In Our Own Words CCP

New Writings About the Cumberland County Playhouse (site © 2015 by CCP) Email submissions to:

Category: Prose

A Few Comments from Harry Bryce

This vivid memory is very close to my heart because it changed my life as an artist and humanitarian. Twenty years ago I thought my path was set. I had my own theatre company (Memphis Black Repertory Theatre) and was dutifully telling the stories of the African-American experience through theatre. Along came a man named Jim Crabtree who protested “your stories need to be shared in places where hope and acceptance of other cultures is fleeting.” He extended the invitation to come to CCP in Crossville, to direct the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’.

Given the History of Cumberland County and Crossville’s connection to the KKK and a reputation as a SunDown County (which meant not safe for people of color after dark), my friends asked, “have you lost your mind?” Ignoring the unfaithful, I packed my bags and the rest is a glorious history. Jim Crabtree and his family have always been visionaries. Today CCP, Crossville and Cumberland County is a preferred destination for those visiting Tennessee seeking diverse cultural authenticity and artistic theatrical brilliance.

This writing first appeared in a February 2015 Broadway World article written by Jeffrey Ellis.

© 2015 Jeffrey Ellis/Harry Bryce
Used by Permission

My Hillside Adventure

In 1998 I received an e-mail inviting me to a place I couldn’t have imagined without seeing it for myself. So I packed up the ol’ station wagon and off I went. It was a fall day and I ascended up into the Cumberlands, climbing a beautiful mountain to a plateau of green and gold (with the changing of the leaves) till I saw a big water tower marked Crossville. I finally found this beautiful red barn in the middle of the woods. I did two shows that season, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Children of Eden. I met some of the most wonderful people whom to this day are still my friends and family. Memories of Miss Mary coming up from the lake house: her kind words and the sharing of her insights. Watching her on stage was like watching theatre royalty–doing it how it should be done. It was magic!

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t always fun and flowers. It was tough. I call it “Theatre Bootcamp!” In one day you can have a 9:30 show, go to rehearsal and lunch, then perform a totally different show at 2:30, then more rehearsal and dinner and a 7:30 performance of one of the earlier shows. It made me dig deep and get tough fast. But you all did it together, like a family. During the finale of the last performance of Children of Eden, as I fought back the tears, I looked around the stage and there was my new family, all sixty-five hearts, as one, in tears. One month later I came back to teach theatre classes in the TN prison system.

In 2005, the “Gentle Giant,” Jim Crabtree, gave the call of the wild for me to repeat my role in Ain’t Misbehavin’, Big River (where I broke my leg), Into the Woods, and four more shows. In a January snow storm, up the mountain I went. I arrived in the middle of a Big River rehearsal, and that big, rich voice (the Gentle Giant) announced, “The Prodigal Son Returns!” Rehearsal stopped and hugs and introductions ensued. Just like a family reunion! I felt like a king returning to his kingdom! We did seven shows in eight months.

In one word … CCP is Family!

Tony D. Owens Jr.

© 2015 Tony D. Owens Jr.
Used by Permission

Family Tree

My first direct experience with CCP came in 1987. I had just graduated High School and started dating a girl and on our second date I took her to Crossville to see her favorite musical, The Sound of Music. We were very impressed by the show, had a great time, and the experience helped set the tone for twenty-three years of marriage.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that CCP had already had a dramatic effect on my life, indirectly. In 1979, a man named Richard Northcutt had the harebrained idea of starting a community theater in Woodbury, Tennessee. As he began looking for models of how to make that happen and how to build a rural audience, he looked just down the road to CCP. I grew up in that community theater which would become The Arts Center of Cannon County. After college I came back to run the organization as it became a model in its own right. Throughout my nineteen years there, we would constantly ask What would Cumberland County do? or How would the Playhouse handle this?– many times picking up the phone and asking Jim directly. I can honestly say much of the success of The Arts Center came from the influence of The Cumberland County Playhouse.

As we reflect on CCP’s legacy after 50 years, I think that it is easy to miss the ripples. By serving as a model rural arts organization CCP has affected countless people (people CCP does not even know about) in dramatic, life altering, ways. Not just kids like me, in Cannon County, but also a kid I just heard about in McNairy County in West Tennessee who is part of an organization that used the Arts Center as a model. Or even someone down the road that uses Arts in McNairy as a model. You see, if rural arts in Tennessee is a family tree then CCP is a big part of that trunk, and as such will continue to have a positive effect on lives for years to come. This, for me, is one of the most widespread and enduring parts of the Cumberland County Playhouse legacy and one that should be celebrated during this golden anniversary.

The Playhouse calls itself “Tennessee’s Family Theater” and in 2010, when Jim asked me to direct Duck Hunter Shoots Angel, I became part of the family. Perhaps a cousin that only gets together around Thanksgiving, but one who is always made to feel welcome at the table. I cherish my experiences at Cumberland County and love the experience of working with a rep company of talented actors, designers, technicians and friends. It continues to be one of my favorite places to work. I’m excited to return this year to be part of the Golden Anniversary Season. I can only hope that the work that we do will continue to honor the legacy of the Crabtree family and of the Cumberland County Playhouse.

Donald Fann

© 2015 Donald Fann
Used by Permission

Only in Cumberland County

The story of the Playhouse is like a good piece of fiction from The Saturday Evening Post circa 1963. Something penned by John O’Hara or James Gould Cozzens or Paul Crabtree.

When you think of this couple – this extremely gifted, show business couple – Paul and Mary Crabtree driving the breadth of America with a carload of kids who had been raised between Hollywood and New York, and he’s setting out for a farmhouse in Tennessee to write a novel…well, it’s like one of the scripts Paul wrote for television.

In fact, his last gig in Hollywood before coming to Tennessee was head writer for The New Loretta Young Show. The show was about a widowed, free-lance writer with a house-full of kids (seven of them) – the role of the writer, of course, was played by Paul’s good friend Loretta Young.

By the way, it’s amazing to me how unknown Loretta Young is among the population under 50. She truly was one of the most beautiful and successful Hollywood stars of her time. She made 103 movies between 1917 and 1953 – everything from The Sheik with Rudolph Valentino (at age 8) to The Farmer’s Daughter, for which she won an Oscar.

A deeply religious woman, she nevertheless conceived a child with Clark Gable while filming Call of the Wild in the forests and mountains of California and Washington state. This has nothing to do with anything. I just always found it ironic that a good Catholic girl answered Clark Gable’s call of the wild while filming a movie called Call of the Wild. But that’s me.

The first Loretta Young Show was wildly successful and was broadcast on NBC for eight years – from 1953 to 1961. There is no doubt that, after a brief vacation from show business, Miss Young was ready to launch into another successful show. She even created a new production company for that purpose. She was still beautiful at 50 and she looked a good 15 years younger.

When Paul Crabtree was hired as head writer, he must have thought his ship had finally come in. He had earned it.

In a distinguished, non-stop 20 years of producing/writing/directing/starring on Broadway, in movies, and on television, the 42 year-old Crabtree had worked with the very best – Helen Hayes, Geraldine Page, Burgess Meredith, Jose Ferrer, E.G. Marshall,…He had even launched the career of a young actress named Cloris Leachman. On Broadway, she played in A Story for a Sunday Evening, the play he wrote, directed, and starred in, as well as, Lo and Behold!, the very next play in which he had a role. She even acted in an episode of The New Loretta Young Show.

At the Playhouse, there is a 16 mm film of Paul Crabtree interviewing a who’s who of 1950s actors he directed at the 813-seat Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, a summer stock “celebrity theater” he managed in the 1950s and early 1960s. You can tell by the easy banter between Crabtree and the stars – performers such as Celeste Holm, Arthur Treacher, and Ava Gabor – that there was much respect and genuine affection for Paul Crabtree among seasoned pros. He was one of the tribe.

It’s fascinating to watch Paul Crabtree in these black and white frames. He smokes a cigarette and carries on an easy conversation in his ever-so-slightly Pulaski, Virginia accent. He sort of reminds you of Bing Crosby or Hoagy Carmichael. There is something cool and musical about his voice — sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines…

Here’s a guy who started “trouping” in a travelling minstrel show at 4 years old and continued through his senior year in high school. He followed that by staging 60 productions in four years at his alma mater, Syracuse University. He played 40 leads and directed 12 of the plays, five of which he wrote.

So, by the time he hit Broadway in 1943 with $13 in his pocket, he was ready to conquer the Great White Way. He was picked for the national road show of “Kiss and Tell” – where he met his wife Mary – and never looked back. Next came five years in Oklahoma!, The Iceman Cometh, a long-term contract with the Theater Guild, and other triumphs.

But, alas, after years of hard work in the business, The New Loretta Young Show was a bust. Unfortunately, it premiered on CBS against the very popular medical drama Ben Casey, in its second year. The show quietly shut down after 26 episodes.

So, when we think of all the visionary local townspeople who helped make the Playhouse possible — like Joe Ed Hodges, Margaret Keyes Harrison, Bette Evans, Carl Sutton, C.C. Simonton, J. W. Brown, and “Shadow” Davenport – don’t forget the dark and brooding Vince Edwards. Without Vince’s sulking portrayal of Dr. Casey, Paul Crabtree may never have left Hollywood.

A couple of years ago, I found a boxed set of DVDs of The New Loretta Young Show. Miss Young liked Paul Crabtree so much, she begged him to play a recurring role of a drifter in the series. I wish every actor at the Playhouse could see this performance. He was pretty dang good. I’m glad there exists a record of his talent and stage presence.

Most readers of this blog know the Playhouse story. The Crabtrees came to town, Paul was persuaded to teach creative writing at a local school, this led to the production of a play starring a bunch of local kids called The Perils of Pinocchio, which created a cultural explosion, which created the Playhouse.

Scores of local business people, school kids, farmers, and regular folks bought shares in what was originally a for-profit corporation.

One of those shareholders was a legendary Hollywood star, Loretta Young.

I take it back. You would never find a story like this in The Saturday Evening Post. You really can’t make this stuff up.

John White

© 2015 John White
Used by Permission

Some Comments from Daniel Black

Daniel W. Black is a CCP stalwart, virtually growing up onstage, and has already opened the company’s first production of the golden anniversary season, starring with Patty Payne and Jason Ross in Lori Fischer’s Barbara’s Blue Kitchen.

Daniel: In 1995 and ’96 the Playhouse hosted TennFest: It was a summer filled with three separate shows running, outdoor entertainment and activities for the whole family! I was still new to the theater, an intern. The amount of people that showed up was mind blowing! I’ll never forget that. I could see, even then, that CCP was loved by all…I knew then that I wanted to be a part of this wonderful place. I celebrated my 20th affiliated year with CCP just two weeks ago. When I look back at it all, I smile and think, “What a rush…I’m still here…home!”

“Family” is the one word I would use to describe this place!

This writing first appeared in a January 2015 Broadway World article written by Jeffrey Ellis.

© 2015 Jeffrey Ellis/Daniel Black
Used by Permission

Clarence Darrow Reflects on the Cumberland County Playhouse

I had heard about the Cumberland County Playhouse for many years but just never got around to attending a performance there until recently. It had been on my list of to do things that kept getting pushed back. I don’t have a theater background. We had a very successful theater group in my high school, but I never had the courage to try out for any of their productions.

In 1993 I was asked to play the role of Quinn Ryan (the WGN Radio announcer that covered the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial) in the reenactment production that takes place in the Rhea County Court House every year. I got hooked on both the history of the event and the thrill of performing in front of an audience. So, over the last twenty plus years I have participated in that production in some capacity.

As we began to prepare for the 2014 production of Front Page News, we learned we were without a director, and we were struggling to fill out the cast. Tom Davis asked me to tag along for a meeting with Jim Crabtree and the staff of the Cumberland County Playhouse. Jim immediately picked up on my passion for telling the story of what actually happened in July of 1925–how that story compared to and contrasted with the film and stage versions of Inherit the Wind (exaggerated and fictionalized dramatizations of the Scopes Trial).

Jim and his marvelous team agreed to take on the challenge, not only helping us keep the historical event alive, but also allowing me to fulfill my dream of playing the role of Clarence Darrow.

I have made it clear that I never considered myself an actor, but I can memorize and deliver lines. What Jim and the Cumberland County Playhouse crew added to the production and the performance I truly lack the words to adequately express. Jim patiently worked with me through each line and each scene. He taught me to tap emotions I have never allowed others to see. He pushed me far outside of my comfort zone and allowed me to deliver a performance I never dreamt I was capable of. The truth of this was not in my mind but in the overwhelming accolades I received following each and every performance. I lost count of the number of people who said, “I really thought I was watching Clarence Darrow.”

The Cumberland County Playhouse is truly a rare treasure for the entire state of Tennessee. Its remote location tucked away on the Cumberland Plateau only adds to its charm. My passion for telling the true story of the Scopes Trial blended well with the passion for perfection exhibited by the entire Playhouse family. My only regret is that I was not able to join Mr. Bryan (Steve Miller) later in the year for the 2014 Playhouse production of Inherit the Wind.

I am greatly indebted to Jim and all of the team of the Cumberland County Playhouse. They not only helped keep the story alive in Rhea County, they took me in as a member of their family. That family feeling along with commitment are what make all of CCP’s productions so special. If, like me, a trip to the Playhouse is on your to do list, then I encourage you to get it done. You will be enriched.

Rick Dye

© 2015 Rick Dye
Used by Permission

The Beginning

My story begins on a brutally cold December night back in 2010. The wind was blowing through the hills of Tennessee as I arrived for my first audition. As I found my way to the green room, I can remember being less worried about the audition than with making sure my Bieber Cut was still in place after walking around the outside of the building in the wind for 10 minutes trying to find the right door. First impressions are everything, after all! The Bieber cut was fine. I was ready. And little did I know at the time, but this one audition would completely shape the face of my future.

Looking back, we can see more than we did at the time when our lives and careers are just beginning. In my time at the Playhouse I undoubtedly grew from the 16 year old punk I was into the person I am today. Those characteristics were nurtured in a very understanding, accepting environment. The Playhouse isn’t simply putting on a show, taking tickets, selling popcorn–the Playhouse is a new beginning for many. A life changing, inspirational experience happens daily behind those big red doors for those who truly seek it. Look around yourself, the evidence is in the people … those who did seek, who did learn, and who now share that wealth of inspiration with everyone that crosses their paths.

It’s been over three years since I left the Playhouse. I took that inspiration to a very unlikely place in life: the big top. Yes, the circus. Twice daily I lead my fellow cast though a two hour performance under a tent somewhere in small town America. My ringmaster skills were developed in the CCP production of Dream Girls. Everywhere I look, I find pieces of the Playhouse, from my costumes to my ability to work with people. Every day I smile when I think about you. Every day I am happy for The Beginning.

Much love to you all.

Kyle Guth

© 2015 Kyle Guth
Used by Permission

Raising Children at the Playhouse

The Playhouse has played such an important role in our family with all of our children growing, learning, and enjoying the many plays they were in. I spent many hours behind the scenes as a back-stage mother charged with keeping kids quiet and getting on stage at the appropriate time. It was never a problem getting them on stage as they all had a keen ear to the music and knew exactly when they needed to get there. Keeping them quiet, however, was often a problem!

My first show was The King and I starring Terry Schwab as the King. As I was walking to the house one day, Mary Crabtree went by and stopped me to ask if I would be in the show because of my dark hair. I said no because our two girls and I had spent the previous summer when they were in The Sound of Music and I didn’t want to lose another summer away from my son who was four at the time. Mary, of course, had the perfect answer—she would just add a role for my son so he could be in too! He became the youngest prince and was a total terror and nightmare during all the rehearsals and, I think, we were all regretting it. However, once the show began, he was perfectly fine and did a great job. It was a great experience doing that show with all my children. I went on to do several other shows over the years and serving on the Board.

In those days, the costume department was much smaller and made only the main costumes for the shows. Mary would prepare a paper bag of just enough material and a sketch of what they needed to look like. I was always challenged to find patterns that I could put together to make the costumes for my kids. It was fun to see the clothes be resurrected for later shows.

Sally Oglesby

© 2015 Sally Oglesby
Used by Permission

The Rest of the Story

Besides our enjoyment of seeing shows at the Playhouse, for fifteen years we were privileged to live next to the big house where many of the actors live. Since we had no air conditioning, our windows were always open during the summer. Sometimes, it was quite interesting as they exercised their vocal cords and entertained themselves after the shows!

Bill Oglesby

© 2015 Bill Oglesby
Used by Permission

The Theater That Raised Me

When I was asked to write something for this blog, tears immediately welled up in my eyes. What an honor, I thought, to be given the opportunity to pay tribute to my home and family.

My next thought was of my grandmother. And the next thought. And the next. A never ending series of plays and costumes and moments and memories, all filled with her picture, her smile, her light. That quality she possessed that could never be touched or comprehended, resonating through the dressing rooms and hallways, filling my heart and feeding my restless soul every time I set foot on the ground on which she built her legacy.

She is there with me every time I walk across the boards of the stage she devoted her life and passion to. A passion she gifted to me from birth. To me, she is the Playhouse and the Playhouse is her. One and the same. Walking through the doors of the theater is walking into her open arms. I am home. I am safe. I am happy and in love with its very walls. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the energy of creation and destruction and everything in between, all of the things I felt the first time I stepped onto the stage wash over me anew, as if I’m feeling them for the first time. It’s like being born again and again and again.

A million lives have been lived on that stage, by actors and the characters they play. There is more heart and history and magic at center stage than anywhere else I have ever stood. And it’s all her. That’s what the Playhouse is to me. It is Mary Crabtree. It is the place and the person that gave me the actor’s heart that beats in my chest and courses my life force through my veins. It is the place and the person that raised me and taught me with care and compassion all of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned:

That the show must go on in life as it does on stage.

How to be humble.

How to be kind.

How to live and work with others.

How to smile when all you want to do is cry.

How to sing when you have no voice.

How to work hard and play hard.

How to stumble and fall.

How to stand tall and proud in the face of embarrassment or defeat.

How to succeed and be thankful.

All of these lessons and more my grandmother left to me. To us. To our children and our children’s children. No matter where I go in life or what I do, even if I am never again blessed with the chance to perform on the Playhouse stage, my heart will always live there, alongside Mary’s.

Emily Woods

© 2015 Emily Woods
Used by Permission

The Reflection of Light

Almost twenty years ago I crossed the Mason-Dixon line for only the second time in my life to visit Crossville. It was a job, a great role in a quiet play, but I had no idea it would change my life. Things don’t always work out in reality the way they do onstage, but if we are lucky and good sometimes we get a chance at it, and those opportunities are to be treasured.


She came at me across the stage, eyes alight, and I felt her approach as much as saw it, as if a pool of heat surrounded her and flowed with her measured steps. The focus was perfect, electrical, and I knew that if I slipped, even for a moment, the audience would feel pity for the actor who could not keep up. Bless his heart. He’s trying so hard. She’s awfully good, isn’t she?

When the play began the characters were nineteen and sixteen, and the dialogue rose and fell—fates and fortune, business and buildings—as the marriage took on solidity like blocks sliding into place.


“Have either of you been married?” Abby asked us one day in rehearsal. It was often only the four of us in the rehearsal room: Abby and Tracey, myself and the beautiful young woman playing my wife. When Abby thought we might be paying too much attention to her reactions she would cover her face with a silk scarf.

“No,” we chorused, too quickly, not looking at each other.


Curtain on opening night. The shoes the costumer had chosen hurt my feet. I picked up the carpetbag stuffed with scraps of cloth and moved to center stage in darkness, automatically straightening the tassels of the prayer shawl where they emerged from under my vest. The grand drape rolled apart. Sound cues: galloping horses, Cossack shouts over screams. Then the sea, the clanging of a bell and endless slap of water against a crowded hull. Lights up on the scrim between me and the audience, projections of old photos, a village, a ship too small to cross an entire ocean. Harsh voices at the docks. I gripped his bag, heavy with all of his possessions, his money hidden in his shoes. The scrim flew out and the audience saw me.

The solo scenes rolled past like more slides, setting the place, introducing me as the man they would follow for two hours and sixty years. Her picture floated above me on the screen as I wrote letters, but I would not look. The primary image of her rose in my mind as I spoke the words aloud, told her to wait another year before coming.

Then it was time for her entrance, and I faced out and allowed them to see her first. Audience members seemed to think that they’re invisible, but of course light reflects from the scenery to illuminate the seats nearly to the back of the house. I saw the late couple forcing their way to seats in the fifth row, saw the expensive watch on the man’s wrist and the annoyance of those they passed. An old gent scratched, contented, as his wife nodded off.

She came from upstage right, entering from behind the second leg, the vertical curtain hanging down to mask the wings. To break a leg is to make an entrance, and I watched hers take place on the face of the audience.

I turned and saw her, and the stage caught fire in a line between the two of us. I could no more have turned away than I could have flown to the moon. Stepping carefully—the foot, the arch, the pointed toe that spoke of a dozen years of ballet—she saw her husband for the first time in two years and came to me in a rush and I bent and met and carried her off her feet to spin her to the stars and back to earth. I could see, in my peripheral vision, women, long-married, each reaching for their husband’s rough hands.

The years passed with the hours. A baby was born, stores built, hair grayed and shoulders stooped under the weight of twenty thousand days. My hands drew in to clasp in front of my stomach, the habit of decades, tying the nineteen year-old to eighty.

I looked into her face, and saw the young girl with whom I had fallen in love. We faced out, looking over their yard, full of strangers who had become family, witnesses to their lives.

Before each show we would go somewhere to run lines: a boulder in Cumberland Mountain park, the top of Ozone Falls, or just a blanket in the back yard of the actors’ house. As the run went on we played pass-the-penny onstage, handing a coin back and forth without the audience knowing it. Whoever held it when the curtain fell was the loser.

Spring stretched into summer, and the scenery for the next show began to take shape in the shop behind the stage. I did not open the script that had arrived in the mail from the theatre out west.

The music of the balalaika that accompanied the final opening plucked at my concentration. On her entrance I dropped a line and then held her too long in the embrace. Her heart pounded against my ribs.

She squeezed my arms, and the audience faded. The lights captured us center stage together. I performed for her, and she for me and for two hours and sixty years the world was only what we made of it.


Jim Walke

© 2015 Jim Walke
Used by Permission

My Playhouse Full of Memories

I remember the first time I came to the Cumberland County Playhouse. My dad, Bobby Taylor, was playing Stanley in Smoke on the Mountain. I remember the exact seat I sat in for that first magical experience. It’s weird! I don’t remember my first day of school but I remember my first visit to the Playhouse–both of which happened around the same year. We remember what we want to I guess!

I remember the first time I met members of the Crabtree family–each member, one of a kind. Daddy introduced Mary as “the woman who taught him about imagination.” She had been his school drama teacher as a young boy. Of course there was Annie always with a smiling face telling me each time I would visit how much I’d grown since the last visit. I would see Jim during curtain speeches and he would always get a kick out of me raising my hand when asking the audience if they’d seen Smoke on the Mountain X amount of times. I met Billy in my first recording session, doing demos of my own songs, Billy always reminiscent of himself with my dad playing in a band together in high school. I never got the chance to meet Paul. I heard wonderful stories though! Sometimes stories of how people thought he watched over the Playhouse at night.

I remember the first time Daddy took me backstage after a show. I will always recognize the smell of backstage. Not that it was a bad smell by any means. Only very distinct, almost like remembering the scent of a grandparent’s house. It was the smell of old leather shoes especially. I would look around at all the costumes and boxes of things in storage with labels written on them like “period shoes” or “ladies hats.” I would often greet cast members by saying “good show!” which was a phrase I picked up from hearing my dad say it so much. Going backstage always made me feel like I had a secret no one else knew, like having X-ray vision or something. It made me feel special.

As I got older, Daddy let me roam around some with others and eventually by myself. I made rounds with countless stage managers (the first being Tracy Schwab) giving the cast members the five minutes until curtain call. I got pretty good at that job too! So good, in fact, that I began making the calls, with supervision of course!

I remember the first time I ever sang in front of an audience. It was on the main stage at CCP. Daddy was opening up for Mandy Barnett that night. I was about eleven then. Daddy let me steal a little bit of the spotlight that night even though people weren’t there to see me. Before he introduced me to the stage, he told the story of the first time he had heard Mandy Barnett sing when she was about 12, almost the age I was then. It was a monumental night for sure. That same night, I heard Mandy sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” for the first time. As I listened, I wondered why that song was so popular–why the audience was strongly requesting it. I knew I had to do some research. Yes, I even got to meet Mandy Barnett that night. Before the show, daddy was changing his strings on his guitar in a dressing room when we heard a knock at the door. Daddy answered it and let her in. He said, “Honey, this is Mandy Barnett.” I had never met a country music singer before. I didn’t know how to act!!! I was an aspiring singer … how was I supposed to act? She shook my hand as I stared at her, starstruck. She had asked my dad about some kind of detail for the show. Maybe it was about where her dressing room was? I don’t remember. It didn’t matter … whatever the reason, I got to meet her!

I remember my own first show and participating in that whole experience. I was so scared the day of our first rehearsal. I had never been in a musical before, and here were kids I was sure had been in countless performances with my dad. They knew what they were doing. What if I got up there and made a fool of myself? What if they didn’t like me? Or worse, made fun of me? Daddy made me face my fears of the unknown that summer. He told me that if I didn’t like it, I could go back home for the summer with my mom. I tried it … and I made friends, to my astonishment. I was even kinda popular seeing as how my dad was the leading male role. Those friends I met that summer were friends that I have practically grown up with. I keep in touch with many of them to this day.

That was also the summer of my first kiss (something I will never forget), the summer I learned how to ride a horse (thank you Chelsea and Nye family), and the summer I learned that playing in mud … is actually pretty fun!

My memories and experiences at the Playhouse definitely had a strong hand in making me the person I am today. I wouldn’t have met my husband if it hadn’t have been for my experiences there. He and I met at a community theater audition in Smyrna,TN.

Daddy would always apologize for having to work and do shows during his weekends with me. To me, it was never like he was working there. It was as if we were just going on a little adventure for a while. I was thrilled to go. It was my own little home away from home, my creative comfort, my OWN little playhouse even. MY Playhouse full of memories.

Sarah Taylor Young

© 2015 Sarah Taylor Young
Used by permission

A Part of the Family

I remember the first time my husband, Skip, and I went to see a play at the Cumberland County Playhouse. We were so impressed that we couldn’t stop talking about it. It wasn’t long before some neighbors suggested that we become ushers. Well, we did, and as they say, the rest is history.

We moved up from working as Ushers, to working as Group Ushers and then as House Managers. I began to wonder what it would be like to volunteer to be on stage. As this was not something I had ever done, I started with the first Volunteer Mystery Dinner Theater, then moved to auditioning for Mainstage shows. I have been blessed to be in about eighteen CCP shows and six Mystery Dinner shows. In addition to that I have been able to continue to volunteer on both sides of the curtain.

Some would say that the best side-benefit of volunteering to usher at CCP is that one gets to see the shows for free, or at a discount. But as great as that is, the best part is all the wonderful people you get to work with. Both my husband and I have been so blessed by the friendships that we have formed on both sides of the curtain. As I think of those friends, I have to say that as much as the adults I have come to know and love, nothing compares to working with the kids–seeing them blossom and grow from show to show is awesome.

I will always remember coming in one day shortly after my big brother had suddenly passed away, me feeling teary eyed and Regina Villarus telling her daughter, Sasha, that I needed a hug–which Sasha ran over to give me. Sasha then told me that she would hug me at intermission and at the end of the show too. A few minutes later I saw her running down the hall to give me a hug telling me that she was just going to hug me every time she saw me. To this day, two years later, Sasha hugs me every time she sees me. Because of that, the other shy kids have started to come out of their shells and hug also. Sitting and explaining what it means to be a Scrooge or a skinflint to a six-year old is priceless, especially when that little one is very shy. Now I get hugs from her too. There are so many wonderful stories to tell. If you want to hear more let me know. I would love to share more of the gift of CCP,

CCP is a large and diverse group but most of all it is a FAMILY. Come and join our family. When you sit in those seats to watch a show you become part of the Cumberland County Playhouse Family.

Terri Ritter

© 2015 Terri Ritter
Used by permission

From Broadway Snob to CCP Performer

I grew up in a New Jersey suburb of New York City about 10 miles from the George Washington Bridge. As a child I remember going to Radio City Music Hall to see the world famous Rockettes at Christmas and Easter. In those days you also saw a movie with the show. As an adult, I was a Broadway musical junkie! I saw Reba McIntyre as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun. I was mesmerized by Hugh Jackman transformed into Peter Allen in Boy from Oz. I saw Sutton Foster as Janet Van de Graaff in The Drowsy Chaperone, I saw Sutton Foster as Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie, and I saw Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona in Shrek (yes…I am a huge Sutton Foster fan!!). I experienced Rent with the original cast. I’ve seen A Chorus Line, Grease, Les Miserables, and Jersey Boys. As you can see, I was a Broadway snob!

I moved to Crossville, Tennessee in November of 2009. Talk about culture shock!! In 2010 I was given a ticket to Hello Dolly at the Cumberland County Playhouse. “Oh brother!” was the think bubble around my head. “Are you kidding me???” “Hello Dolly???” I was certain this was going to be a horrifying experience! That was the afternoon I fell in love with Jason Ross!! I was hooked! I could not get over how professionally done the production was. I was in awe!

I have seen several other productions since Hello Dolly and have not been disappointed by any of them. From Fiddler on the Roof to the 2014 production of Scrooge, I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the Playhouse.

In August of 2014 I saw a Facebook post about auditions for Inherit the Wind and I knew it was something I had to do. In the time between booking the audition time and actually going to the audition, I talked myself out of it a half a dozen times. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t do it. “What did I have to lose?” I walked into the rehearsal room a nervous wreck. Now I have sung with a Sweet Adeline Chorus in New Jersey for twenty-five years. I have sung with the Ramapo Valley Chapter of Sweet Adelines. I have sung at Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (twice), but, walking into my first CCP audition, I was a ginormous ball of nerves! As it turns out, the audition was an awesome experience. Jim and Annie Crabtree, and Bryce McDonald, set my nerves at ease. As I started to calm down, I began to feel like I was home. I did get a part in the ensemble and from that day forward I was hooked. I look forward to auditioning for other performances in 2015 and beyond. Thank you CCP for transforming this Broadway snob into a performer with the Cumberland County Playhouse!

Lisa Latrenta

© 2015 Lisa Latrenta
Used by permission

One of the Safest Places in the World is the Stage

Ever since I was a little girl, I always put on concerts for my family, sang things from showtunes to the old bluegrass songs my dad played on guitar, and danced around my living room pretending to be on Broadway. All through my childhood I dreamed of being on a stage in a spotlight. And now I am. And I can’t believe it.

The Playhouse is a safe haven for me, my home away from home, and every moment I spend there, I cherish. Whether I am an intern, a teen volunteer, a lead, or in the ensemble, I am always having a blast. Every single show I have been in has been such a blessing, and has put me one step closer to reaching my dreams. I have never felt safe and comfortable in school. My appearance isn’t what I guess is the best for some, and I have been through some slight bullying. Whenever I walk through the doors of CCP, I am flooded with love and I never feel like my appearance gets in my way. The stage brings me a confidence that I can’t get anywhere else. Theatre makes me believe that there is a higher truth, and it brings me hope. The stage is my calling and I am so lucky to have something like the Playhouse.

I have had some AMAZING roles and opportunities at CCP. Currently, I am the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz–probably the biggest role of my life, and I couldn’t be happier. Just being on stage with the most talented and beautiful people I know is the best feeling ever. We have so much fun all the time.

I am very sad to be preparing to leave for college this time next year. I can’t believe I am having to leave CCP. Starting in 2007 with Oliver, I was so timid to the new place and all the professionals. But if you know me, I am not that way AT ALL now. The theatre breaks everyone out of the shell they are in, and the Playhouse is a perfect place to do that.

I have caught the theatre bug and I never ever want to get rid of it!!! I’m so proud of my CCP family and what the future holds! Happy 50th Birthday to the Cumberland County Playhouse!! You are loved by SOOO many people! Thank you to everyone at CCP and what you do for me. I will forever be grateful!

Katey Dailey

© 2015 Katey Dailey
Used by Permission

“Front Page News”

Ever since I was five years old, music and the arts have always been a passion of mine. I am a piano teacher and performer originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico where I received my Master’s Degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy. When I moved to Crossville, Tennessee in 2006, one of the first things I heard about through my students and friends was about this incredible performing arts center called the Cumberland County Playhouse. I learned about so many wonderful programs they offer our community of all ages such as dance, singing and acting, to name a few. I was elated when I learned of this! What a huge blessing the Playhouse is for our community and beyond! I attended numerous productions held at the Playhouse and fell in love with every single one of them. I especially loved the music and thought about what an honor it would be if one day I could be a part of a stage production with the Playhouse. Destiny had a plan!

One day in May 2014, I played piano for church service. Mr. Jim Crabtree attended the same church as me. Once service was over, Mr. Crabtree approached me, introduced himself, and asked me if I’d be interested in performing music for an upcoming play to be performed in Dayton, Tennessee called Front Page News. With little need for contemplation, I said I most certainly would! I must say, it was an absolute pleasure being a part of that play! I had the honor of working with the amazing musician/composer, Mr. Bobby Taylor, who co-wrote the beautiful music for Front Page News with Mr. Crabtree. I also had the honor of working with Mrs. Annie Crabtree whom I absolutely love! She has such a beautiful spirit and made every moment a sheer delight! The entire cast and crew were amazing! So much talent filled the room! There are not enough words to express how blessed I feel to have been a part of that production. It is a special moment in my life I will cherish forever!

Annetta Deck

© Annetta Deck 2015
Used by permission

July 15, 2014 “Smoke on the Mountain”

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse,

I just wanted to thank you for making a young man’s last hours some very happy ones. My sister’s 18 year old grandson, Austin Thompson, had a terminal heart condition that he was born with. After spending three weeks in the ICU at Vandy, he was sent home on Hospice care. They had already planned a vacation to Crossville and were told to go ahead and take him if he felt up to it. I was looking for things for him to do that would not require a lot of exertion so we brought him to the Playhouse on July 15th to see Smoke on the Mountain. He laughed and he sang along with every song and had such a great time.

About 8 pm that night he was still talking about what a good time he had when suddenly his heart just finally gave out on him. I put his ticket from the Playhouse in his shirt pocket for his funeral since it was the last thing he got to do.

The lady in the ticket office might remember him since we were debating on bringing him in the wheelchair or not, and she took us in the Playhouse to show us the seating arrangements. He did not want to come in the wheelchair, so we bought some of the last tickets available for the next day. They sat in FC 1 and 2 and I had chair 5.

Thanks again, and we really enjoyed the show.

Shirley R. Ezell

© Shirley R. Ezell 2015

Used by permission
Austin's last photo Cumberland Playhouse stage 2014

Austin 001

CCP is the Continuing Circle for my Family

The Cumberland County Playhouse has been a large part of my family since it began. My dad, Ralph England, was one of the community members who saw the vision with Paul and Mary Crabtree and what they could bring to our youth and the entire community! He worked with many other individuals to raise money, provide meals and give of their time to see the Cumberland County Playhouse open their doors in 1965! It was a grand occasion that I was able to attend when I was only five years old! It was a magical evening of entertainment, costumes, and community. My dad even parked cars with the local Jaycees to make it an evening to remember! Through the years we attended many shows of different varieties – musicals, dramas, comedies and concerts. They were and continue to be some of the most wonderful evenings I spend in Crossville.

My brother, Wade England, participated in many shows throughout the years by being a part of the orchestra. He was a part of the percussion ensemble for many shows as a young man. He spent many nights in rehearsal with Miss Annie and has fond memories of all of those shows.

Fast forward about twenty-five years and my daughter, Cady Kington, was spending every day at the Cumberland County Playhouse in some sort of capacity. She was mesmerized by the appeal of the Playhouse when she attended “Triple Threat” in the summer of 1994. She started dance lessons when she was five years old and continued until she graduated from high school. She was honored to be able to teach dance to budding ballerinas and see them mature as dancers, entertainers and young people. She auditioned for her first show, The Wizard of Oz, and was cast as Dorothy. What a thrill! She went on to perform in numerous shows playing many supporting and leading roles throughout her high school years. One of her fondest memories is working as an intern one summer. She still carries the love of dance and performing with her even though she is grown and living elsewhere. She still teaches to young dancers in another community. Every chance she gets she is back at CCP to see a show!

My husband, Bruce, and I love the Cumberland County Playhouse as well. We love to attend shows, offer support and sponsor concerts or shows. For me, the Cumberland County Playhouse has been like a circle of family beginning with my dad’s initial involvement and birth of CCP, then my brother who became involved in the Playhouse family as it grew and he did too, then on to my daughter who enjoyed her childhood there as CCP continued to grow and expand, and then back to myself as my husband and I continue to support and embrace the changes every year brings to CCP. For my family, the Playhouse has been an integral part of our lives and we hope to continue to be a part of theirs!

Carmen Wyatt

©  2015 Carmen Wyatt
Used by permission

Your Next Star or Lifelong Supporter

I distinctly remember my first exposure to the Cumberland County Playhouse, and thus to a Broadway-style musical. In the early 1980s, I was a seventh-grade student at what was then Martin Junior High School in Crossville, in Mrs. Tinnell’s English class. She started class one afternoon with the announcement that we had visitors to introduce us to our upcoming trip to the Playhouse to see the show Temperance. Miss Amiee Crabtree stepped in, dressed in her costume from the show, and began to sing. Suddenly, through the door, burst the villain dressed in a long, black flowing cape, and began to sing, and soon the hero, played by Rick Woods, came in to save the day. Their voices literally filled the classroom.

From everything I understand now, that may not have been the world’s best musical. But at that time, to me, it opened up a new way of telling a story that I had never experienced. A few days later, after attending the show at the theater, I came home singing the songs, and I probably drove my family crazy. I was hooked on this astounding new medium that I had heretofore known nothing about. For the next few years, the school-day matinées drew me in even more—Christie, A Homestead Album, Kopit and Yeston’s Phantom, and many more that I don’t even remember now.

Fast-forward to my return to Crossville after many years away for school and further training for my profession. I began to attend shows at Cumberland County Playhouse again, and my love for the theater grew stronger. Before long, I was asked to join the Board of CCP. I made friends with the actors and the staff of the theater. Eventually, almost all of my free time was spent with people from Cumberland County Playhouse, making some of my fondest life memories with the wonderful people, on stage and off, who daily made the magic of theater happen. It was one of the greatest honors of my life when I was eventually asked to become Chairman of the Board of the Playhouse. In that capacity, I enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with the management of CCP, and especially Mr. Jim Crabtree, who I respect beyond words for his many abilities in all aspects of running the theater. No one person would ever be able to replace him in his capacity.

In the intervening 50 years since the start of Cumberland County Playhouse, we have seen many from our stage move on to bigger and greater stages, even blockbuster movies and TV shows, and to the music industry in Nashville and other cities. That is because we have always, and even now, continue to attract incredible talent. Our horizon is limitless if we continue to have the vision.

As I look back on the 30-plus years I have been emotionally invested in Cumberland County Playhouse, I recall many fond memories. I will forever be one of its most staunch supporters and defenders. I take pride in the quality of productions we are able to perform, and I look forward to the continued success of this gem of rural American theater. As a small city with one of the best theaters of its kind in the nation, we should all be very proud and pledge to give our fullest measure of support. And never, ever forget the impact our school day matinées have, or the impact of our theater, dance and music classes. Through these you may get your next stage star or lifelong supporter.

Anthony Wilson

© 2015  Anthony Wilson
Used by permission

The Best Seat in the House

After 42 years of marriage, my wife died in June 2013. Throughout our partnership, live theatre had been a significant extracurricular activity for us both. Me usually on stage. She mostly as an artist designing beautiful scenery and clever stage properties. We shared a lot of great times.

When she passed, I was numb, in a fog, and felt incomplete. I learned about mourning a spouse. Then one afternoon while sorting through her cabinets, I found a stack of neatly written note cards. Eighteen gentle admonitions all tied in a bright red bow addressed to me. I took a deep breath, read them, smiled and wept. Even in death, she provided support to me.

One of the cards simply read, “Take on another role. Theatre brought us so much joy.”

Due to her medical problems and my own, I had not been on stage for three years. But with the push of that note card, I soon found myself auditioning at the Cumberland County Playhouse and was cast as Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody.

I hope my wife enjoyed “Annie Get Your Gun” and my performance. I know she had a terrific seat!

(William) Bill Frey

© 2015 Bill Frey
Used by permission

CCP’s Production of “Cats”

Dave & I have been group ushers at CCP for nearly 13 years now and have had many interesting experiences. I think there is one that we have most frequently repeated to other folks when describing the caliber of theater we are blessed to have in our chosen “home town.” It happened one night after we had ushered for, and stayed to watch, a performance of Cats! As we were leaving the theater after the show we overheard a couple in front of us talking about how much they had enjoyed it. The man said, “You know, that was every bit as good or maybe even better than when we saw it in London!”

Lynn Miser

© 2014  Lynn Miser
Used by permission

Still Moved by “A Sander’s Family Christmas”

I have lost track of the number of times that I have seen A Sanders Family Christmas. The 2014 production is among the best that I have attended. What always surprises me is that, in spite of the repetitions, I continue to shed tears of emotion in the poignant moments of this play.

Ed Thornblade

© 2014  Ed Thornblade
Used by permission


Working in the Applause Gift Shop

We have experienced much enjoyment and satisfaction volunteering our time to make the “Applause” gift shop a success for the Playhouse. An individual approached us recently to mention, “if it wasn’t for the volunteers there would not be a successful, entertaining Playhouse.” I thanked her from all of us. She replied again, “I mean it.”

The warm camaraderie is a personal reward to us.

Howard and Donna McQuay

© 2014  Howard and Donna McQuay
Used by permission



Twenty Six Years of Volunteering

Twenty Six years ago we made a wonderful decision to become Playhouse Volunteers. We had recently retired from N.E Ohio and were anxious to settle into a new community. Volunteering meant distributing posters, doing mailing, ushering, working as greeters and house managers, making crafts for the craft table, but mostly–meeting wonderful people.

The productions opened a whole new world to us. Our lives were enriched by people like tiny Helen Byrd, Mary Crabtree and many, many others. We have seen many changes, but enjoyed every minute of the adventure.

We are grateful for the opportunity to be a small part of the Cumberland County Playhouse.

Steve and Mary Lou Knowles

© 2014 Steve and Mary Lou Knowles
Used by permission

A Simple Twist of Fate

On a busy interstate on-ramp in San Antonio, Texas stood a much thinner, much hairier version of myself–backpack slung on one shoulder and thumb extended in hopes of flagging a long-hauler to put some miles beneath my feet. The year was 1973 and it was not uncommon to find young, aimless drifters like myself traversing America’s highways.

This was not my first time in San Antonio. A month earlier I had rolled into town to participate in “Festival,” San Antonio’s springtime celebration. During the revelry I happened to meet a young lady with whom I became fast friends and a whirlwind romance ensued. But, as was my wont in those days, I soon said my goodbyes and thumbed my way off to Mexico. Within a week I was flat broke, so I headed back north, finding myself on that particular on-ramp at that specific time of day.

A car pulled over and I jogged up to meet it. Opening the door, I was surprised to see a friend of the young lady with whom I had shared so much weeks before. “Somebody’s going to be happy to see you!” he said. That was 41 years ago, and I’m happy to say that the young lady (my loving wife, Lee) and I are still together. It was a simple twist of fate that brought us together, pure luck that I was standing in the right place at the right time. Perhaps some things are just meant to be.

I suppose you could say the events of our life together, the triumphs and the tragedies, the laughter and the tears, can all be attributed to that simple twist of fate. Certainly, without her we would not have sold off our existence to move to Oklahoma to care for her ailing father. After his passing we would not have been in the position of looking for a new place to settle. Was it mere serendipity that led my finger along a map to stop on Dayton, Tennessee? Perhaps some things are just meant to be.

We had not been in Dayton very long when, by chance, I picked up the local newspaper. There was an audition call for the town’s historical reenactment of the Scopes Trial, a new play called Front Page News. I thought this would be a great way to get involved with my new community and was more than a little surprised when I landed the role of William Jennings Bryan, and more than a little delighted when I was asked to reprise the role the following year.

Then fate steps in again. The Scopes Festival Committee went into a partnership with CCP to handle the production of the play. That’s when I met Jim and Annie and many other Playhouse regulars who sacrificed their time and energy to help us be successful. As fate would have it, just by chance, CCP was also putting on a production of Inherit the Wind and had yet to cast the role of Matthew Harrison Brady (Bryan’s fictional counterpart). When offered the chance, I found it hard to refuse.

So through a simple twist of fate I found myself, untrained and inexperienced, standing on the main stage toe-to-toe with the incredibly talented stars of the Playhouse. A humbling experience, to say the least, yet one I shall always cherish. Much can be said about a structured life and the importance of having purpose and direction. Yet in one’s life fate will lay before us opportunities that we dare not pass by. Call it chance, call it luck, call it what you will. I call it a simple twist of fate. Or perhaps, some things were just meant to be.

George Miller
Dayton, Tenn. 2014

© 2014 George Miller
Used by permission

The Feelings that the Arts Evoke

Some things you hear folks talk about when you are little, and you have no recollection of it whatsoever. Then, there are some memories that are embedded into your very being that you will never forget. You remember everything so vividly like it was just yesterday… and it still affects you today.

It was 1976 when I had my first Playhouse visit; I was four. My grandparents came to town and we came to see Tennessee, USA!  We sat in the center section, about row G or H, and I sat on my dad’s lap in the aisle seat. Let me just say that my arts experience up till this point was The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. This was totally different–you couldn’t holler at your brother or sister if they walked in front of the TV, and you had to be still and quiet (pretty tough for a four year old).

Well, I don’t recall having any problem being quiet or sitting still. I remember being mesmerized by everything going on. All those people dancing and singing; my parents laughing, it was wonderful. I do remember being a little confused that a man was talking on a rotary phone that wasn’t connected to the wall. There was a part in the show where people came dancing and singing down the aisles. This was just fantastic; it made you feel like part of the show. It was all great and grand until I turned my back to look at some of the folks on stage when this man coming down the aisle grabs my arm! Looking back, I’m sure he was just engaging the audience, but to a four year old, this was “STRANGER DANGER!!” He scared me about half to death and I started crying. I hugged right up into my dad’s neck till I got calmed down. Well, I watched the rest of the show without a hitch. That was the beginning of my Playhouse influence.

My older sister then got involved with the Playhouse. She was in shows, worked backstage and in the light booth. Mary used to give out the material and patterns for her show costumes, and my mom would sew them. We saw every show she was in or worked on for 3 years. I remember the makeup from Godspell, the big honkin’ angel in Look Homeward Angel, the train scene from Music Man, and the dresses the girls wore in Carousel.

Fast forward about twenty years and I got a job in the box office. When I came into the building for my first day of work I wasn’t nervous. It kinda felt like coming home since CCP was woven so much into my past. It was like I belonged! After working here for twelve years I have really learned what the Playhouse is all about … Family. You get to be a part of something that is way bigger than you. You get to impact people’s lives every day whether you are on the stage, backstage, box office or admin offices. Just as that man walking down the aisle when I was four impacted my life, I get to do that to others. Yes, he made me cry, but he also made me feel … and remember. I remember the crying was only for a few moments, but the laughter and joy I felt on that day, and the laughter and joy I saw on my families faces, is still with me. It’s a memory I will cherish forever.

Katy Parrent


© 2014 Katy Parrent
Used by permission

A Solid Foundation

After my first professional acting gig was over, I found myself training to work at a restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA. On a whim, I decided to drive down to North Carolina for a regional combined theater audition. The Blue Man Group called me back, but so did this guy I had never heard of: Jim Crabtree.

A few days later I had to send Jim a video submission as an additional callback, and I waited with bated breath.

A week later, Jim left me a voicemail.

I rushed out of the restaurant after my shift to listen, hoping it wasn’t a rejection message. I sat in my car crying as I listened to Jim’s message, offering me the role of Vera Sanders in Sanders Family Christmas. I actually listened to it twice, just to make sure it was real. I had landed the gig! That joyous moment has been burned into my memory forever.

I quit my job at the restaurant, left Pittsburgh, and drove towards Crossville.

Looking back, I realize that I found my artistic footing at CCP. I learned what it feels like to do a theatrical run that is longer than two weeks. What it mentally takes to do three completely different shows in one day. How wonderful it is to perform for patrons that care deeply about the actors. That working with the same people in a rep situation is one of the most valuable experiences you can have as an actor. How being directed by Rhondda Wallace, would push me to achieve things I never believed that I could do. That one Sanders’ show could turn into a variety of exciting opportunities.

In 2004 I left CCP to continue my life in NYC, but I have never forgotten where I came from. Thank you Jim and the CCP crew for helping me forge a solid foundation for art, and for life. Best wishes for the next 50 years!

April Lee Uzarski

© 2014   April Lee Uzarski
Used by permission

A History in “Songs” I Was Privileged To Sing

“In The Beginning,” I got to remind audiences that “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.” Next, I played it “Cool” until I had a blast helping make “Magic Changes” on the Playhouse stage. Dancing dreams soon came true, and, as the Gershwins tell us, I was dancing and I “Can’t Be Bothered Now.” Such wonderful memories of that show, and, try as they might, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Song-and-dance became my routine at CCP, and the next show prompted the question “Isn’t It Kinda Fun?” that such a wonderful theatre can provide so many in a community many a “Grand Night For Singing.” Through thick and thin, CCP, you continue to “Pick Yourself Up,” dust yourself off, and continually produce beautiful, professional, and inspiring work. Jim and Annie: “You’re The Top.” You continue to make the Playhouse so “Easy To Love.” And my memories of Mary will always be, as Mr. Porter put it, “De-Lovely.” So, to all my beloved theatre family that create magic and beauty on the boards of the Cumberland County Playhouse, “Before The Parade Passes By,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” and help celebrate 50 incredible years of CCP magic. Oh, and “You Can Play With Your Food” at the celebration. I give you full permission. And, as I sang in my final performance on the Playhouse Stage:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnéd luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act V, Scene 1

Jeremy Benton

© 2014 Jeremy Benton
Used by permission


That’s the last call you hear over the dressing room monitor before the show begins.
“Places, please.”

I have been lucky enough to spend the majority of my adult life answering to that call. I’ve taken my place in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis; in the hot summer heat of Houston, after shopping at the famous fish market in Seattle, just after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, after smelling the summertime pines in Maine, and in the snow for Christmas in Denver. I’ve traveled the country answering that places call.

I hear “Places” tonight in my dressing room at the Playhouse as I rush to put on my wig and I smile. My PLACE. Something an actor hears almost every day – countless shows a week – and yet, something an actor is always searching for.

A Place …
Their Place …
Their Home.

I hear “Places” over the monitor at the Cumberland County Playhouse and I smile … just like I did in 1993 as an insecure young girl taking her first professional job six hours from home. I remember how Jim Crabtree took a chance on me, how Annie always made me feel welcome, and how honored I was to share the stage with Mary. So many lasting impressions and faces and memories to make my life feel full as I set off to other places in search of my future. Before Portland, and New Haven, and Dallas, and New York. I smile, here now, after returning countless times, because I realize this is my place, my home.

“Places, please.”

I gladly take mine … here … now … at the Cumberland County Playhouse, because of this place, this family, this community. I gladly take my place on stage tonight next to my friends, loved ones, students, and co-workers. I gladly take my place because finally I have found my place …

This place I call HOME.


Weslie Webster

© 2014 Weslie Webster
Used by permission

The Smiling Woman

“I could smell you from the back row,” would not, normally, be taken as a compliment. However this was the intent of the smiling woman as we stood in line at Krogers. I was there buying something to burn on the grill on the back porch of The Big House. The smiling woman was there buying herself a treat after watching a performance of OKLAHOMA (yes I still sing it in my head as I write) where I played Judd Fry, the twisted farm hand who’s musical soliloquy “Lonely Room” first frightens, then saddens, then frightens again as he shares his obsessions.

Of course I didn’t really smell badly as that would have been discourteous to my fellow actors, especially the lovely Wesley Webster who played Laurey Williams, but this is the magic of theater. This smiling woman had suspended her disbelief to not only remove herself from the reality of the Playhouse but also to fill in the sensory cues of the world created by Rogers & Hammerstein and lovingly brought to life by the cast, crew, and FAMILY of C.C.P..

As I write this (thank you Bobby Taylor for asking) it’s easy to suspend my own disbelief and transport myself back 21 years to when my wife Jessica and I stood in Mary Crabtree’s lake front home surrounded by friends who had gathered to throw us a Wedding Shower. I can still summon the smells of Mary’s Christmas decorations mixed with the pot luck dishes, hear the voices of fellow actors, many of whom have since passed on, and feel the love and warmth of the C.C.P. FAMILY who are still putting smiles on the faces at Krogers and elsewhere.

Patrick Cogan

© 2014 Patrick Cogan
Used by permission

The Who, What, and Where Challenge

Those three words keep popping into me head.

It started when I was watching our playhouse production of “Damn Yankees.” I kept thinking of the Abbot-Costello classic baseball routine.

Now I am in the cast of “Scrooge, the Musical” and those three words keep coming to mind regarding old Scrooge.

So I have yielded and decided that for this Advent Season, I will focus on those words.

WHO – for Scrooge, there is only one WHO of importance in his consciousness – and that is Scrooge. He hordes everything for himself and himself alone. Family relationships mean nothing. Employees are tools for his own end. Neighbors and towns people are a bother. He curls himself up in his own little small world, isolated by the fact he has no other outside WHO to challenge and model what he could be.

Advent is a time to focus on the source of our strength and seek direction from a WHO that is worthy of our commitment and dedication.

As a pastor, I turn my attention to Jesus. I see in his temptation experience a kind of advent – a time to prepare and anticipate the mission ahead. And his focus is on his WHO – a God of love and grace to whom he is attached.”

His WHO conclusion, “Nevertheless not my will, but Yours be done.”

For Scrooge, the WHAT is clear. He sings the song, M O N E Y.

His WHAT could do a great deal of good, but it is dormant of value beyond his own small needs.

Advent is a time to consider our various assets, called gifts Biblically, and the way in which they can be of use beyond ourselves. As Dolly would say, “find a way to spread them around.”

I have discovered this year an outlet for some of my retired gifts and I will use this season to seek other opportunities in my future journey.

Finally the WHERE for Scrooge becomes clear – all around him are possibilities to spread the gifts that can bring about positive change and help to create a world in which community and graciousness is a reality.

I am writing on “Giving Tuesday.” Too bad we need to be reminded of the challenge to give.

My WHERE this advent is to consider how I can help others to believe in their worthiness and value. Too many place their importance on what they have accumulated in worldly terms. What we need is to see our worth in the unique gifts we can share with those we are privileged to experience – at home, work, play and beyond – gifts of the heart and spirit.

Our advent challenge, I believe, is to rediscover that attitude of togetherness and kinship that can so easily get lost in our hyper-media kind of world. And to have the courage to believe that creation is not complete until we find the joy of peace and good will.

Three challenging words: WHO, WHAT, WHERE.

Bob Ochsenrider

© 2014 Bob Ochsenrider
Used by permission

A Player’s Perspective

I am on the stage. The show is beginning. My fellow players take their appropriate positions. The music starts and it is “my move.” I stand up, clear my throat (to capture the audience’s attention), and walk briskly to the table at the far end of the set as a lady in the audience, about four rows up, is adjusting herself and noisily empties the contents of her purse onto the floor in front of her. She almost makes me forget what I am doing. I snap my attention back to my destination, the table, where I pick up a glass of water to take a drink and carelessly pour its contents down the front of my shirt. Was that supposed to happen??? They will never know. We are, after all, professionals, and you shall never know either.

warren weaver

© 2014 warren weaver
Used by permission

“It’s a Wonderful Life The Musical!”

I was bored. I wanted to try out stage work. All my life I had participated in church plays, sang cantatas, and been involved in choir. School had also played a huge role in my desire for stage work. In the high school I attended, our options were either PE, Gym, or Contemporary Dance. I loved to dance, so I took two years of it, and that’s all I knew about dance. I needed more classes in other styles of dance, but that’s not what got me on the stage in 2009. When I came back to Cumberland County, summer of 2005, I decided it was time to give performance another try, but at the Playhouse this time. I tried out for “It’s a Wonderful Life” and was accepted. There were voice try-outs, and auditions for roles in the play.

Every rehearsal was fun. Learning the songs for the musical was a trip; however, I got through them and enjoyed adult choir. The musical was whimsical, fun, fascinating, and joyful. The scenes gave the audience a feeling that indeed we were having the most fun–up there. I was told by another actor that my dancing looked good. I was on top of the world. The time spent at CCP made my big dream of being on a big stage come true.

Betty J. Taylor

© 2014 Betty J. Taylor
Used by permission

You Never Know

It was my fourth or fifth full year at The Playhouse. Another night in another season of playing Burl in “Smoke on the Mountain.” I loved the show, but sometimes a performer wants a newer challenge. Sometimes even acting feels like a job. After the show, I felt flat. The audience had been quiet. It was the end of a long Playhouse week and I was weary. We had to go out to the lobby for the “enjoyed-it” line, and it was the very last thing I wanted.

It isn’t that I minded greeting the audience—I liked it, in fact. But on this night, I found myself standing next to Patty Payne while person after person lavished chapters of praise on her before shooting me an obligatory “You were good, too,” as they fished for their keys and headed for the door. Now Patty is brilliant, and I love her. And I’d been in this situation before, and usually I would simply tease both her and the customers that the rest of us were up there working just as hard in support. But on this night I wasn’t in the mood. I felt flat, impatient, and generally dissatisfied with life.

Then a woman circled ahead of Patty’s most recent fan and approached me directly. She took my hand in both of hers. She looked at me with misty eyes and said the following with great sincerity: “My mother is dying of cancer. I’ve been caring for her for a long time. This is the first time I’ve laughed in 3 months. Thank you so much.” This is the magic and the importance of The Cumberland County Playhouse. It offers affordable theatre to people who are hungry for stories and laughter—people who might never otherwise feel the crackling alchemy of the actor/audience exchange as they and the performers co-create that one night’s ineffable and ephemeral work of art.

Well over a hundred thousand people a year pass through those beloved Playhouse doors. Think about that. Thousands of these are schoolchildren who may have never before and may never again have the opportunity to see live, professional, performing art. As actors we must remember that we can never know who or how many we are touching on a given night. It is my distinct honor to have worked in this beautiful, crazy institution, which so truly and devotedly serves its public. I remember my five years at The Playhouse with full-hearted fondness for the people who were my family in art, and with great gratitude to Jim and Annie and Mary, who poured their life’s blood into keeping a home for that family.

Tom Angland

© Tom Angland 2014
Used by permission

Tech Week

On stage at last – Mainstage
After five weeks in rehearsal hall A
Lights, sets, sound, mic checks, scene shifts, spacing, teaching, sound effects,
And endless spiking!

It is here everything is rehearsed over and over and over
Made more precise than script and score
Just two days after sitzprobe downstairs
We are upstairs at last!
In just 5 we open!

It takes two full days to tech it all
Then rehearsals in earnest on day three as reality nears
And dress rehearsal with small live audience in the dark on day 4

Afternoon of day 5 it is finale rehearsal
With bowing rehearsal over and over
And then, after an hour for supper, it is call for cast
Photo with sponsor
Fifteen, ten, five, places!
It is opening night!

Twenty-four shows in thirty days await
Six thousand to seventy-five hundred souls
Will see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the rhythms
Of this particular show, and know, perhaps for the first time,
Upon leaving the Playhouse
The power of theater no doubt invented in pre-historic caves
And perfected by ancient Greeks in masks
And dreamed, read, and written e’er since
By folk investing their lives to communicate
A meaning oft’ missed save for a few who are
Moved once more to sense
That happiness is whatever you want it to be.

Jack Seville

© 2014 Jack Seville
Used by permission

He Said / She Said

He said: Hurry, we’re going to miss the opening curtain. She said: You know I don’t walk as fast as I used to. He said: That’s for sure. She said: You could have dropped me off at the door so I didn’t have to walk so far. He said: You could have been quicker getting ready so I didn’t have to park so far away from the door. She said: Hurrying is easier said than done these days.

He said: Get the tickets out, we’re almost to the auditorium. She said: I thought you had the tickets. The only tickets I have is for the dry cleaning and the speeding ticket you handed me on the way over here. He said: Now what do we do?

The lady usher in the red jacket smiled and she said: Welcome back, nice to see you both. He said: We forgot our tickets again. His wife laughed and she said: We were in a hurry as always.

The gentleman in the red jacket opened the auditorium door and he said: Go on in, you haven’t missed much. The first scene is a couple preparing to go to a play. When the curtain opened the leading lady was finishing her makeup and she said: What’s the rush? The leading man turned to her and he said: The rush is the feeling one gets being early with the audiences filtering into the Playhouse with anticipation for a great live performance. She looked back with a sparkle in her eye wearing her sparkling dress and jewelry and she said: That’s why I love you. You appreciate the moment to its fullest. He said: Darling, we’re going to have a wonderful evening. We mustn’t forget the tickets.

Brian E. Johnson 10/25/2014

© 2014 Brian E. Johnson
Used by permission

My First Show at CCP

My first show at the Playhouse was “Jesus Christ, Superstar!” I love the music and loved the idea of JCS being my first experience at the Playhouse. It was an ambitious project for any community theater and especially so because CCP was undergoing a major expansion project.

Howard Palm, my dear late friend from Pleasant Hill, was cast as Caiphas. I was an unnamed priest who wore something on my head fashioned out of a vinyl car seat that made me look like a chess piece gone amok.

We all gathered at the rehearsal hall, at that time located above the present day antique/resale shop off West Ave. and east of TAP Publishing.

The men in the cast were sent to one room; women to another. Our rehearsal leader the first day was the dance director for the Tennessee Ballet. They told us she would teach us to “move.” Howard looked at me, and I returned his bewildered look, and Howard said in that “Old Man River” bass voice, “Did you know anything about this?” I gravely shook my head in the negative.

What followed made both of us creak and groan. About an hour later, Howard and I sat down during a break, both quite spent. We sat in silence, each mentally treating their own aches and pains. Howard finally broke the silence. “Are you coming back?” I still laugh when thinking of that moment.

So many great memories. The start of a great time in my life, at a time when I needed such.I still love CCP and the gift it gave to me, and for letting me pretend that I had contributed back. She’s a grand old lady — in community theater terms — at age 50 and I can only hope and pray she lives 50 times 50 more years so others who follow can experience the same excitement and wonder and joy CCP gave to me.

Michael R. Moser

© 2014 Michael R. Moser
Used by permission

A Great Way to Start the Day

This morning I pulled into a parking lot filling up with cars. People in groups chatting. There is excitement in their voices, which tells me something fun is about to happen. The red coats are all over the building. The popcorn sure smells good.The lobby is filling with people, by the bus loads. This makes me want to stay and be a part of the day’s events. Shaking hands with an elderly lady that I have not seen in some time, her hand so fragile and cold. I’m so glad she is able to be out and here to enjoy a show. What a great way to start the day, any day.

Paula Snow

© 2014 Paula Snow
Used by permission

Opening Night for T. Pickett Fickett the Cricket

It was opening night on the Mainstage of the Cumberland County Playhouse. Jim Crabtree approached me in the lobby. “Philip, how are you?” “Honestly, I am pretty nervous,” I replied. “Well, that’s because you haven’t rehearsed.”

I am not an actor. I am an attorney. But, more importantly, I am the father of three daughters. Three daughters who have consistently defied my attempts to mold at least one of them into a “tomboy.” We tried T-ball, soccer, guns, compound bows, etc., but their energy (and happiness) has always been focused on song and dance.

My wife is a piano player with music books filled with songs from Broadway shows. It was inevitable that our family would find its way to the Cumberland County Playhouse. It started lightly, with my oldest landing an ensemble role in Annie in 2010. Soon after that, we learned that Jim and Annie Crabtree were going to resurrect the show that had started the Playhouse in the 1960s: The Perils of Pinocchio.

All three daughters auditioned, landed parts and we were hurled into rehearsal. Ellie, my middle daughter, at age 10, had landed the role played by Jim himself, T. Pickett Fickett the Cricket. There seemed to be more lines highlighted in her script than I would repeat in a jury trial.

I had only met Jim Crabtree a couple of times. I saw him as a commanding presence of a man with a huge voice and personality. I always envision him as Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. But once in the rehearsal hall with Annie on piano and surrounded by 30-40 kids, something changed. He was compassionate, inspiring, and an amazing teacher. He could coerce the loudest vocals from the shyest and gently dampen the overzealous. I will never forget the picture of Jim Crabtree standing in the large rehearsal hall surrounded by rambunctious kids with someone’s script scattered all over the floor as Ms. Annie’s huge smile and talented fingers brought to life the song and words Paul Crabtree had written many years ago: “goody goody gumdrop lollipop zoo, daffodils, daisies, sky of blue.” Every person in the room was transformed.

My family has never been the same. I have lost count of how many productions, tech weeks and opening nights my girls have lived through and loved. But I will never forget the first opening night of the Perils of Pinocchio when a very nervous father was calmed by the confidence of a very veteran director who knew “his” cast of kids were ready. And they were!

Philip Burnett

© 2014 Philip Burnett
Used by permission


The Script Room

I see the script room as a box that holds bound words. Sometimes one can hear words in conversation from crowds surrounding the box. If one is alone with the scripts, the bound words can deafen with silence. Some of history’s greatest combinations of words are bound in the box as time ticks away with the lone clock on the wall. One can sit in space surrounded by beautiful prose and wit, but all one hears is tic-tic-tic.

Brian E. Johnson 2014

© 2014 Brian E. Johnson
Used by permission