In Our Own Words CCP

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

Month: January, 2015

A Letter from Don and Joyce Jorgensen

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

We are so thankful for the Playhouse and how much it has meant to our family (the Burnetts). We only wish we were a bit closer so we could enjoy more performances!

Don and Joyce Jorgensen
May 1, 2013

© 2015 Don and Joyce Jorgensen
Used by Permission

A Letter from The Pro Bono Project (Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Inc.)

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Thank you for your contribution to the 2013 Pro Bono Celebration’s Silent Auction. The event was an enormous success, due in part to the diverse selection of valuable items offered in the auction.

Thanks again for your support.


Terry Woods
Knoxville, TN
July 30, 2013

© 2015 Terry Woods
Used by Permission

A Letter from Bottled Up

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Thank you for your support of our Bottled Up Auction held at Chattanooga Market on November 6, 2011 benefiting the North River YMCA & Aquatic Center. Proceeds from your donation will help to provide scholarships to allow children and families to participate in programs such as day camp, swim lessons, water exercise, and more. Through these scholarships, children and families have an opportunity to become active and improve their health. Again, we appreciated your generous support for this auction, because we feel that the scholarship program it supports is very valuable and needed in our community.

May God bless you always,

Bill Rush
Chattanooga, TN
November, 2011

© 2015 Bill Rush
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

A Letter from Knoxville Montessori School

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Thank you for your contribution of four tickets to any theatrical show at the Cumberland County Playhouse to the Knoxville Montessori School’s 45th Anniversary Spring Gala, held on April 20th in the Back Room at Remedy Coffee in the Old City. We deeply appreciate your support for the Gala and for our school.

With your help, this year’s Gala was a great success. It was attended by over seventy parents, grandparents, staff members, alumni, and friends of the school. Participants enjoyed dinner by noted Knoxville caterer Betty Melrose and live music by Kukuly and the Gypsy Fuego, a new Knoxville band that plays Gypsy and American swing jazz with a French accent.

The Gala was very successful financially as well. Between ticket sales, ads, contributions, and the live and silent auctions, it raised over $10,000 for the KMS Building and Grounds Fund. Proceeds from the Gala will enable us to repaint the exterior of the school this summer, and they will also help us prepare for the major upgrades to your classrooms and playgrounds that we are planning for summer 2013 and 2014.

Thank you again for your support of KMS and the Gala. As one of our parents said that night, it was “The best Gala ever!” and we could not have done it without your help.

Best wishes,

Charlie Biggs
April 27, 2012

© 2015 Charlie Biggs
Used by Permissiion

A Letter to Jim Crabtree

Dear Jim,

First, let us thank you for an absolutely wonderful performance as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. That play has always held a special place in our hearts as it was forty years ago on Christmas Eve that the two of us became engaged following a performance of Fiddler with the late Topol as Tevye. We were both stunned by your portrayal. Not only were you in fine voice, but your body language and mannerisms conveyed the emotions of the character superbly. It was very moving for us both. If this was to be a farewell of sorts for you and Carol Irvin, you could not have chosen a better venue. She too played the role of Goldie beautifully and complimented you, Tevye, well. Congratulations to you both as well as to the remaining cast members for a job well done.

After fourteen years, we have yet to see a less than top notch performance at The Playhouse. Your collective efforts have enriched the lives of so many over these past 45 years. We only hope and pray that The Playhouse will continue to do so for additional throngs of theatre goers for many years to come. Thank you all.

Merry Christmas,

Paul and Joanne Chmielewski
Nov. 21, 2011


© 2015 Paul and Joanne Chmielewski
Used by Permission

A Letter from WCTE TV (PBS)

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

On behalf of WCTE, your Upper Cumberland PBS station, I would like to sincerely thank you for your support in this year’s 31st annual Great TV Auction! With your help, we raised over $94,000 for public television!

The Great TV Auction is currently our largest fundraising event. Funds raised in the auction help us produce and air quality local programming, such as Live Green Tennessee, The Smithville Fiddler’s Jamboree, The Putnam County Fair, TTU live sports, Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s, and much more.

Thank you again for your generosity and participation in this year’s Great TV Auction. We are grateful for your support of the public television mission!

With much Appreciation,

Allison Fox/WCTE-TV (PBS)
July 10, 2013


© 2015 Allison Fox
Used by Permission

A Letter from the Exchange Club Family Center

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Thank you so much for your donation of two complimentary passes to the Cumberland County Playhouse for the Exchange Club Family Center’s 20th Annual Fundraiser, Blues and Bling, on April 19th. Your support will help make this event a great success!

Our mission is to promote healthy, happy families by reducing the occurrence and effects of child abuse and neglect. We do this by teaching parents safe and healthy parenting skills and strengthening parent-child relationships.

We believe the greatest impact we can make is in preventing child abuse before it ever occurs. Our parenting classes involve families who are at high risk for harming their children and help build their skills and parent/child attachment in hopes that abuse never starts. Research shows that the curriculum we use is effective in preventing abuse.

Proceeds from Blues and Bling will provide support for agency programming. Your gift will make a difference in the lives of children and families right here in Middle Tennessee.

Thank you again for being part of the Exchange Club Family Center family.


Desha L. Hearn and Mary Wootten
Exchange Club Family Center
Livingston, TN
February 14, 2013

© 2015 Desha L. Hearn and Mary Wootten
Used by Permission

A Letter from Family Resources Youth Services

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Please allow us to take this opportunity to say thank you for your generous support of our students through your donation of a Two-Prime Time Theater Tickets to our 2012 Fall Silent Auction. In a school district with more than 70% of the student body in receipt of free/reduced lunch, we strive to assist students who are economically disadvantaged. The Silent Auction has proven to be one of our most successful events for fund raising. This fall you helped bring in over $900 for the Family Resource and Youth Services Program of the Williamsburg Independent School District.

All funds raised through our Silent Auction will be used to support the needs of our students and their families. Without community assistance the services to our students and families would be greatly impaired.

Once again, thank you for all you do in this community!


Tammy H. Stephens and Patty Bryant
WISD Family Resource/Youth Services Center Staff
Williamsburg, KY
December 16th, 2012

© 2015 Tammy H. Stephens and Patty Bryant
Used by Permission

A Letter from Life Worth Living

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse:

Thank you so much for your support of Life Worth Living, shelter for pregnant women, during our 2009-2012 fundraisers! Your help was invaluable to us, and as a result, we have been able to purchase a building for the pregnancy shelter in Sparta. All donations of material from our 2009-2012 fundraisers will be put to good use in our new building.

After our remodeling is complete, we will be serving the counties of Cumberland, White, Fentress, Warren, Dekalb, Van Buren, and Bledsoe. The architectural drawings are not yet finished, but it is estimated that we will be able to sleep at least eight women and children when the construction is complete.

In addition to providing shelter, we will work with our residents to set life goals for themselves in education, employment, and other areas of their lives. We will help them reach their goals to become all they can be. Our mission is for our residents to leave Life Worth Living as better women, and better moms, than when they first came to us.

Again, thank you! This could not have been possible without your help.
Faithfully yours,

Anne Eckman
June 5, 2013


© 2015 Anne Eckman/CEO, Life Worth Living
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

A Letter from Wags and Whiskers

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse,

Our recent silent auction was a huge success and you were an important part of that.

We had over 80 people attend and over 130 items for bidding. I’m sure those who attended appreciated your generosity almost as much as we do.

The funds that were raised will provide low-cost spay/neuter in our community, furthering the reduction of unwanted cats and dogs that we have been working on since 2004. This reduction saves money for pet owners and our local governments, improves health and safety in our community and has benefits to the pets themselves. So far, our ability to raise funds for this program has allowed us to “fix” over 6,800 dogs and cats.

Thank you so much for your donation of Playhouse tickets.


Jackie Baker

© Jackie Baker/Wags and Whiskers
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

A Letter from Royal Family Kids

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse,

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your recent donation to the Royal Family Kid’s Camp auction. We are confident the auction will be a great success thanks to contributors such as yourself. All proceeds will go to fund the camp which provides positive memories for abused and neglected children.

Our camp ministers primarily to the foster children in Clayton, Henry, and Fayette Counties. Our 2012 camp had 66 children in attendance. With a ratio of one counselor to every two children, each child receives a great deal of individual attention. For one week, the children are shown love through the counselors, staff, and many activities including a birthday party for each child (many of these children have never had their birthday celebrated). They also each get a photo album of their activities. This is especially meaningful since some of them have no pictures of themselves. We always see a positive change in the children in just a week and even more of a change if a child is able to return the next year. Donations such as the one you gave make this possible!

Very truly yours,

Alice Harper
© 2013 Alice Harper/Royal Family Kids
Used by permission

A Letter From Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse,

On behalf of the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center, I would like to thank you for your support of our annual fundraiser, Party with a Purpose. Your donation of two complimentary tickets to an upcoming show will help us greatly at our event as we are striving to make this our most successful fundraiser ever.

Unfortunately, we have been incredibly busy lately providing services to children who are victims of abuse in our community. Last year, we served almost double the amount of children than the previous year with services on-site. This coupled with a reduction in funding for programs like our child abuse prevention program makes fundraising efforts that much more important as we want to make sure we are able to serve as many children who need us. We wouldn’t be able to do that without support from so many including you. Thank you again.


Joyce A. Prusak
© 2013 Joyce A. Prusak/Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center
Used by permission

A Letter from Hospice of Cumberland County

Dear Cumberland County Playhouse,

On behalf of Hospice of Cumberland County and the Fairfield Glade Hospice Auxiliary, thank you for your donation of a 2014 Eight-Ticket Flex Pass for our Hospice Ball/Auction on December 1, 2013. It was once again a very popular item in the live auction portion of our fundraising for the evening.

Hospice of Cumberland County provides care services through the combined knowledge and skills of an interdisciplinary team of professionals, including physicians, nurses, homecare aides, social workers, spiritual caregivers, counselors and trained volunteers. The money generated by our 2013 Holiday Ball will be used to support Cumberland House, a six-bed facility for care of our patients who are unable to remain at home or in the hospital.

We are grateful for your support of Hospice of Cumberland County, the only non-profit hospice organization in our area. We thank you for being part of our efforts to provide comfort and care for the terminally ill to spend their final days with dignity surrounded by family and friends.

Jane Wicker
Hospice Ball/Auction Committee
December 3, 2013

© 2013 Jane Wicker/Hospice of Cumberland County
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