Springfield Community Players can trace its roots back to the fall of 1920, with the formation of the Dramatic Society by the Community Club of Springfield. The purpose of the club was to “create and sustain interest in all matters pertaining to the drama.” It was an exciting time for theater. Throughout Vermont, and in fact the entire country, community theater groups were being organized. Almost a hundred years later, the SCP is still active, claiming the title of the longest continuously operating amateur theater group in the state of Vermont.
The Players are fortunate to have a collection of scrapbooks filled with playbills and newspaper articles from most of the shows produced over the years. The minutes of meetings dating back to 1945 are also available.
In the fall of 1920 a discussion between Ione Locke, Dr.Stuart Gardner and Margaret LaVenture Thomas, of Springfield was held regarding the formation of a Dramatic Society. That Society was soon formed under the auspices of the Community Club of Springfield, Vermont. In January of 1921, the first play, “Nothing But the Truth,” under the direction of Margaret LaVenture was presented at the Town Hall.
A second show, “Mary’s Million,” under the same director, was produced in March of the same year. Thereafter the group produced approximately three to four plays per year throughout the fall, winter and spring.
In 1927, at the time of the Great Flood, a donation of $100 was given to the town of Cavendish, from the proceeds of “Adam and Eva” It would appear that the first decade of the SCP was successful.
It should be noted that one of the early Players was Joseph Johnson, who later became Governor of Vermont.
In 1930, Springfield Community Players, as it was now called, was invited to participate in the annual Little Theater Tournament in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The SCP later took part in other tournaments throughout Vermont and northern New York.
In 1932 the first dramatic prizes, $5 and $2.50 gold pieces, were awarded to high school students for one-act play writing.
The 30’s also saw many benefit shows presented by the SCP, a tradition carried on for many years. Among the recipients of those benefits were the unemployed, Springfield Hospital, the Nurse’s Fund and the Fire and Police Departments. The Players also took shows on the road to provide programs for events in the area including the VA hospital in White River Junction.
One hundred and twenty six episodes of an original radio drama were presented by a group of the Players on station WNBX in 1932 and 1933. This group later did mystery dramatizations on radio.
Monthly meetings, October through June, might include a speaker, a play reading or one-act presentation. An annual banquet was held in February.
The mid 30’s saw the first presentation at the High School, the present-day Park Street School. After that, plays were presented both there and at the Town Hall.
In 1937 the Building Fund was established with $300 to find a permanent home for the Players.
In 1938 the first By-Laws were written, establishing the maximum number of members at 75. Prospective members had to make formal application and be approved by the Board of Directors and the general membership. The Board of Directors, President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer were elected posts. There was also an appointed Director and a Committee to select plays for presentation.
In 1941 the Twentieth Anniversary Banquet was held. Ione Locke received the first Lifetime Membership, as a founding member still active in the organiztion. This tradition of lifetime membership is carried on today, but rarely awarded.
A newspaper article of the twentieth anniversary is a fountain of information. It noted that from “a handful of people eager to present plays,” the group had grown to over 50 members. However, it also noted that, like today, the SCP experienced upswings and downswings of membership and participation.
This banquet also saw the first presentations of awards. The first award, in the form of Winged Victory, was called a “Gertie.” Presented for best performance, it was given to Miss Leona Ryan. A duplicate was given to Ione Locke. It appears the name “Gertie” did not stick as subsequent awards were called “Oscars.” Honorable Mention awards were given to best production, best staging, etc. Judges were appointed annually to make these selections.
The support of the community during this time was evident in the abundance of paid ads that appeared in the play bills. Meetings during this time were held at the Community Center. There was a general meeting and a board meeting each month. In 1945, two $1,000.00 War Bonds were purchased for the Building Fund and in 1947 a committee was appointed to search for a building to be used to store props, build sets and rehearse and perhaps even hold performances.
Annual dues were raised in September of 1949 from one to two dollars single membership, and three dollars for couples.
The 50s were a decade of contrast. Financial struggle alternated with innovations and successes. About ten active members were keeping the group going, even though paid membership numbered seventy. There was even talk of disbanding, because of two consecutive shows that lost money. Fund raising efforts included holding raffles, selling ads in the play bills, and raising ticket prices (from $.85 to $1). Shortage of storage space and frustration over lack of name recognition were topics of discussion at meetings.
In 1952, for the first time, two performances of a single show were staged, changing the long held practice of single performances. Entries in the Nellie Gill Annual One-Act Play Contest, held in Woodstock, were rewarded with prizes for Original Play, 1953; Best Direction, 1954; and finally The Cup for “Box and Cox”; in 1958. The following year the SCP won the award for Best Staging.
In 1954 Bob Spindler directed “Of Thee I Sing”–the SCP’s first musical. This started a tradition of presenting one musical during each season. In 1957, the SCP was fortunate to have a visiting movie star, Frances Lane Sirot step in to the role of Vera in “Pal Joey” for a player who had to drop out.” Lane Sirot appeared in several movies including “The Jolson Story,” “Gilda” and “Abbott and Costello in Hollywood.”
She also appeared in “I Led Three Lives” on television.
Although the Players lost money on many shows throughout the decade, when they did make money they contributed to several charitable organzations. By 1957 it was noted that the SCP had performed 77 plays in 34 years.
The 60’s might be known as the decade of the big musicals. The SCP performed one each year. Some of these were “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Music Man,” “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma,” “The King and I,” “Hello Dolly” and “The Sound of Music.” Other plays from the 60’s were “Angel Street” and a reprise of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” which had been performed by the group previously in the 40’s.
As in the previous decade, the Players continued to deal with the problems of theater and storage space. While the shows of the 60’s were artistic successes, the cost of performance space rental consumed most, if not all, of the profits. For a few years during this time, the musicals were performed at the Weston Playhouse, but one of the problems with this was that fewer local people attended the out of town shows. The SCP sent out feelers trying to purchase or rent local properties, but had no luck until a decade later.
Throughout the decade the Players explored money raising projects and ideas to increase participation with varying degrees of success. Through it all, it seems, every time there was any profit, it was given for others’ benefit. That, in itself, is a testament to the historical generosity of the Springfield Community Players.
The decade of the 70’s was pivotal for the SCP, both in the area of presentation and structurally for the organization as well. During this decade the Players presented two to three musicals per season. Some of these were “Flower Drum Song,” “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum,” “Carousel,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Brigadoon,” “Once Upon A Matress,” “Godspell,” “Charlie Brown,” “Pajama Game,” “Gypsy, ” “The Music Man,” “The Fantastiks,” “Li’l Abner,” and “ Mame.” Some other shows done throughout the 70’s were “The Odd Couple” and “Don’t Drink the Water.”
Working theater was instigated during this time as well and musical reviews, one act plays and original plays were produced. Working Theater is defined as experimental theater with training and new experiences provided for all members of the group. Working theater does not hold auditions; roles are assigned by the director of the experiment.
Some high points of the decade were a 50th anniversary banquet, incorporation of the non-profit group in 1972, and finding a permanent home in 1979. In 1973 the SCP was able to rent space at 1 Main Street for rehearsal and storage. In 1974 a more permanent location was acquired, rent-free, on Paddock Road. This was a barn that was christened the Playpen by the SCP. Unfortunately that property was sold and the hunt was on again. When The Studio, the former Southview School, was leased from the Springfield school district in 1979, the search was over and the Players remain there to this day.
The Players continued to donate to many worthy organizations, like Kurn Hatten home for kids, and the Visiting Nurses, but for the first time began to make some money. Between performing more major musicals and not having to rent storage, meeting and rehearsal space the profit began to rise. Another moneymaker was the advent of performing a single show not only for two days, but for two days over two weekends. This began with “The Music Man” in 1978. What profit wasn’t given away was put into the building fund in the hope of finding a real home. This dream was realized by the end of the decade.
The decade of the 80’s started with a bang. Never before had so many shows been produced in a single year. Nine separate shows a season were performed by 1984. Some of these shows were benefits, some were musical reviews but the musical comedy was still the mainstay of the group. There were 14 musical comedies produced throughout the decade.
Membership was up, so there were more hands to do the work. The Players had the Studio, and the lease was renewed for 3 years in 1980 and for 10 more years in 1986. Along with finding a home, however, came the responsibility of maintaining the home. Electrical wiring was upgraded and a new roof was put on the building. Cleaning and organizing became a big part of the general duties of the members. Never before had the Players had so much housekeeping to do.
The first play performed at the Studio, in 1981, was a working theater production of “The Soapy Murder Case.” From then on, all but benefits and major musicals were held at the Studio. Special shows were performed. Examples of those shows was, an Antique Fashion Show, featuring costumes from the 1890’s through the 1950’s, that was held in Chester for the Historical Society and at the Hartness House in Springfield for the Altrurian Society. Other special shows were two original plays for children. One play was performed at the Springfield Library and the other was a musical, performed for a children’s workshop. Two benefits were held for Special Olympics.
Shows were performed out of town as well. “ Jesus Christ Superstar” was performed at the high school and the Claremont, N.H. Opera House. Dinner theaters were held at the Hartness House and in Chester. The SCP also performed for the Annual Home Show, took part in Alumni Parades and the Winter Carnival, and awarded scholarships to high school students planning a career in theater or creative arts.
Whether because of the hectic production schedule, the responsibilities at the Studio or the winter closing of the studio, which changed the season to a summer one, perhaps all of the above, membership began to decrease in the latter part of the decade. By 1985 fewer shows were held per season, only five in that year and in 1986, four in 1987 and finally only three in the final two years of the 80’s.
The first two years of the 90’s saw only 3 shows presented, but as the Players found their footing and adjusted to the new setting and the summer schedule, the number of plays increased to an average of four or five per season. It appears that the group had learned to pace itself and ultimately produced the number of shows that were possible with the number of Players available to work on them. Thus, six plays were produced in 1993 and only two in1998. A total of 38 shows were performed during the decade.
Nine major musicals were presented during the 90’s. This was not the extent of the musical productions however, as eight cabarets or dinner theaters were also produced, the first in 1990.
Other events during this time were the sponsorship of a traveling show at the Studio in 1991, the sponsorship of the Precisionaires, a well-known local trio reminiscent of the Andrew Sisters from the 1940’s, in 1999, and a “retro clothing sale of recyclable treasures,” including formal gowns, hoops, lingerie, hats and accessories in 1997.
Players began to take part in other communities’ theater productions. Several members of the SCP appeared in Claremont, NH’s Off Broadstreet Players’ production of “Oklahoma” in 1992.
The SCP benefited from the talents of other communities as well.
The Players stayed busy in other areas throughout the 90’s. Examples of this are new siding and doors on the Studio, contribution to the Community Band Shell and biggest of all, the Diamond Jubilee held at the High School in 1996. This revue of past SCP musicals was directed by Tom Pockette and welcomed back many former players like himself, both in person for the performance and by letters of congratulations from all over the country in response to being notified of the event. All of the shows presented during that year were revivals of shows previously performed by the group.
Probably the most encouraging sign of good health and optimism came in 1997, when the Players felt confident enough that they had a permanent home to change the by-laws to dissolve the Building Fund and purchase a CD instead.
The new millennium did not start out well for the SCP. Three long-time pillars of the group passed away: Bev Huber in January, Ross Hunt in February and Joyce Carter in November. While these losses devastated the Players, other than a few cancelled meetings, the SCP soldiered on.
Renovations to the Studio began. A costume loft and stairs to it were built over the Green Room, a light board was purchased and a lighting booth was built as a memorial to Joyce and Ross from the funds established in their names. Painting of the Green Room, dressing room and ladies’ bathroom, tiling of the dressing room and ladies’ room, as well as building a men’s dressing room was done. An office and library area was designed. All these changes required an entirely new system of storage at the studio, so it was decided that one night and /or day a week would be set aside for all of this remodeling throughout this time. Most of the work was done by volunteer members of the group.
Perhaps the most outstanding change was the comfortable theater seats which the SCP was able to purchase from Dartmouth Medical School. The seats were installed by volunteers, as well, and sponsorship of some of those seats is still available. Plaques for the chair arms may be purchased for $50 and can simply give the donor’s name or honor someone else. Finally, new logo signs were designed and mounted on the exterior of the Studio, a new oil tank was installed and in 2002, the third in a series of annual Yard Sales was held at the studio.
One outstanding show so far this decade has been, “Nuncrackers, ” which is the fourth in the series of highly successful “Nunsense”shows. The first three in the series were performed by the Players in the 90’s. In 2003 “The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare, (abridged)” was performed by the Players, both at the Studio and out of town, in Woodstock.
In 2003 the players put on “The Compleat Works of Shakespeare. (Abridged),” which was performed by a completely non-member cast. 2003 was also the year that this website was created, bringing the SCP into the world of the Internet.
The SCP joined the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and provided entertainment for RSVP in the Fall of 2004.
In 2005, the players performed “Spoon River Anthology,” both at the studio and the Ludlow town hall. Also, the players entered a float in the Alumni parade and took home 1st prize best non-Alumni.
2006 saw the beginning of a fundraising effort which started in conjunction with the production of “Quilters.” The goal of the effort was to replace the studio’s furnace. The Players reached out to the quilting community and were rewarded with a beautiful quilt, which was created and donated by Country Treasures. A raffle of this quilt kicked off the fundraising effort. Other fundraising efforts included 50/50 profits and an eBay auction of an original Hirschfeld print which had been donated by a member. The Players also appealed to the community and a pledge by anonymous donors to match donations up to a total of $3000 resulted in 48 donations ranging from $20 to $2000. Three shows were performed this year.
Fundraising efforts continued through 2007. Four shows were performed this year including “Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell,” and “Gypsy.” The Players saw their fundraising efforts pay off when the new furnace was installed in 2008. Four shows were also performed this year including “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and the controversial show, “The Vagina Monologues.”
Improvements to the studio came in 2009 including an entrance ramp, the completion of siding, improvements to the lighting system, and fire safety improvements. Two shows, “Trailer Park” & “Right to Remain Dead” were cancelled leaving “Harvey,” and “The Haunting of Hill House” as the season’s only productions.
Students from Springfield High School and Green Mountain Union High School put on a student production of “Title of Show” in 2009.
In 2010 SHS presented “The Crucible.” The Players were happy to share our intimate theatre space with these young performers. Also in 2010, the Players celebrated the group’s 90th anniversary with the production of “SCP’s 90th Birthday Gala” which featured skits from past productions and a large birthday cake.
The Players entered floats in the 2010 and 2011 Alumni parades, and took 1st prize Best non-Alumni in 2011.
2011 was a very busy year for the Players. Another installment of the “Nunsense” series was performed for sold out audiences all but one very snowy night. The Players put on a summer theatre camp in conjunction with the Springfield Parks and Recreation Department. This week long activity attracted a small but very enthusiastic group of children and was very successful. The Players were involved in many of the town’s 250th Birthday Celebration Activities which took place throughout the year. Most notable of these was participation in the cemetery walk which featured many of the town’s most famous people that are buried there. Some of the people portrayed were Governor Hartness, Mrs. Bryant, Adna Brown, and Reverend Smiley. The Players were also a big hit at the History Fair with a very impressive display of scrapbooks, photo boards, and costumes from past shows.
It is now 2016 and we are starting to plan for our 100th season of community theater.
This is the history of the Springfield Community Players. The SCP continues to grow. Its future looks exciting.