, I gave ensemble work for professional productions a good shake—Oklahoma! and Grapes of Wrath. I loved it! I couldn’t imagine my time on stage getting any better. I was convinced that I had peaked and I was thankful enough!

Then in early 1994, just weeks before I turned 17, I was given a golden opportunity to join a cast of a not-so-well-known musical. Jim Crabtree knew I could sing, sure, but could I play an instrument?

I winced at the question, “Piano?”

He called me in to meet the guest director, Terry Sneed, and to audition. I had never formally auditioned before, so I was clueless about what I needed to do to prepare for such a request! I can’t remember what I sang for Terry and Jim, but I remember Terry’s sweet smile as I sang. And I remember the piece of music I chose to play on the piano for my audition. I had been working on it for about a week–Ricky Nelson’s “Traveling Man.” (Go ahead. Laugh.) I was even asked to sing along mid-song. I must’ve done something right—or they were desperate—because I was offered the role on the spot. At the time, I would alternate the role with another girl so that we wouldn’t miss much school. They handed me the script and gave me a date for when I would begin rehearsals.

I was on cloud nine! I was fantasizing about the role I would play and the beautifully arranged songs I would sing in this new show—a show with dancing, a leading lady, a leading man, supporting roles, and a huge ensemble cast! Then, when I got home I opened the script …

Devastated! Instead of a cast of 30, there were only six. There were no leads; we were an ensemble cast. I would not at all sing the swelling music similar to Rodgers and Hammerstein or Andrew Lloyd Webber. I was going to be singing the same music I sang in church on Sundays!

… but there was “dancing” and a certain little word that had the possibility to cause much controversy.

Still, I was grateful for the opportunity. How could I not be? Being on stage was everything I had ever dreamed of doing! Plus, while other kids my age were working part-time bagging groceries, running registers, or flipping burgers, someone (Jim Crabtree) felt that I was good enough to “play pretend” and sing as a part-time job without any real prior experience. He thought that I would somewhat add value to a cleverly crafted show among a small group of talented professionals. Never did I imagine that 21 years later Smoke on the Mountain would be one of the most loved and memorable shows to ever grace the CCP stage. It has become so much more than a show. It carries so much reverence in our community and to other CCP patrons. CCP guided me to not only hone my craft but to be exposed to diversity in art and life. In truth, the cast and stage managers I worked with until 1998 molded me, raised me. Nothing in the world can take away the experience and knowledge I gained in the time when I portrayed Denise Sanders. Here are a few memories and lessons I gained:

1. I learned what real teamwork looked like and how to execute it. It’s not a shallow chore of mechanically working together as one. It’s a deeper, more intimate move of knowing who each cast member is, who they’re bringing to life, and how they’re accomplishing that. It’s gelling together.

2. To be in a long-running show, to keep your performance consistent, is exceptional. To keep that consistency fresh is divine. (I was neither.)

3. My skin thickened with constructive criticism and useful stage notes—something that needed to happen if I planned to be an artist of some magnitude for the rest of my life.

4. I had a few hard lessons about checking my ego and mood at the door. Nobody likes working with a jerk.

5. A straight face during a semi-serious scene can often be tested by a cast member. I have yet to achieve this skill.

6. Coloring your hair is all fun and games until you’re locked in to one particular color and all because of who your current twin is. I make for a horrible dark brunette.

7. Nothing is scarier than a deer-in-the-headlights moment during a monologue you’ve done over a hundred times—a monologue you thought for sure you could do in your sleep.

8. Sinful hair is not so easily achieved. It too, requires a good hair day, time, patience, and a crap-ton of Aqua Net.

9. The saying is true: You’re only as good as the people you play with. I laid down the foundations of becoming a real musician and songwriter during those years, thanks to musicians like Rhondda Wallace and Bobby Taylor who challenged me. I was later able to add guitar, mandolin, and bass to my catalog of regularly played instruments, and I eventually received my degree in music.

10. Twins, Reverends, Burls, Stanleys, Veras, June … they all come and go. Each brings a new gift to the table when they become part of the Sanders family. Each takes a significant part of the show with them when they leave.
11. Tracy Schwab was right. Singing “Rocky Top” after the show in the lobby while in costume is obnoxious and I’m sorry. (I’m not even a UT fan.)

12. Voice lessons are important no matter how naturally gifted you are as a vocalist. And over-singing doesn’t necessarily mean better. I was faced with some serious health risks to my throat because I wasn’t being responsible with my gift. Thanks to the cast at that time, I was lead to fantastic voice instructor and was able to avoid any surgery!

And last, but certainly not least …

13. Honesty. It’s not about the laughs. It’s about the heart. Always about the heart.
As a young adult, I went on and did several big stage shows and tours through other companies as well as CCP, but none compared to the time I had with CCP’s Smoke on the Mountain. My sixteen-year-old self stood corrected, finding that Sarah Brown (Guys and Dolls) was never as fun as Denise Sanders. “On My Own” could never carry the same significance as “I’ll Never Die (I’ll Just Change My Address).” Not for me, anyway. And dancing? Well, with two left feet, I left my dancing to “I’ll Live a Million Years” and I never looked back.

Smoke on the Mountain has taken on a life of its own now, for sure—for audiences and cast members alike–and to say that I’m thankful for being a part of that Smoke legacy at CCP is, by far, an understatement.

© 2015 Melissa Ellis-Clyde
Used by Permission

I Am Rarely Considered a Straight Man

Brenda Sparks’ memory evokes the image of Jim Crabtree’s formidable mother, the late Mary Crabtree, about whom the stories are plentiful thanks to her long history of performances and productions at CCP:

“There are so many [memories]! How to choose? The most memorable thing ever said to me was by Mary Crabtree herself. For my CCP debut, I was hired to direct a production of Over The River and Through The Woods.

Mary Crabtree had already been cast as one of the grandmothers. When I arrived in Crossville, I was warned by some well-meaning Playhouse regulars that Mary had not been directed by anyone other than her late husband Paul or one of their children in years. She was a quirky, yet intimidating, character. I had such immense respect for her career and what she had built on the plateau, but I knew I had to direct the show, and that meant every member in the cast.

We definitely locked horns in the beginning. It wasn’t a contentious relationship, but there was definite friction there as she tested my mettle. I’m not sure when or why the tides turned in my favor. But before moving into the theatre for tech. rehearsals and after an individual character meeting with her, she pointed at me and said, ‘Not since the late Bud Abbott has there been such a great comedic mind.’ I believe she worked with Mr. Abbott. I took it as a compliment.

Over the years, it has struck me odd that she didn’t say Lou Costello. I am rarely considered a straight man. Regardless, it was one of the most memorable things anyone has ever said to me in the theatre. From that day forward, we got along famously. I directed her again in the same show, and it was like butter. Maybe because I knew she trusted me, maybe because she knew I trusted her. Either way, she was a remarkable woman and I consider myself lucky to have received such high praise from her.”

© Brenda Sparks and Jeffrey Ellis
Used by Permission

This post first appeared in a January 27th, 2015 Broadway World article by Jeffrey Ellis entitled “THE GOLDEN PLATEAU: Celebrating Cumberland County Playhouse’s 50th Year.”

Missing Lines to a Camp Ozone Song

I grew up near Detroit, Michigan. As a teen, I visited Camp Ozone in Cumberland County with a work group from Royal Oak First Presbyterian Church. I don’t remember the year, but it was during the mid-60s. At the camp, we were assigned various maintenance tasks to do during the week we were there. The highlight of the trip was attending a performance of “Tennessee USA” at the Playhouse. I remember seeing Kwame Braun (son of Dr. Braun) perform in it. A few years later, I returned to Camp Ozone as a counselor. Once again, we went to the Playhouse, which was a welcome respite from our week of hard work.

In 1979, I moved to Sparta, TN, with my husband and children. We visited the Playhouse often over the years and saw many wonderful plays, musicals, and concerts.

I wonder if someone could help me with an unusual request. I’m trying to remember all the words to Camp Ozone’s theme song. It was sung to the tune of “Ashgrove” and started out like this:

Camp Ozone, Camp Ozone,
Her bright sparkling waters,
Trees reaching to Heaven,
Bright sunlight and shade.

____ ____ ____ ____
____ ____ ____ ____
And birds sweetly singing
In each forest glade.

On Cumberland Mountain
Where morning comes early,
I long there to wander
In wildwoods so free.

There’s peace and contentment,
And always a welcome.
Camp Ozone, Camp Ozone,
Is joy to me.

Can anyone help me fill in the blanks, or direct me to someone who can?

Pamela Sanders
Sparta, TN
© Pamela Sanders
Used by Permission

Making Friends, Gaining Confidence, and Learning Responsibility

When she was young, my daughter Krystal Collins always wanted to try acting. When we moved to Crossville, TN we found the opportunity to enroll her in a summer program at the Playhouse.

With no prior experience, she was fortunate enough to learn the art of acting from Jim & Annie Crabtree! She was cast in two leading roles in “The perils of Pinocchio,” and loved every minute of it! That experience helped her gain confidence in herself, learn responsibility (which has helped her in many areas of her life), and make friendships that will last a lifetime. She went on to be in three more productions at the Playhouse, including her favorite “The Music Man.”

I had the honor of being able to serve as a backstage helper during “The Music Man.” I learned so much about theater and also created friendships that will last a lifetime! Krystal is a now in 11th Grade at Cumberland Co. High School. She is a straight A student and has just been voted President of (Beta) National Honor Society! We feel so grateful to have been a part of the Playhouse family and will always love and support the Cumberland County Playhouse and all the wonderful work that they do!

Judy Collins & Krystal Collins
© Judy Collins & Krystal Collins
Used by Permission

CCP Goes to Dayton

Jim and the CCP Family,

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since the Playhouse and Scopes Festival joined forces to produce “Front Page News” in Dayton.

The new music, plus the talented direction, cast members, and stage crew from the Playhouse, combined with the compelling story of the Scopes Trial produced the quality performance for which we have been aiming for many years.

Getting to know some of the Playhouse regulars has been a behind-the-scenes treat for us on this side of the mountain. With the love they have for theatre – and for the Playhouse specifically – it’s no wonder that Cumberland County Playhouse is one of the premiere theatres in Tennessee and the Southeast.

I’m excited about this year’s show and helping bring top-quality programming to Dayton once again.

Best wishes,
Tom Davis
Scopes Festival Chairman

© 2015 Tom Davis
Used my Permission

13 Year Old Harvey Johnson Addressing the Court

In my senior year of high school, I had the pleasure of playing Danny Zuko in the “Jet Theatrix” production of Grease…some of the most fun I’ve ever had working hard.  But when I think about the importance of CCP in my life, a production Bye Bye Birdie several years prior comes to mind first.

I was probably 13 at the time, when I managed to finagle my way into that cast.  Kirk Shanks had the role of Harvey Johnson and was great.  He always got laughs with a perfectly placed crack in his voice when asking Mrs. Hinkle if he could speak to Debra Sue.  I was several years younger than Kirk, but tall for my age and probably had a natural “crack” in my voice (although not has comical as Kirk’s) I became alternate Harvey.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget how nervous I was the only time I remember that Kirk couldn’t be there, and I certainly thought my performance that night suffered from it.  But despite my personal disappointment, I remember only encouragement from everyone involved in that production.

The Playhouse helped me grow up, contributing to the skills and confidence I would need in my continued pursuit of work in the arts as well as business.  The term “Play” is such a misnomer…with each production being the product of so many long days and late nights of tweaking and perfecting.

Now a 44 year old lawyer, when I’m preparing a case for trial, I stay up late, perfecting my words…dress rehearsal.  When I approach the podium to address the court or jury, I’m still that 13 year-old Harvey Johnson.  But because of all the work that’s gone into my “production” the nervousness is now the good kind…the kind that keeps you sharper than you would be without it.

The Crabtrees, along with the many other uber-talented folks who have graced those stages and backstages over the years, have nurtured many a Harvey Johnson…and we are grateful.

Earl Patton
Attorney at Law

© 2015 Earl Patton
Used by Permission

Opening Night of “Inherit the Wind”

Dear Mr. Crabtree:

My wife and I just returned home from seeing the opening night performance of Inherit the Wind.  Without hesitation we can say that it ranks as one of the best performances we have ever seen at the Playhouse and we have seen plenty. Be assured that we will be recommending this to all of our friends.

To the cast and crew our sincerest congratulations!  We are so blessed for a town the size of Crossville to have such a wonderful world class theatrical venue.  The professionalism of everyone involved ranks with the best we have seen in NYC, Washington, and the West End of London.

We are proud to support and volunteer at the Playhouse and can’t wait to see the new productions as they unfold.

“ITW”, excellent, just excellent!


Sue and Tim Tewalt
October 10, 2014

© 2015 Sue and Tim Tewalt
Used by Permission