In Our Own Words CCP

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

Month: November, 2014

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

Very Few Places Like CCP

It all started for us when Terri and I became ushers, then group ushers, then House Managers. But one day Terri wanted to try out for a Mystery Dinner play for CCP volunteers in which we both got parts. From there we auditioned and got parts for Tennessee USA. Twenty plays and Mystery Dinner plays later … we don’t know what we would be doing without CCP. What a great place this is to volunteer, to act, learn to act, dance, and sing. This is true for our younger children and up to us older adults. There are very few places like CCP! We congratulate you and your 50 years and celebrate with CCP to be part of this. Thank you all CCP for what you give … Staff and Directors.

Skip Ritter

© 2014 Skip Ritter
Used by permission

A Red Fence

A red fence alongside the road
Color starting to show in the trees
Barn-red picnic tables, nothing to eat
Acorns starting to fall from the black oaks
Only eight angles to the gazebo
Red berries adorn the dogwoods
Posters covering the walls
American flag, reminder of this great country
Sunshine akin to the breeze, today it is fall.
Warmth of sunshine on my face
It seems time is over for summer.

Jimmy Ray Sells 2014

© 2014 Jimmy Ray Sells
Used by permission


P eople
L ong
A ll
Y ear
H oping
O penly and
U nanimously
S eeking
E ntertainment

M ost
U nusual
S ensual
I ncredible
C onnection

I ‘ve
S ince
L eaned on
A ll
N ecessary
D ance

by Paula Snow

© 2014 Paula Snow
Used by permission


We strode the boards
In giants’ shoes.
We spoke the words,
We saw the views.
We shared our load
In stride and pace.
We walked the road,
We found loves’ grace.
We left our fear
In lieu of trust,
We shed a tear,
We laughed in lust.
We now are one
In all we found;
We hold the sun,
We now are bound.

John R. Briggs
(To cast of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof)

© 2002 John R. Briggs
Used by permission

Thinking of Mary

It was in the fall of 1967, I think, that I first met Mary Crabtree. She and Ms. Swan would come into our classroom and split an hour every week with Mary teaching Creative Dramatics for 30 minutes and Ms. Swan teaching Music for 30 minutes. I was moved to tears the first time I heard a group of children sing “This Ol’ Man.” It wasn’t the song that got me, it was the union of voices–the absence of conflict and competitiveness. “This must be what Heaven is like,” I thought. And then, Mary gave me make-believe–something beyond the limits of the world I knew. Sure, dreams come with a price tag. The journey is indeed one that calls the conventional life into question. But, to borrow from Frost, “that has made all the difference.” That weekly hour seems to have set the course of my life. Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Playhouse family.

Bobby Lynn Taylor

© 2014 Bobby Lynn Taylor
Used by permission


It was in the fall of 1967, I think, that I first met Mary Crabtree. She and Ms.Swan  would come into our classroom and split an hour every week with Mary teaching Creative Dramatics for 30 minutes and Ms. Swan teaching Music for 30 minutes. I was moved to tears the first time I heard a group of children sing "This Ol' Man." It wasn't the song that got me, it was the union of voices--the absence of conflict and competitiveness. "This must be what Heaven is like," I thought. And then, Mary gave me make-believe--something beyond the limits of the world I knew. Sure, dreams come with a price tag. The journey is indeed one that calls the conventional life into question. But, to borrow from Frost, "that has made all the difference." That weekly hour seems to have set the course of my life. Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Playhouse family. Namaste.