JOHNSTOWN - On March 15, 1938, a new group of amateur thespians led by a local teacher presented three one-act plays at Knox Junior High School.
A published review praised the show: "The debut of this newly formed dramatic group was acclaimed by the playgoers as a complete success ... the program moved along smoothly, without a single marring incident."
Three-quarters of a century later, Colonial Little Theatre is still going strong. Founded in 1938 as the Colonial Little Theatre Guild by Knox Junior High teacher Walter E. Short, CLT today is one of the oldest continuously running community theater organizations in New York state.
Actors are seen on stage in a scene from Noel Coward’s satire “Hay Fever,” a 1940 production of the Colonial Little Theatre Guild at Knox Junior High School in Johnstown. CLT, which?turns 75 years old this year, is one of the oldest continuously running community theater groups in New York state. The actors above, from left, are Ed Hooks, Edith Boyce, Muriel Managun, Ray Pollak, Gordon Rand, Valera Gaydusek, Ivy Hoag, Bob Doubleday and Margaret Short.
Colonial Little Theatre founder Walter E. Short is shown in 1939. Below is the playbill from one of CLT’s earliest shows, Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Actress Valera Gaydusek is shown in costume as Gypsy Heather, a character in “On the Bridge at Midnight,”?a “soul-stirring melodrama”?put on by the CLT guild in 1941.
In this June 1961 file photo, the former True Church of Christ is shown being moved on a flatbed from its original site on South Market Street to its new home on what is now called Colonial Court. The structure has been the playhouse of the Colonial Little Theatre ever since.
Leader-Herald photo archives
CLT is driven by an evolving cast of volunteers who work hard to provide the on-stage talent and behind-the-scenes effort needed to run a small community theater.
"The passion never dies," said Lisa Pfeiffer of Broadalbin, a Johnstown native who has been involved with CLT for more than 30 years. "We really want to see things thrive and do more than just survive."
People of all ages - more than 1,000 different performers - have appeared in CLT productions over the years, according to the group's website.
Colonial Little Theatre's 75th season will feature the following productions:?
"Nunsense II: The Second Coming," directed by Leta Aldous?- 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday and Aug. 17 and 18, with 2 p.m. matinees Aug. 12 and 19.
"The Cemetery Club," directed by Lisa Pfeiffer - Auditions at 7 p.m. Aug. 13 and 14; performances on Oct. 18-21 and 26-28.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" directed by John Birchler - performances March 8-10 and 15-17.
"Jacques Brel Is Alive and Living in Paris," directed by Frank Pickus - performances June 7-9 and 14-16.
For more information, call the CLT?box office at 762-4325 or visit its website, www.coloniallittletheatre.org.
"Since the group did not acquire a building until the early 1960s, the earliest productions were produced on the stage at Knox Junior High School," the site says. In 1961, the theater group was able to purchase a building - the former True Church of Christ - for $1, and it was moved about a block from South Market Street to its present home at 1 Colonial Court.
Volunteers say one of their greatest frustrations is that though the little white theater has been here, a stone's throw from Main Street, for half a century, many residents of the community have never attended a performance. They hope to attract large crowds this year by making the 75th anniversary season a special one.
"One of the things that makes this particular season unusual is that we're doing two musicals," said John Birchler of Glenville, a past president of the theater's Board of Directors. That's a sign that the organization is on a good footing this year, he said. Musicals are more expensive to produce than other plays - they can cost thousands of dollars, even at a small venue - so CLT has typically only staged one musical per season.
The 75th anniversary season will open Friday with "Nunsense II: The Second Coming," a comedic musical directed by and starring Leta Aldous, the board's current president. On Tuesday, she and other board members talked about the challenges involved in putting on such a play, ranging from the air conditioning (it's working - a welcome improvement from past seasons) to worrying about who was going to play the drums in the pit band for the show.
"It's hard to find people to volunteer their services," Aldous said. "That's the biggest thing, just getting people to volunteer their time."
Board Vice President Carol Russo, who has been involved with the theater since 1972, said CLT manages to put on strong shows on very limited budgets.
"There was a time when we had to use any scrap of lumber on hand," Russo said, but the theater still manages to draw actors and audiences because of the popularity of the shows it chooses to present.
"We've always kind of kept our feet on the ground here," Pfeiffer said. "We've been practical and worked within our means and provided a steady, good product."
The theater has benefited over the years from a small number of generous patrons and dedicated volunteers, but it could use more of both.
"People should join and support their community theater," Aldous said.
For more information about Colonial Little Theatre, or to make a donation or volunteer, call the box office at 762-4325 or see CLT's website, www.coloniallittletheatre.org
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the reference to original location of the former True Church of Christ building. Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org