Milestone year at CTL

Community Theatre League entertains city theater goers for 40 seasons

By JACK FELIX

Sun-Gazette Correspondent

hen Alan Davies asked the Lycoming County Historical Museum curator to use the museum’s basement to stage the newly formed Community Theatre League’s initial production in 1977, he hardly could have envisioned that 40 years later, CTL would not only be surviving, but actually thriving.

In that premiere production of “Once Upon A Mattress,” the ladies-in-waiting included the current, longtime box office manager B.J. Kropp, and CTL’s president Andree P. Phillips. And four decades later, the 2016-17 season recently concluded with a popular, three-weekend run of “The Music Man,” in the downtown Trade and Transit Center, 100 W. Third St.

Davies, who had been transferred from Savannah’s Tetley Tea plant to Williamsport, decided with four other business-oriented individuals (Peter DePasquale, Andree P. Phillips, Joe Karpinski and Jack Felix) to create a different styled community theater where there would be neither membership dues nor annual meetings.

“Your participation is membership in the Community Theatre League” was its first slogan.

CTL was truly a “gypsy” in the formative years — auditioning in one spot, rehearsing in another and staging its show in yet another venue. Early productions were mounted in Divine Providence Hospital Auditorium, Harmonia Hall, St. Boniface Elementary School gym, and, in its only dinner theater presentation, at Annunciation Parish Center.

Trinity Church Parish Hall was rented for the 1979-80 season, which included the first of three productions of “Oliver,” with Steve Hulslander featured in a different role in each version.

The following year, CTL was able to purchase the former Kingdom Hall, 1131 Washington Blvd. After renovations by its volunteers, the first production in its new home was “Stop The World. I Want to Get Off” with Rick Mason playing Littlechap. A couple of years later, a Williamsport Sun-Gazette headline asked, “Who says a woman can’t be a Scrooge?” when CTL cast Julie Hulslander as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”.

Dozens of talented area actors, singers and dancers graced CTL’s cozy confines at Washington Boulevard, including frequent appearances by Lucy Henry, Jerry Beardsley, Janet Stroble, Antony Davies, Tom Ryersbach, Joyce Garner and Chuck Campbell.

Fun-loving Campbell pulled one of his favorite pranks during “Plain and Fancy.” Each night when the houses lights went out, Campbell had a horse and Amish buggy come from the street behind the theater, and enter through the theater’s front doors and go out onto the darkened stage. When the lights came up, the audience gasped, seeing the horse only a few feet away.

During several seasons on Washington Boulevard, CTL introduced its Young People’s Theater Company with Garret Tinsman as director, produced several musical melodramas, and after playwright attended one of his plays, Mark Dunn became its informal playwright-in-residence.

After plans to build a downtown theater progressed with the purchase of a lot on Fifth Street, CTL reversed its course in 1999 and accepted an offer to move into the new Joseph M. McDade Trade and Transit Centre.

The first production in CTL’s new home was an original revue “Murder, Mayhem, and Other Musical Mischief,” written and directed by Jack Felix with Ted Richardson as music director.

Three years ago this summer, the Community Theatre League and the arts community suffered a terrible loss with the sudden death of Jason Moyer. Renown for his magnificent voice and generous spirit, his passing left a huge void. But his legacy lives on as CTL created and dedicated the Jason J. Moyer Studio Theatre. After CTL revamped the building’s third floor, the “black box” theater is now an additional venue for staging smaller-scaled productions and concerts.

Solidifying CTL’s “educational component,” the Community Academy of Stage and Theater (CAST) was formed, with Seth Sponhouse named as education director.

“Our summer camps have been highly successful year after year with hundreds of students from pre-K to college age coming into the building, creating pieces of theater together, and crafting their respective skills. CAST is a year long facility offering after school classes and summer programing, offering (diverse) courses: stage makeup, costuming, lighting and sound design, stage management, directing and public speaking,” Sponhouse said.

Sponhouse is coordinating the 40th anniversary finale with “CTL Celebrates CTL!” concerts on Aug. 18 and 19, with the board of directors providing a complimentary reception following each concert.

Probably the most positive impact upon the Community Theatre League’s growing successes is attributable to Jacqueline Engel, the former artistic director for CTL. Her skills as a graphic designer and overseer of all CTL’s productions as long-time artistic director have been recognized, as well as her rapport with children. In addition to production planning, directing many Main Stage and student summer musicals, Engel originated the Ray of Light Awards, coordinating the adjudication, with its ninth annual awards ceremony held in May. Under her tireless efforts, the ROL program, which honors the best and brightest in high school drama and music theater programs, has expanded and now includes hundreds of students in 15 high schools in five counties. She has contributed immeasurably to the high standards which CTL’s operations currently experience.

The popularity of certain shows have prompted repeats, often musicals, “The Sound of Music,” “Brigadoon,” “The Music Man,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific”; farces “Run for Your Wife”; or dramas, “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Crucible”; with a couple of shows,“Nunsense” and “Oliver” staged three times.

Wedding bells have also peeled over 20 times for couples who met on CTL’s stage.

CTL’s most recognizable alumni is Tom Woodruff Jr. After acting roles in “Nightwatch” and “Arsenic and Old Lace,” Woodruff migrated to Hollywood, later winning the Academy Award for creating the special effects in “Death Becomes Her.”

Co-founder and CTL treasurer for over three decades, Peter DePasquale has recently relocated to the Boston area. Jack Felix and Andree Phillips, the other co-founders who reside locally, remain active in CTL operations.

President Phillips nostalgically commented, “I continue to marvel at (our) growth since 1976. With over 200 theater campers, over 100 enrolled in CAST classes, six Mainstage productions, three SPROUTS shows for children, four Moyer Studio offerings, two student productions, Reader’s theater and concerts — our seasons keeps expanding. Let’s face it. None of the five founders could have imagined the ‘role’ that Community Theatre League would play in the quality of life in our community.”

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