M/cloudy
68°
M/cloudy
Hi 74° | Lo 49°

Peterborough

80 Years of magic

Peterborough Players: An 80 year tradition for actors and theater lovers

  • A Peterborough Players performance of "Dear Ruth" in 1947, featuring James Whitmore, third from right, who returned often to the Players throughout his long acting career.

    A Peterborough Players performance of "Dear Ruth" in 1947, featuring James Whitmore, third from right, who returned often to the Players throughout his long acting career.

  • The Stearns family barn in 1933, when it became the home for the Peterborough Players.

    The Stearns family barn in 1933, when it became the home for the Peterborough Players.

  • Bob Alvin and Joyce Cohen in the 1978 Peterborough Players production of "Knock Knock."

    Bob Alvin and Joyce Cohen in the 1978 Peterborough Players production of "Knock Knock."

  • Putting up a Peterborough Players sign, circa 1940.

    Putting up a Peterborough Players sign, circa 1940.

  • A scene from the Peterborough Players' 1981 production of "Talley's Folley." The play returns to the Players during the 80th birthday season, running Sept. 4 to Sept. 15.

    A scene from the Peterborough Players' 1981 production of "Talley's Folley." The play returns to the Players during the 80th birthday season, running Sept. 4 to Sept. 15.

  • Peterborough Players is celebrating its 80th anniversary this season, with a line-up of plays that are audience favorites from past years.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Peterborough Players is celebrating its 80th anniversary this season, with a line-up of plays that are audience favorites from past years.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Peterborough Players interns and staffers break from rehearsal to fix lunches in the newly built community room adjacent to the theater. Shown are, from left, Talene Monahon, Megan Murphy, Tyley Simahk, Brian Wallace, Adam Sowers and Christine Moore.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Peterborough Players interns and staffers break from rehearsal to fix lunches in the newly built community room adjacent to the theater. Shown are, from left, Talene Monahon, Megan Murphy, Tyley Simahk, Brian Wallace, Adam Sowers and Christine Moore.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • A Peterborough Players performance of "Dear Ruth" in 1947, featuring James Whitmore, third from right, who returned often to the Players throughout his long acting career.
  • The Stearns family barn in 1933, when it became the home for the Peterborough Players.
  • Bob Alvin and Joyce Cohen in the 1978 Peterborough Players production of "Knock Knock."
  • Putting up a Peterborough Players sign, circa 1940.
  • A scene from the Peterborough Players' 1981 production of "Talley's Folley." The play returns to the Players during the 80th birthday season, running Sept. 4 to Sept. 15.
  • Peterborough Players is celebrating its 80th anniversary this season, with a line-up of plays that are audience favorites from past years.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Peterborough Players interns and staffers break from rehearsal to fix lunches in the newly built community room adjacent to the theater. Shown are, from left, Talene Monahon, Megan Murphy, Tyley Simahk, Brian Wallace, Adam Sowers and Christine Moore.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Peterborough Players interns and apprentice crowd into the kitchen at the newly built community room adjacent to the theater.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Chuck Morey first saw the barn at the Peterborough Players when he came to town in the spring of 1969, looking for a summer job.

“It was a fluke, really,” Morey says. “I was about to graduate from Dartmouth up in Hanover. I thought I might be going to Columbia for an MFA in acting, or I was going to be drafted into the Army. I needed a summer job and the only offer I had was from the Peterborough Players. That’s where I went, and it’s shaped my life from then on.”

Morey started as an apprentice and went off to Columbia University after that first summer. But he came back the next year as an actor/stage manager, went on to direct plays as well, and served as artistic director from 1977 to 1988. Since then he’s returned often as a guest director.

Morey’s also a playwright, and this year he’ll be directing his play “Laughing Stock,” a farce about the comedy and mayhem inherent in a summer theater season. It’s an appropriate highlight for this year’s season. The Players are celebrating their 80th anniversary by scheduling seven plays that have been audience favorites in the past, while looking forward to the future, with new on-site housing for actors and summer staff.

“It is based on my early experiences with the Players,” Morey says about “Laughing Stock.” “I always say that none of it is factual, but all of it is true.”

Edith Bond Stearns, known to friends as “EBS,” purchased the Hadley Farm off Middle Road in Peterborough. The abandoned farm had no electricity or running water, but Stearns turned it into a summer home and began putting on plays in the barn in June 1933. For years, Stearns and later her daughter, Sally Stearns Brown, somehow kept a summer theater going.

“It’s always been a remarkable place for theater, because it’s so improbable,” says Morey. “You drove down that long drive into the woods to a 200-year-old barn. The audience sat on folding chairs, with no air conditioning, except for opening the barn doors. It was theater at its very essence, sometimes at its most magical.”

Although the long drive down narrow Hadley Road hasn’t changed much over the years, the theater itself has seen many improvements. The barn is now a 250-seat, state-of-the-art theater, heated for year-round use and air conditioning, of course. In 2006, the entire backstage was renovated, following a successful $1.4 million capital campaign.

“We rebuilt the theater from the stage on back,” says Bob Pettegrew of Hancock, a former board member who chaired the capital campaign. “We tore everything down, put a basement under the stage. The depth was increased dramatically. We added a tower so sets can be flown in from above. Now we have so much more flexibility for scenery. It’s unbelievable, I think, what we can do now.”

The latest addition to the grounds are six cabins and a community building to provide housing for actors, interns and staff. Pettegrew says the Players raised about $1.3 million for the housing.

“All the really good theaters offer housing,” Pettegrew says. “That’s real attraction for getting actors. We have one of the best internship programs. They’re working together 15 or 16 hours a day, and there’s a wonderful bonding that takes place.”

The theater has always offered a supportive environment for young people, Morey says. Both Edith Bond Stearns and Sally Stearns Brown served as mentors to people trying to develop a career.

“When the artistic director job opened up, I wasn’t qualified, but I’d been around a long time,” Morey says. “Sally had faith in the idea that you should give young people a chance. She was very much the heart of the Players, a woman of intelligence and taste. She ran that theater to give young people an opportunity to explore their talents. She modeled it after what her mother had done before.”

Morey says another thing that makes the Peterborough Players different is the repertoire, which he describes as much more diverse than most summer theaters.

“That’s because the community has always supported the Players at their most adventurous,” he says. “There’s no economic sense to have a theater like this existing in a town the size of Peterborough. But the uniqueness of the town and the region makes a difference.”

That diversity is evident in this year’s 80th anniversary line-up, made up of audience favorites from past seasons.

“There’s no 80th anniversary theme, it’s just a bunch of good theater,” says Gus Kaikkonen, who has been the Peterborough Players Artistic Director since 1996.

In addition to “Laughing Stock,” the Players will be doing “Say Goodnight, Gracie,” featuring Joel Rooks, who played the role on Broadway and in touring productions, as George Burns.

They’ll also reprise “2 Pianos, 4 Hands,” about the growing pains of two young pianists seeking careers in music. “It’s a tour de force. They play all the music live,” Kaikkonen says. “You need two concert pianists who are also great actors. Tom Frey and Jeffrey Rockwell will be back again. They’re wonderful.”

The season will also feature “Tea for Three,” in which Emmy Award–winning actress Elaine Bromka will play Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon and Betty Ford in a play about how each woman coped with being the nation’s first lady. Other plays are “Talley’s Folly,” which Kaikkonen described as a romance about two people who don’t quite fit in their own worlds but come together late in life, and the British comedy “Absurd Person Singular,” last seen at the Players in 1977.

And one old play will be done in a new way, as Kaikkonen directs his own adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Seagull.”

“In my experience with Chekhov, even the best translations play a little stuffy,” Kaikkonen says. “I took a public domain translation and tried to put in common language. The comedy and the sex won’t get lost in all the formal talk. It is a play about passion.”

Lisa Bostnar says she first met Kaikkonen when they both acted in a production of “Seagull” in 1995. Since then, the New York City-based actress has been coming to Peterborough frequently to act in Player’s productions. She’ll be in “Seagull,” “Laughing Stock” and “Absurd Person Singular” this year.

“Last August, my fiance and I bought a house up here,” Bostnar says. “I’ve got a nice career going in New York City, but I want to live up here. What makes the Players special is the people, the ones I work with here and those in the audience.”

Bostnar says the summer schedule is brutal.

“It’s an immense amount of work, but Gus is brilliant at picking wonderful plays,” she says. “It has to do with talent and temperament and the desire to put on something memorable. At mid-season, you want to pull your hair out, but you want to come back year after year.”

Bostnar said actors are inspired by the feedback they get at the Players.

“The audiences up here are very smart. At no other summer theater would Shaw’s “Heartbreak House” do better than “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Morey agrees that the Players audiences are unique.

“We did a brand-new play every year for six or seven seasons straight,” he says. “It was very successful. We also did Shakespeare, and Shaw has always been a favorite. Something light with laughs will often sell more tickets, but for the most part we always found an audience willing to go on a journey with us.”

For information on the Peterborough Players season, go online to peterboroughplayers.com.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.