The First 50 Years

Unedited 1957 – 1998 version by Rachel Cassidy.

It all begins in February 1958, in Wappingers Falls, New York.

Pat Greer, a Wappingers Falls resident, and a friend of John T. Sloper, founder of the Sloper-Willen Ambulance Service and former New York City stage manager, advertises in the local newspaper for persons interested in forming a new community theatre company. Several people respond. A meeting is held and County Players is born! A Board of Directors is chosen: Peter Edman (our 1st President), Pat Greer, Dorothy Feldman, Art Weinberg, Eli Toplansky, Kurt Eisler, John Fitzgerald, Peg Kanter, Charlotte Lyon, James Russell, Henry Taylor, and John Sloper.

May, 1958 Peter Edman directs the new company’s first show: “Bell, Book, and Candle”, with Peg Kanter, John Fitzgerald, Charlotte Lyon, John Collins, Sidney Gazen and Cynder (a 2-1/2 year old Maltese cat foundling). Mrs. E. B. Howell, in our first review states, “A hearty welcome to the Dutchess County Players. This group proved its merit in every respect with the initial production…. I sincerely hope this is the start of a long and successful career.”

1959 While the dream of County Players owning a theatre is hardly even acknowledged, we perform at the auditorium of the Wappingers Junior High School, requiring us to build the set on the weekend prior to opening, and to strike the set each night until the Friday night opening since the auditorium was used daily for school activities. County Players’ first full season, 1958-1959, is “Laura”, “The Glass Menagerie” and “Born Yesterday”. A large membership with more than 100 subscriptions is established. “Laura” marks the debuts of two of County Players’ most durable and talented actors – Bernice Edman and Hank Taylor!

1960-1961 County Players produces its first musical – “Finian’s Rainbow”. Peg Kanter directs and Peter Edman is featured as the leprechaun, “Og”. More than 1,000 people attend one showing. County Players continues to build its reputation for fine community theatre and more and more people participate.

1961 County Players is able to schedule “Romanoff and Juliet”, “Devil’s Disciple” and “Guys and Dolls”, proof of the increased sophistication, talent and expertise the company is drawing. The public is beginning to see County Players as an established theatrical fixture.

1962 In addition to our regular performances, County Players branches out to the community at large. John Sloper directs a production of “The Children are Listening”, a piece dedicated to brotherhood and the eradication of prejudice. The play is taken to Vassar College, Bennett College (formerly operating in Millbrook), and a PTA conference at Grossinger’s Hotel. This marks County Players’ entry into the mainstream of community endeavor.

1963-1964 County Players initiates a search for one-act plays, not previously published or produced. Diane Kallerman directs our premiere showing, “Through Picture Windows”, a series of three one-acts written by Arnold Sable. This program continues for several years, a highlight of which was Ms. Kallerman’s own one-act, “West Side Lament”, which is adjudged Best Short Play at the New York State Community Theatre Association’s Regional Festival.

1964-1967 County Players launches the High School Drama Awards program. For many years, knowledgeable County Players members form a committee of judges who view submitted high school productions to select those deemed “most talented” in areas of artistic and technical production skills. Each June, we hold a posh dinner at which time the awards are presented to the winners. Schools are invited to perform scenes from their nominated plays. County Players continues to improve its capabilities and, inevitably, more conversations about a home of our own are being heard. Inquiries about possible properties to buy are being made. Dreams are being solidified. But fruition is more than a decade away.

1968 The season culminates with a major breakthrough – a sold-out house for “Camelot” at the Wappingers Junior High School which necessitates the addition of a Sunday matinee. By this time, County Players is commanding critical respect and starting to draw talent and audiences from ever-widening circles. The cash box is starting to show a healthy balance, permitting greater technical latitude. More new people are being drawn to County Players, on both sides of the footlights. It is a high time for the company.

1969-1970 County Players actively and openly campaigns for its own “Theatre Home”. Optimistic plans include a scene shop, a rehearsal hall, and, eventually, our own building! John Sloper donates two acres of his land on MacFarlane Road in the Town of Wappinger to County Players. Roy Berenotto and James Hart co-chair the County Players Building Committee, and ground is broken for a new Scene Shop. More than 30 volunteers work on and off for a year, and several local businessmen donate time and materials.

1971 The new Scene Shop is completed in time to use for the building the sets for “Cactus Flower”. Also in 1971, we host a production of “North Star Shining” by the East River Players, as a bonus presentation. We stage “Man of La Mancha”.

1972-1973 We expand our High School Theatre Awards program to include more schools. In June 1973, we optimistically purchase an 80’ diameter, 12-sided exhibit building from the 1965 World’s Fair, which is hoped to be used as a rehearsal hall. However, because of the later purchase of the Theatre, the project is abandoned and the dismantled building was sold.

1974-1976 We begin a series of workshops – make-up, scenic design, costume design and lighting. For the next three years, we continue to give first class entertainment with three productions a year. The coffers are filling slowly in anticipation of our next purchase and most important milestone!

June, 1977 The Academy Theatre property in the Village of Wappingers Falls comes on the market. It has been metamorphosed from a Music Hall to a community basketball center to a movie theatre and to a flea market in its 50 year existence. James Hart meets with the Village Planning Board to obtain final approvals. The purchase comes in August – giving County Players its first real home – a fulfilled dream! Renamed “County Players Falls Theatre”, we begin the building’s renovation. Working three nights a week and weekends, it takes crews six months to clean the house – inside and out. Under the guidance of Jim Hart, John Sloper, John Bono and with dozens of other volunteers, a new thrust stage was added, lights hung, 400 seats acquired and bolted into place, a backstage created, the public bathrooms brought to function, and the marquee repaired in time to advertise our first show in our first home – “Toys in the Attic”. There is no heat, no plumbing backstage. Heat for rehearsals is provided by an industrial kerosene heater. The air is musty, dusty and rank – but it is our own! And with the opening of our own theatre, we are able to add a “bonus”, fund-raising production during the summer months, the first being “An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan”. Work parties continue to improve the building – cleaning, repairing, and painting. Thousands of volunteer hours are spent. County Players Falls Theatre becomes a home away from home for dozens of loyal workers.

1978 County Players starts the tradition of producing “bonus” productions when the Theatre would otherwise be dark between the Spring musical and the opening show in the Fall. The money realized from these fundraisers is added to the building fund whose resources are being spent at a prodigious rate. Under the supervision of Restoration Chairman, John Sloper, the two mini-stages are built, a new electrical system and lights are installed, new seats (donated by IBM) are put in place, new curtains and draperies are installed by Pete and Neil Edman and Irv Wildman. Our rented costume storage area is improved by Therese Knight. This year sees the official ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the Theatre, by the Village of Wappingers Falls Mayor Don Synnett. In the fall, Jacqueline Wilder and Johanna Stech chair the first 200-Club Dinner-Dance, an invaluable fundraiser which provides a social evening and adds to the general treasury.

County Players enters its production of “Rashomon” in the New York State Theatre Festival Regional competition at Marist College, and hosts the State Festival at the Arlington Senior High School.

1979 Theatre upgrading includes the installation of a fire alarm system. A proposal is entertained to produce a winter holiday production of “A Christmas Carol”. Joe Cassidy delights as “Scrooge” and newcomer Douglas Woolley gives us “Cratchet”. County Players continues to expand its theatrical sophistication by mounting “Kismet”. The restoration continues.

1980-1981 John Sloper, a founder and driving force of County Players, is named its first Honorary Lifetime Patron. For the first time, County Players produces four productions, starting a trend that continues today. In addition, two terrific summer productions graced the stage. A musical revue of the 70’s, “Ten Years Ten”, is directed by Glenn Casale, who eventually graduates to television and Broadway fame, and also features Lisa Mollela, a future Miss New York State. “The Glass Menagerie” is produced as well and is adjudicated “Highly Recommended” to the NY State Theatre Festival, in Jamestown, NY. Directed by Rose Mastrovito, it sees Rosalind Turow win Best Actress for her interpretation of Laura Wingfield in the Tennessee Williams classic. County Players’ Young Players stages its first production, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”, which is a smash hit. Young Players is comprised of theatre-loving high schoolers who met through the High School Drama Awards program and wish to continue their association under County Players’ auspices. Planning begins for the 25th (Silver) Anniversary of County Players, spearheaded by Carole DiNonno. Rose Mastrovito’s “A Delicate Balance”, another summer bonus presentation, is nominated for the NY State Theatre Festival in Valhalla, NY.

1982 As part of the Silver Anniversary celebration, “A Christmas Carol” is presented at Yuletide. Young Players continues its endeavors with their productions of “Man of La Mancha” & “Damn Yankees”. In April 23, 1983, the Silver Gala Dinner-Dance is held at the Villa Borghese in Wappingers Falls. The installation of air conditioning is completed, to everyone’s joy and relief! The company participates in the Wappingers Falls Community Day Parade. County Players hosts Prudence Garcia-Renart and John Gordon in “The Four-Poster”. Long-time County Players associate, John W. Judd, a superb actor and lovely man, dies in the spring. To honor his memory, the High School Theatre Awards for most promising actor and actress are re-named the John W. Judd Award.

With deep sorrow and a profound sense of loss, we said our final farewell to John T. Sloper, a Founder of County Players, Life Member, prime mover, helper to those in need, humanitarian and good friend. John died in August of 1983, leaving a legacy of goodness, truthfulness, generosity of spirit and love. A memorial service for John was held at the Theatre on September 18th. John’s gifts to County Players, included his extensive library and a monetary legacy for 20 years towards our mortgage and further restorations.

This final gesture of generosity contributed enormously to the financial health of the company. If you did not know John, ask anyone who did, and you will be rewarded with a wealth of anecdotes about this fabulous character who is our spiritual father.

1984 Young Players presents “Limelight”, as a summer activity for the youngsters. County Players participates in the City of Poughkeepsie’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of The Poughkeepsie Journal with a float in the parade (our handmade surrey from “Oklahoma”) and a re-enactment at the Bardavon Theatre of the signing of the Declaration of Independence (a scene from the musical “1776”).

1985 Chet London, a Broadway, television and film actor leads an exploratory acting workshop, as County Players fulfills one of its charter objectives by broadening its horizons from production to education. “Shenanigans”, a vaudeville inspired fund-raiser, is produced during the summer months under Bill Peckham’s direction and features Holly Meyer, a National Baton-twirling Champion and former Miss Rhode Island.

1986 The facelift begins! The marquee, rest rooms and lobby are under reconstruction, to include a new heating system in the lobby! Stage lighting and the sound system are upgraded. Again, County Players participates in the Wappingers Community Day parade. Our production of “Agnes of God”, under the direction of Jeffrey Borak, is invited to perform at the main theatre at SUNY New Paltz and again at the NYS Theatre Festival in Hornell, New York (Alfred U.), and wins First Prize for Drama!

1987-1988 County Players plan to celebrate its Thirtieth Anniversary. The 30th season is announced: “On Golden Pond” is directed by Bill Peckham; “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is directed by Rachel Cassidy; “You Can’t Take It With You” is directed by Anna Marie Creighton; and “Hello, Dolly!” is directed by Chris Seman. In June, the company participates in the City of Poughkeepsie’s 300th anniversary parade, one of whose chairmen is Joe Cassidy. Bill Peckham is in charge of our float. We are “evicted” from our costume loft at the Community Service Center, and a search of suitable places yields us space in the newly re-opened “bleachery”, now the Wappingers Industrial Park. County Players participates in the “Hospice Tree of Life” benefit ceremony at the South Hills Mall. The dressing rooms in the Theatre are refurbished. The roof is repaired and the women’s room gets new fixtures. County Players participates in “Art in the Park” in the Village of Wappinger. County Players is hailed by proclamation of County Executive Lucille Pattison on the occasion of its Thirtieth Anniversary, which is celebrated by a dinner-cruise on the Hudson River. Peter and Bernice Edman, our most active members and founders are named Honorary Lifetime Patrons. On April 23, 1988, members Steve Kable and Ruth Praskey are married at the Theatre. The touching ceremony marks the first real-life wedding in the Theatre.

1989 Two County Players alumni, Scott Stevens and James Wood, become members of the national touring companies of “Cabaret” and “LaTraviata”, respectively. The costume shop is moved to new, dry quarters at the Wappingers Falls Industrial Park.

A new sound booth is constructed. Sadly, after much research and soul-searching, the High School Theatre Awards program is terminated after a 24-year run. During Act II of “Crimes of the Heart”, the lights in the Theatre go out because of an auto accident on Sheafe Road. The audience elects that the show “must go on”, and the ushers light the stage with flashlights! Troupers, indeed!

1990-1991 Our theatre’s front doors are refinished, new ceiling lights and aisle carpeting are installed, and the ceiling is painted black. The marquee is reconstructed after being struck by a truck. The American Globe Theatre of New York City “resides” with County Players for five days in the summer, presenting workshops and performances in the classical style of British Shakespearean interpretation and acting. County Players begins revision of its by-laws. The costume loft is purged of unusable items.

1992 A major overhaul of the Theatre is begun. Named “Stage Fright”, the project includes installation of a new state-of-the-art digital lighting system, flexible lighting hookups, a new internal communication system, improved back-stage air conditioning, new office and tech space, bathroom reconstruction, and a new power system. “Super Techies” Joe Cassidy, Peter Bleasby, Terrence Quinn, Jeff Wilson, Bob Bellini, Paul Schwerman, Doug Woolley, Tim Durniak, Joe Stifano, Tom Gaynor, Milt Forry, Bill Peckham, and Peter Edman spearhead this monumental upgrading.

1993 County Players is named Best Community Theatre by the Hudson Valley Magazine poll for the second year in a row. The scene shop is renovated and the resident raccoons are evicted.

1994 The first weekend performances of “Rumors” are canceled because of a gas explosion in the Village of Wappingers and a simultaneous snow storm which necessitates work parties to clear masses of accumulated snow from the imperiled roof and repair the leaks inside. And, at long last, we contract to have the old roof removed and a new one finally installed. County Players’ alumnus, Michael Rhodes, who performed in our “Look Homeward, Angel”, opens on Broadway in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Three Tall Women”.

1995 County Players loses a very good friend. Milt Forry, who had worked on nearly every set in the Theatre and on “Stage Fright” died. He was a sweet, diligent and capable man who loved to talk theatre and work in it. A new parking lot is opened in the Village, with some funding help from County Players to provide theatre-goers with better access to us. Also, in order better to serve our audience, the women’s rest room is doubled in size and totally remodeled.

1996 Ticket demand requires that an extra performance be added to “La Cage aux Folles”! The stage floor is rebuilt with a new apron providing added storage space beneath. New backstage plumbing and sinks are installed in the stage left dressing room and the prop room.

County Players performs at a Christmas Gala in freezing rain at Mesier Park, with readings from “A Christmas Carol” and seasonal songs. Rosalind Croshier is appointed to head the Fortieth Anniversary Committee.

1997 Thanks to Jeff Wilson, County Players has its own Web Page on the Net. Come visit us at www.countyplayers.org. The box office is renovated to accommodate our new computerized ticket sales. Credit cards are being accepted now! The half-century old marquee is finally replaced with a beautiful new one. The Theatre’s fortieth anniversary begins with an open house reception at the Theatre in August, attended by more than 300 people. The year ends with “A Chorus Line” (Directed by Anna Marie Martino) and “Inherit The Wind” (Directed by Bill Peckham) being honored in the press as the top shows in the Hudson Valley.

1998 We celebrate our Fortieth Anniversary with a gala dinner at the Holiday Inn in Fishkill! A clambake to thank those who have volunteered with County Players is planned for August. Work parties are busy at the Scene Shop and Costume Loft clearing out more room for future storage space. The Theatre’s auditorium is upgraded with new walls, acoustical tiles, wainscoting, carpeting and new seats. Because of recent sell-out performances, “Anything Goes” schedules an eighth performance. The Board of Governors votes to continue to hold the current ticket prices. And our list of subscribers rises above 1,000.

1999-2000 We honor Bill Peckham and Dilys Clark as Honorary Lifetime Members. Bill as an Actor, Director, Set Designer and builder. Dilys is recognized for her tireless work as Costume Chairperson. The summer of 1999, sees all of our old orange and red seats in the theatre finally replaced with new black ones, under the “Chair” of Pete Edman and Joe Cassidy. Special seating for the handicapped is also provided. Peter and Bernice Edman are honored on October 14 with the Dutchess County Executive’s Arts Award with a Special Citation. The Edmans have given their lifeblood to County Players since it’s inception in 1958. County Players is Y2K ready to kick off the new millennium in 2000 and our new computer systems survive the scare. “Secret Garden” and “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” receive year-end kudos as the “Year’s Best in 2000”. Congrats again to Directors Anna Marie Martino and Bill Peckham.

2001 A landmark year for County Players. At the June Annual Meeting we “torch” the mortgage, nine years early! Yes, finally we officially own our own theatre! Henry Taylor, Peter Edman and President Anna Marie Martino ignite the flame to the cheers of many! One of our Founders, John Sloper is remembered for his generosity and hard work in making CP a success.

2002 Our 45th year opens with “‘night, Mother” under the guiding hand of Rachel Cassidy and featuring veteran actors Julie Eads Woolley and Zsuzsa Manna. By November, a brand new storage building (our Quonset hut) is erected on our scene shop property. This allows us to store more furniture, props and set pieces. Bill Peckham oversees this big project. The concession area in the lobby also gets a facelift. Hudson Valley Magazine polls again award County Players as the Best Community Theatre in the Hudson Valley.

2003 More improvements are undertaken by the Company. David Hoffman completes an upgrade of our sound system and Dilys Clark spearheads the transfer of our costumes to a better location in the old “Bleachery” building. Sunday matinees are added to all the productions and prove to be popular, particularly to our older attendees. The Annual Summer Picnic at Bowdoin Park, to thank our many volunteers, proves to be a popular social event.

2004  A major fire destroys the building next door to our theatre. Local firemen valiantly fight the fire from our rooftop, saving all the tenants and our building from any damage. Doug and Julie Eads Woolley are made Honorary Lifetime Patrons. Doug and Julie are two of our most accomplished Actors. Doug is also a diligent Set builder and Julie manages the Box Office. Our Marketing Committee headed up by Jeff Wilson and Jen Mille becomes more assertive, setting up new promotions, to include scheduled “Open House” tours for the public. Baked goods were introduced to our concessions.

2005  Cracks in the façade on the front of our building are repaired. David Hoffman secures a grant from the Dyson Foundation for a new Hearing Impaired System. In June, we lost two of our most active and influential leaders – Honorary Lifetime Patrons Joe and Rachel Cassidy. Happily, they moved on to Colorado for an active retirement and more time with daughter, Mimi and her family. Sadly, they left behind a large hole in the heart of the County Players family. Joe served as a past president, actor, and “work party coordinator”. Rachel was an actor, director, and active member in numerous ways. They will be missed, and often. They are honored at the Annual Meeting, along with two new Honorary Lifetime Patrons – Anna Marie Martino and Tom Lawrence. Anna is an actor, musical director, choreographer, and our hard-working President. Tom is an actor, musical director, and active Board member.

2006 Summer productions return to the stage as the popular Kander and Ebb revue – “The World Goes ‘round” is presented. In the fall, a major storm drops a large tree limb, puncturing the roof, and dumping water into the prop room and men’s bathroom. Peter Edman, Richard Pointer, and Bill Peckham spend several days fighting back the invasion of water until repairs can be made. Bill Peckham builds a new sound booth in the back of the theatre and Sound Technician Mark Weglinski fine-tunes the new system in time for a very successful December production of “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, under Tom Lawrence’s direction.

2007  Tom Lawrence chairs the 50th Anniversary Committee to plan our Gala celebration at the new Grandview in Poughkeepsie in April 2008. To kick off the 50th year, an Opening Reception is held at the theatre on September 9th, with raffles, refreshments, tours, and displays. In November, Anna Marie Martino receives the Partnership in Excellence Award at the Hands on the Hudson Valley 2007 Executive Director Masquerade Gala for her volunteer work with County Players. Once again, Hudson Valley Magazine awards County Players as the Best Community Theatre in the Hudson Valley.

With the future in mind, County Players moves further into this new millennium with the same dedication and perseverance that got us through the first 50 years. We will strive to continue improving our theatre, both physically and artistically.

What comes next??? Stay tuned.

by Rachel Cassidy & Bill Peckham