History of the Lake Charles Little Theatre
by Nancy Martin Key
(Transcribed by Leora White, May 2008)
Professor Steven Palestrant, Chairman
Professor John Mayher
Professor Nellie McCaslin
Submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in the
School of Education, Health, Nursing
and Arts Professions
New York University
The author wishes to express sincere appreciation to Professor Stephen Palestrant, Chairman to the sponsoring committee, and to Professor Nellie McCaslin and Professor John Mayher, members of the sponsoring committee, for their assistance and guidance in the preparation and development of this research.
The author is grateful to all Lake Charles Little Theater participants who shared their memories through interviews. Especially William and Maxine Ray, for their insights into the early years, and Thomas Munger and Adley Cormier who provided hour of interviews and guidance in interpretation of the latter twenty years of Lake Charles Little activities.
The staff of McNeese State University Frazier (sic Frazar) Memorial Library deserve special acknowledgement for their assistance of the author in long hours of research in the archives of that library.
Finally, the author wishes to give special recognition to her daughter Katharine Key and to Rose Miller for providing the impetus and continuing support necessary for the completion of this project.
When a research project is undertaken a primary concern is the objectivity of the researcher and the validity of the findings. In addition, if the project be as subjective as commentary on people and theatrical endeavor the ephemeracy of the subject, by its very nature, is difficult to evaluate.
It was necessary during the research phase of this dissertation to deal with a characteristic endemic to the parties necessarily involved. That characteristic being the reluctance of the participants to reveal any subjective information because of the possibility of damage to the subject under research. A further problem was the participants’ hesitancy to expose the people and the theatre to too public an audience. It is of the general Southern character to be reluctant to display deeply private matters for public discussion. Even with the inherent desire for publicity that must accompany any venture into the theatre, there was still hesitation to delve too deeply into underlying matters and personalities that might not prove salutatory to the reputation of the group.
This problem was recognized in the initial stages of the research. It was of tremendous importance that the researcher had a long history with the group. The familiarity and trust between the researcher and interviewees allowed for more open response than would have been afforded an outside researchers. This interpersonal relationship was paramount in gaining some commentary that interviewees conceded would not have been given to a researcher who was unknown to the group. Some members of the group refused to be interviewed for the record, but would add their comments to interviews already recorded. A large number preferred to stand on the discretionary silence they always maintained.
There was no paucity of media commentary on the activities of the group. Reviews of productions and reports of its activities had been liberally announced in the local press. If one can see a general leniency in the home town press, then more objective comments need be sought from audience and group members. This commentary was more forthcoming from the participants who have joined the group within the last twenty years than from the older participants. It was necessary to seek consistency in attitude or interpretation of events from both groups. The researcher sought validity through consistency of response. Material was constantly cross checked to discern, as for as possible, the consensus of thought of people and events. In this manner material was compiled for this project that reflects consistency of opinion within the group and the media.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I THE AMERICAN LITTLE THEATRE MOVEMENT AND THE LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE
CHAPTER II LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE 1927-1956
Theatrical Background of Lake Charles, Louisiana
The formation of LCLT St. James Parish House: 1927-1930
The Masonic Temple: Re-organization of LCLT: 1936-1939
The Stable Theatre: 1937-1957
Internal Organization from 1927-1957
CHAPTER III LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE FROM 1957-1982
The Arcade Theatre: 1957-1966
Chennault Memorial Theatre: 1966-1975
The Homeless Years: 1975-1982
Suggestions for Further Research
APPENDIX A RECORD OF INTERVIEWS
APPENDIX B QUESTIONNAIRES
APPENDIX C SEASON AND YEAR BREAKDOWN
APPENDIX D SAMPLE BUDGETS
APPENDIX E SAMPLE GRANT PROPOSALS
APPENDIX F SAMPLE EXPENSE ACCOUNTS OF INDIVIDUAL PRODUCTIONS
APPENDIX G SAMPLE EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS
APPENDIX H TITLES AND AUTHORS OF LCLT
APPENDIX I LIST OF GUEST PLAYS
APPENDIX J LIST OF GUEST ARTISTS
APPENDIX K LIST OF ORIGINAL PLAYS PRODUCED
APPENDIX L LIST OF REPEATED TITLES
APPENDIX M LIST OF AUTHORS REPEATED
APPENDIX N LIST OF DIRECTORS
APPENDIX O ROSA HART, FOUNDING DIRECTOR
Professor Stephen Palestrant, Chairman
Professor Nellie McCaslin
Professor John Mayher
An Abstract of
A NARRATIVE HISTORY OF LAKE CHARLES
LITTLE THEATRE, LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA,
Nancy Martin Key
Submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in the
School of Education, Health, Nursing and
New York University
In 1927, Rosa Hart founded the Lake Charles Little Theatre in Lake Charles, Louisiana. This study traces the activities of Lake Charles Little Theatre from 1927-1982.
The study investigates Lake Charles Little Theatre activities under the leadership of Rosa Hart, a Board of Directors, a Program Council and a disparate number of directors. The study demonstrates the goals of the theatre’s directors, classes, workshops and non-production activities.
The principal sources used were the programs, posters, correspondence and photographs from Lake Charles Little Theatre now housed in the archives of Frazier (sic Frazar) Memorial Library at McNeese State University. Further information was gathered from articles published in the Lake Charles American Press and the Beaumont Enterprise also housed in the Little Theatre archives. An additional source was interviews conducted with theatre personnel.
The research provides data showing the directors, the productions, grant proposals, and budgets of Lake Charles Little Theatre. A chronological list of productions is provided with the addition of such information as to give a breakdown of sites, production style, and other pertinent data. Also included are samples of successful grant proposals, employment contracts, and selected individual production expenditures.
THE AMERICAN LITTLE THEATRE MOVEMENT AND THE LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE
The purpose of this section is to explore the foundations of the Little Theatre Movement in America and to place Lake Charles Little Theatre within the context of that time. As far as is possible, aspects unique to Lake Charles Little Theatre are identified.
Amateur theatre has existed in the United States since the first playhouse opened in South Carolina in the early 1770’s (1) and persists as an important part of American culture. The preservation of the history of little theatres is important. Many books have been written about little theatres in America but only a few documented studies have been done on individual groups. Although some groups have professionalized themselves into almost commercial status, as have the Dallas Theatre Center and the Pasadena Playhouse, this study will address a group that is still a "little theatre". Jean Carter in Everyman’s Theatre defines this type of theatre as one that has a conscious aim to deepen the culture of a community and broaden horizons for individuals. (2) She further states the lack of profit-making motive in these theatres as another definition of little theatres. (3)
The Lake Charles Little Theatre of Louisiana has a fifty-eight year history of accomplishment. This longevity places it in the first rank of community theatres, its age and continuity making it almost an anomaly in little theatres. The documentation of such a theatre is important in preserving this aspect of American culture. A study of such a theatre presents an accumulated knowledge of little theatre practices refined over a period of time as a guide for other community theatre organizations.
Kenneth Macgowan suggests the beginning date for little theatres in America to be 1899, with the Hull House Players in Jane Adam’s settlement house in Chicago. Though the group was productive then, Macgowan points out that its real burst of activity came in 1906, when Laura Dainty Pelham undertook the direction of the group. Macgowan also mentions the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, in 1907, as being one of the first little theatres in America. (4) Macgowan dates the beginning of little theatres with these and similar groups dismissing earlier amateur acting clubs. His contention is that these earlier groups did not have either of two requisites to qualify as little theatres: the wish to produce a community theatre or to be an experimental theatre. (5) Because the early amateur acting clubs were often very exclusive in participants and audience, according to Macgowan they did not fit the pattern of little theaters in America. (6) That pattern was a policy of participation open to anyone who wished to devote the hours necessary for successful production of a theatre piece. The audience also was never restricted as to admission. Little theatres have had policies of audience restriction only so far as it was necessary to guarantee seats on a given night. It has been necessary for some little theatres to restrict admission to holders of season memberships. Baton Rouge Little Theatre, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is an example of one such little theatre. But such restrictions hold because of limited seating capacity not through a desire to be exclusive in audience. Lake Charles Little Theatre has followed the policy of open participation throughout its history. In the early years, there was an exclusion of non-membership audience because of limited seating. But after the group moved into the Arcade Theatre in 1958, it no longer had to limit admissions because of its small seating capacity. Since that year all Lake Charles Little Theatre productions have been open to the public.
Merton Wise suggested three bases for the development of little Theatres in America: modern democracy, modern ethics, and modern science. (7) His theory is that had commercial theatre accepted the new dramatic literature little theatres would never have developed. (8) Wise’s estimation of the new dramatic literature is that it was no longer tales of aristocratic heroes, but of "ordinary people in credible situations, living their lives as apart of a society which envelopes them, responding to the operation of such scientific laws as the dramatic writer knows or subconsciously recognizes" (9)
When literary people recognized this new dramatic literature they demanded a theatre to serve it. They began teaching it in schools and in social groups. Sheldon Cheney goes even further and states that: "The little theatre movement was essentially a revolt. What the insurgents revolted against was a commercial domination of ‘amusements’ such as no other country had known, as pretty and powerful a trust as any that ever controlled steel or oil or wool and made millions while the competition was stifled. The public saw no more classics. No more experimentally new plays; only what businessmen in New York thought popularly sweet or thrilling enough to survive as ‘best sellers’. (10) Lake Charles Little Theatre certainly did not begin with the stated goal of presenting "good" plays to counteract commercially successful plays that were being presented "on the Road". By the year that LCLT was founded the "Road" was no longer serving the community. Nor did this group see itself as a purveyor of new literature or experimental plays. The first four seasons were generally presentations of thoroughly undistinguished one-act plays by undistinguished authors. The only aspect of LCLT’s founding that is unique to this little theatre is that its first and second seasons included original plays written by members of the community. It is unusual for a fledgling group to open its doors with original pieces. That is the period when most groups are fighting to establish a foothold in the community, and see presentation of well-known pieces as the best way to draw an audience. In 1929, after three seasons of production the group reached the decision that unpublished manuscripts would no longer be a part of its season. By this time it was certain that it did not want to be an experimental theatre, but preferred to draw its audience through better known and previously produced plays. Still, it is unique that a community group would have produced the number of original plays it did produce, and produce them as successfully as it did in the first three years.
We also find in Wise’s theory another factor in the founding of little theatres in America in the early 20th Century. Wise condemns the establishment of a New York-based monopoly of theatre and the problems with such monopolies. Wise comments on the star-system that prevailed throughout the 19th Century, the huge playhouses and the need for large audiences to pay the bills as a factor that lead to the decline of any plays of intellectual worth. According to Wise the little theatre was the only answer to such deficiencies. He believes the first ideal of a little theatre is good dramatic literature not only from the best standard authors but from new young playwrights as well. (11) Norris Houghton posits this theory, adding another reason for the rise of little theaters:
the little theatre movement was brought into being by men and women themselves in it without making it their profession; who were dissatisfied with the commercial fare of Broadway and wanted to experiment with the theatre as an art. Some of them also had social aspirations; others were motivated by a philanthropical desire to bring the stage closer to people from whom it was becoming far removed. (12)
Wise also believes the amateur actor is a strong plus for the little theatre. "Amateurs are recognized as being generally better bred, better educated, more willing to be directed, more capable of a ready grasp of ideals than the average supporting actor among professionals." (13) Lake Charles Little Theatre did not wish to experiment with theatre as an art, nor did its participants have any great social aspirations. The founding goals of LCLT were to provide good entertainment for its audiences and to enjoy themselves in the process of production. The amateurs expanded their horizons with two practices unique to little theatres. LCLT was the only such group to import productions from surrounding community theatres for presentation to its audiences as part of the regular season. LCLT believes this exchange with other little theatres provided further experiences both for its audience and its own actors and technicians. The second unique practice of LCLT was the importation of professional actors to work with it in a production. Some other little theatres did use professional actors, but they were generally guest directors or lecturer/teachers. Only rarely did a community theatre hire a professional, place him within their own amateur cast, and have the show directed by its own amateur director. LCLT interwove these professionals with its own amateurs to afford the experience offered by trained professionals to its actors. That some guests were more successful members of the cast than were others was more an indication of personalities than a problem inherent with the program. Financial concerns caused the decision to cease the practice later.
Wise further states that the little theatre is only a transitional factor in the development of a theatre and will eventually lead to professionalization. He went on to say that enthusiasm is all well and good, but must give way to professional art theatres, if the little theatre is to be of lasting value to the American Stage. (14)
The little theatre has not, however, developed into art theatres. Though one can find examples of those that have become professional and even added their own training schools i.e.: Pasadena Playhouse and the Dallas Theatre Center; the great thrust of little theatres is still in the hands of enthusiastic amateurs. Since Wise’s book in 1923, and Sheldon Cheney’s (15) in 1917, art theatres have not taken the place of little theatres in American towns and cities. Proof in point is the American Community Theatre Association, a division of the American Theatre Association, which is exhibiting burgeoning rolls. This nation-wide group is composed of little theatres of all sizes. Neither ACTA nor the state organizations list all the community theatres on their rolls, but estimate that there are between 20,000 and 65,000 such theatres. (16)
That this prophecy of change from little theatres to professionalized art theatres has not occurred indicates that little theatres must be fulfilling some important need in American theatre. It is the researcher’s contention that Lake Charles Little Theatre in Lake Charles, Louisiana, is fulfilling those requisites that called forth little theatres. Lake Charles Little Theatre has continued to deliver a variety of plays of literary and artistic merit while providing a creditable use of leisure time entertaining its participants and audiences.
Lake Charles, Louisiana, has had a long history of commercial theatre. Pictures of the main street in the late 1800’s show an elaborate Opera House. Road companies played there until that structure burned in a fire that destroyed most of the downtown area in 1910. Another theatre, the Arcade, was erected a few blocks away in 1911.
Because Lake Charles was geographically located on "the circuit" between New Orleans and Galveston, Texas, road companies played this new theatre often. The great vaudeville shows and star tours were booked in as a matter of course until the road became unprofitable. It, then, is not unusual that Lake Charles should have a successful little theatre given this history and given the fact that many little theatres were founded to fill the gap created by the death of "the road." Lake Charles Little Theatre was founded in 1927. Lake Charles had had a large number of professional productions presented in various sites through the years, but by 1926, that number had declined dramatically. The last professional production was presented in 1930. The community had been disappointed with the quality of touring productions sent to it in the last five years of professional activity within its limits; however, LCLT was not founded with the express purpose of opposing or revolting against these productions or their producers.
McLeary and Glick in Curtains Going Up, 1939, (17) offer a table showing how little theatres were begun between 1877 and 1939. The founding of such a company by a Drama enthusiast or theatre lover is the largest group in all categories. Lake Charles Little Theatre was founded by Rosa Hart, herself an avowed theatre lover who had no training in the subject. Factors that led Miss Hart to the theatre and her activities there are explored in Chapter II. Hart’s activities included outdoor ballet-dramas, joint productions with McNeese Junior College (now a state university), and full scale theatrical productions. She was doing in-the-round productions as early as 1939. Some of Miss Hart’s activities have not been repeated in the fifty-eight years of the theatres history. Most directors after Miss Hart’s retirement have tended to concentrate in the area of proscenium staging.
When Rosa Hart retired in 1956, Lake Charles Little Theatre hired full-time artistic directors. Miss Hart had always refused payment for her services. When the last of these, James Ayo, resigned in 1973, Lake Charles Little Theatre began using a rotating group of directors. These current leaders are academically trained, as were the full-time directors, but are employed elsewhere, devoting their leisure time to directing. Though this policy is not unique to Lake Charles Little Theatre, it is a reversal of the general trend. Little theatres generally begin with volunteer directors and hire a full-time director as soon as is feasible. (18) The benefits and problems generated by this policy change are examined in Chapter III. Lake Charles Little Theatre has made a policy of involving other community groups in theatre activities whenever possible. The Lake Charles Choral Foundation joined with Lake Charles Little Theatre in 1980 and 1981 to produce Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. This current involvement reflects a long-standing posture of combination of effort. In the 1940’s Rosa joined her group with McNeese Junior College Theatre Department in Lake Charles, under the direction of Margery Wilson, to produce an elaborate Shakespearean drama.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Lake Charles Little Theatre worked with the Lake Charles Ballet Society to produce ballet-dramas staged in the gardens of townspeople’s homes or in public parks. The best remembered of these is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Under Rosa Hart’s direction music was provided by the Little Theatre Orchestra led by Eva Livingston. Later this group formed the basis for the Community Concert. This joining with other community groups is a characteristic of Lake Charles Little Theatre not usually found in little Theatres. Other groups find individuals and plan productions on that availability of talent. The Lake Charles Little Theatre molds the groups together for a particular production, while each group maintains it own identity.
Lake Charles Little Theatre has received twelve grants from the Louisiana State Arts Council. Texas Arts Endowment, the National Endowment for the Arts, commercial foundations, and private sources. This is the largest number of grants given to a single theatre company in the history of Louisiana State Arts grants. The grants were given to fund projects the arts council or foundations felt to be significant work for the theatre to present to its audiences. (19) For eight years a free summer Shakespeare-Under-The-Stars program has been funded in this manner. Louisiana artists have been hired to come to Lake Charles to choreograph, write or play original music, or perform period pieces. During the regular season three grants have been secured for Moliere productions. Because of the high concentration of people of French ancestry in the community, the State Arts Council felt the cultural value of these production merited funding. The scripts have been translated into English by Adley Cormier, who holds a B. A. in French and is of French descent. Moliere’s plays have not been presented in other Louisiana theatres with the regularity that Lake Charles Little Theatre has done them. As with other selected production an Interpreter for the Hearing Impaired was employed for the audience members who required such services. Other grants have funded joint productions with the Lake Charles Choral Foundation and one secured the services of a professional director for a carefully researched production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.
The methods used by the Lake Charles Little Theatre to carry out these activities and the method of securing grants will be explored in Chapter III.
Certain practices of LCLT can be identified as unique to that theatre when compared to little theatres in general. The group was founded in the middle years of greatest expansion of little theatres in America. It was founded by an untrained, enthusiastic amateur who never received any payment for her work. This untrained amateur then headed the theatre through thirty years of constant expansion and improvement. Though for a ten year period from 1957 through 1966, directors were hired to lead the group, from that time forward LCLT has been determined to reverse the general trend of little theatres toward full-time paid directors by purposefully using amateur directors. Though these directors are given a small stipend, no one director does more than two productions a season. Nor is the director the guiding voice of the theatre. The goals of each season are formulated and enacted through the Program Council.
A second unique factor has been the long tradition of providing LCLT audiences with diverse experiences through offering guest plays and guest artists. In the years from 1978-1986, LCLT has been able to expand this program through the availability of grants from various sources. Through these funds LCLT has hired musicians, artists, choreographers, directors, and professional actors to give wider scope to their productions.
Third, one finds LCLT to be unique in its ability to utilize other community arts organizations within its productions. Rather than simply offer support personnel to other groups for their own performances, LCLT has melded diverse groups into a whole for a production the presents the talents and specialties of each group in a cogent whole. The documentation of community theatres is a worthy action. The history of Lake Charles Little Theatre is considered of importance to the community in which it works and will be a valuable model for other little theatre organizations in the United States.
THE LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE 1927-1956
This chapter is devoted to an exploration of the founding and the early years of Lake Charles Little Theatre. Certain factors are explored. An examination of the cultural environment of Lake Charles is undertaken to discover the climate existing there that caused the founding of a community theatre, and if that theatre were in response to a felt need of the community or the expression of certain individuals’ personal needs. A presentation of the background of Rosa Hart is made to determine, as far as possible, what drew this woman to the founding and running of a theatre. Concurrent to the detailing of the early years of the theatre is an examination of Rosa Hart’s methods and goals for Lake Charles Little Theatre. Finally, this chapter presents an anecdotal history of the facilities, management, and productions of Lake Charles Little Theatre following the theatre through its various stages of development until the point at which Rosa Hart retired and the theatre passed to new leadership.
Theatrical Background of Lake Charles (20)
Nothing springs unbidden in a place where the ground has not been prepared. So Lake Charles Little Theatre did not leap into being in an environment unprepared for theatre. Lake Charles had had visits by professional touring companies for almost fifty years before a community theatre was founded. The people of Lake Charles were not unfamiliar with theatre nor opposed to its presence in their town.
Lake Charles is so situated between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Galveston, Texas, that major touring companies made stops in Lake Charles to break the leg between these larger cities. Beginning in 1880, these companies played the town’s Frick Opera House. When this elegant structure burned in 1908, it was replaced by the Lyric Theatre, which presented the town’s first moving picture that year.
The Lyric suffered the same fate as the Frick Opera House in a fire that destroyed most of the downtown area of the town. In 1910, the Arcade Theatre building was erected as its replacement. The Arcade was used for legitimate theatre until the late 1920s, housing such luminaries as the great Houdini. Though moving pictures had been show intermittently from 1920 to 1929, in the early 1930s this theatre was renovated into a full-time movie house. The Arcade served this purpose until the construction of newer, more comfortable movie houses. (21) Professional theatre did well in Lake Charles in the decade of 1920 to 1930. In that time sixty-six musicals and forty-four plays were presented. (22) But by 1926, there was a noticeable decline in the number of productions being offered. The influence of talking pictures and radio was being felt. By 1930, there were virtually no professional offerings. Lake Charles audiences had been offered all types of theatrical entertainment. Newspaper articles of the period mention large appreciative audiences were very popular until the 1920s. [It is in the book, this way.] Between 1920 and 1930 these, too, began to fade away and the last minstrel show appeared in 1932. Tent shows managed to find audiences until 1941. Vaudeville had been used as enter-act entertainment by the tent shows beginning in 1916 in Lake Charles and was used in conjunction with movies at the Arcade and Strand Theatres from 1920 until 1928. After that date, Vaudeville also declined in Lake Charles, the last show being played in the mid-1930s.
One can see that Lake Charles was a community accustomed to theatre. The decline of professional theatre reflected the national decline of road show companies. Some shows still toured the area until the 1930s, but in essence, the "Road" was dead. However, one finds in Lake Charles a community used to supporting theatre and one that welcomed such ventures within its confines.
Not all of Lake Charles’s theatre, however, had been of a professional nature. Schools had regularly offered annual productions. In 1890, the Magnolia Dramatic Guild, an amateur group, presented plays for a few years in Lake Charles and toured to Beaumont, Texas, and Jennings and Vinton, Louisiana.
Another community group, the Little Theatre Guild, was organized in 1922. It is here that we find the seeds of Lake Charles Little Theatre. On February 4, 1922, the Lake Charles American Press announced the organization of the Guild. Its purpose was to study theatre history and to read and discuss plays. Only secondarily did the Guild plan to produce plays, though scenes might be done to illustrate a lecturer’s point. In fact, no plays were presented by this group, and the Little Theatre Guild disappeared without fanfare in short order. (23)
There was then, a theatrical background to serve as a basis for the founding of a community theatre. The public was familiar with, and had supported many types of theatrical endeavors. It is not surprising that a community theatre was founded in 1927, nor that it enjoyed success initially and for many years to come.
That was the background of theatre in Lake Charles that demonstrated the atmosphere of the community previous to the founding of the Lake Charles Little Theatre. It is necessary to examine one other factor that helps to delineate the founding of that theatre prior to notating the activities of the group. This factor was the leader of Lake Charles Little Theatre for thirty years, Miss Rosa Hart.
As the founder, director, and guiding force of the theatre, Rosa Hart is a personality who deserves close scrutiny. Her ambition was to produce good theatre that first and foremost entertained its audience. During her tenure there is no public indication that statement did not embody the total opinion of all who worked with Lake Charles Little Theatre. Her influence over the theatre was pervasive in every area. It is necessary to establish if there be any identifiable factors in her background that let her to community theatre.
An examination of her personal history reveals Miss Hart to have been one unafraid to face the public in situations unusual for a female in the South at that time. She was born in Woodville, Mississippi, August 27, 1900. Her family moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1911. Miss Hart left Lake Charles for a period of five years before retuning to the community. These dates place her squarely within that period of great professional theatre activity in Lake Charles. Perhaps being a product of that background led her to be a shaper of the theatrical future of Lake Charles.
In her early years we first received an intimation that Miss Hart was not a stereo-typical Southern female. She attended Central Elementary School and was named class prophet in 1913. (24) She graduated from Lake Charles High School in 1917, and from Sophie Newcomb College, a women’s college associated with Tulane University in New Orleans, in 1921. At Newcomb she emerged as a popular and active student. She was social cheerleader of her sophomore class, junior class president, and editor of the Arcade Magazine, Newcomb’s literary journal. Most obvious of her college activities was her cheerleading for the Tulane football team. The very fact of a female cheerleader was a new idea to the established heads of both Tulane and Newcomb Colleges. (25) Miss Hart seems to have carried out that office with great enthusiasm. She did not meet with open hostility from the male students (who seemed to have enjoyed her antics) nor the heads of the colleges. She must have been popular. She claims to have been the first woman in America to be awarded the right to wear an athletic letter and was given a gold football. Miss Hart told Tulanian editor Carol Hart, "That cheerleading experience has colored my whole life. I have led a cheerleader’s life ever since." (26)
Rosa Hart did not obtain an academic background in theatre during her studies at Newcomb. She took only one course on theatre. "Elizabethans and Modern Drama" According to Miss Hart her being "just willing to take on the work and the responsibility" (27) was the only qualification she had for being director of Lake Charles Little Theatre. However, supposition of her familiarity with theatre as a community effort may be drawn from outside events which occurred while she was in New Orleans.
The dates of her matriculation at Newcomb encompass the 1918 founding of the New Orleans Little Theatre, Le Petite de Vieux Carre. New Orleans is a very Roman Catholic city and Mardi Gras is one of its most important social seasons. Jewish people did not, and were not allowed to, participate in this elegant Christian activity. (28) Speculation that the founding of Le Petite was a partial answer to the social and cultural exclusion experienced by the Jews of that city may be fostered by the large numbers of Jews among the founding members of Le Petite. There is no factual evidence that Rosa Hart worked with Le Petite. But the small Jewish community of New Orleans was close-knit and surely she attended some of the productions. Later Le Petite and Lake Charles Little Theatre enjoyed a long association, often exchanging set pieces and costumes for shows that one had done and the other was producing. The existence of Le Petite may be taken as one influential factor that led Miss Hart to consider Little Theatre at least a viable and valuable community effort.
Miss Hart spent the year 1921 in New York City. She was also conscious of Little Theatres there. In later years she wrote that she had noted with pride that Le Petite and Shreveport Little Theatres had attended the New York convention of Little Theatres and had taken awards for their productions. (29) It is safe to assume that Miss Hart also attended the professional theatre while in New York.
Rosa Hart taught at Lake Charles High School from 1921 through 1924. Among her duties was that of directing the school’s plays. Here, then, we see not only another influence leading her toward theatre, but also her training as a director. There is no record of her having directed elsewhere before becoming director for Lake Charles Little Theatre.
In 1922, the Little Theatre Guild was organized in Lake Charles. The group was oriented to literature with play production as a secondary purpose. There is no evidence that it ever did produce a play; however, there was a group of citizens interested in the theatre, and here we find the roots of the Lake Charles theatre. Not only was Rosa Hart a member of this group, but so were five others, who later were the founding board members of Lake Charles Little Theatre.
Further evidence of Hart’s lack of fear of public exposure can be found in the way she made her living. For several years she was vice-president and local manager of the Hart Insurance Agency. Though this was a family-owned business, it was unusual to find a woman occupying such a position. After she left the agency, and until the late 1950s, she worked for the Southern Amusement Company as an exploiter. The duties of that position included booking movies, heading publicity for the thirty-six movie houses that were managed by the company, and doing public works and civic activities for the company. During World War II she had her own radio show, the format of which included Hollywood gossip, announcement of local events and the sale of war bonds. She won a five hundred dollar prize for the sale of these bonds. This she converted into smaller bonds that were used a prizes to sell more bonds on her show. (30) Late she was given a trip to New York City as a prize for having sold more war bonds than anyone else in the Southern Amusement Company. (31) These activities are examples showing Rosa Hart capable of occupying positions outside the usual venue of the protected Southern female and of successfully manipulating people. Both qualities were necessary in a director of community theatre.
How, then, did Rosa Hart view Lake Charles Little Theatre? What did she see as its purpose within the community? Possibly the most pervasive comments are those designed to show the democratic make up of a community theatre. Miss Hart is quoted in a 1951 article by Talbot Pearson in Players’ magazine as claiming Lake Charles Little Theatre was democracy in a microcosm. "People of all tastes and walks of life working together." (32) She was immensely proud that the United States Department had twice used Lake Charles Little Theatre as an example of the American way of life: once in a Voice of America broadcast and once in a Russian language journal. Miss Hart also claimed community theatre to be "occupational therapy." In a 1942 letter to "We, the People" of Columbia Broadcasting System requesting a slot on the program, she stated that since Lake Charles Little Theatre had established itself as "Art for the People’s Sake" it had been able to help people with emotional and employment problems and to bring families together. There is ample evidence that Lake Charles Little Theatre was a family theatre and evidence elsewhere that community theatre is helpful as a change from daily stresses. The point is of interest to us in that Rosa Hart perceived community theatre in that light. (33)
Another view that Miss Hart often expressed on the purpose of community theatre is reflected in articles and letters stating that the Lake Charles Little Theatre was founded for on other purpose than to have fun, to "pl’ like". "Pl’like" was the word she used to describe the pull of theatre on amateurs. "One child says to another, ‘Come on, let’s play like you’re ____ and I’m ____,’ and when anybody, anywhere ‘plays like’ that is the drama, the stage, the theatre." (34) Miss Hart compared Lake Charles Little Theatre to the rustics in A Midsummer Night’s Dream - the local weavers and joiners and school teaches and X-ray technicians wanted to "pl’ like." (35) She granted the various problems of a lack of quality road show companies, a lack of quality drama, and the inability of new playwrights to get a proper hearing from Broadway as possible reasons for the existence of other groups, but insisted that southwest Louisiana simply wanted to "pl’ like." (36)
Rosa Hart, then, saw community theatre as a team of volunteer workers from all walks of life improving their own live and enriching their community by the production of quality entertainment for an audience. Reviews of her productions support the fact that she did indeed prod the amateurs of Lake Charles into delivering polished performances. Whether this be an outcome of the democracy of community theatre or a reflection of her directorial skills is undetermined. But her performance record is astonishing.
The Formation of Lake Charles Little Theatre
seeing her guests to the door after a party. She said to Rosa Hart, "Why don’t we have a Little Theatre in Lake Charles?" That simple query let to a meeting on December 8, 1926, when the idea was explored and officers were elected. (37)
On January 7, 1927, a second meeting was held. Mrs. Porte then read an open letter that was to be issued to the general public outlining the two types of membership to be offered. An active member would be entitled to be cast in plays, be eligible for committees, and have a vote in theatre policy. An associate member would be allowed to attend performances and teas, but not be cast in any productions. (38) These two types of membership were never heard of again. The theatre quickly formed a policy of allowing all interested persons to take part in productions in any capacity. Also, all members could vote on policy decisions at the annual meeting. (39)
St. James’ Parish House 1927-1930
The first three seasons of LCLT’s work were presented in St. James Episcopal Church Parish House. The Parish House was a newly constructed multi-purpose hall with a raised platform at one end. The church made the facility available free of charge for use by the general public for a variety of purposes. LCLT did not have sole use of the building at any time, though there was no trouble in scheduling final rehearsals and performance dates. The Theatre would rehearse the plays at various members’ homes until a few nights before opening, then move into the Parish House. The proscenium and front curtains were placed for each performance and put into storage afterward.
The facility as set for stage performances was limited. The platform on which they preformed was raised two feet from the hall floor. The proscenium opening was 19 feet wide and 10 feet high. The stage itself was twenty-three feet wide and 9 feet deep to a solid brick wall. The proscenium was formed by two foot flats secured to each side of the stage. A pleated curtain was stretched between them to serve as a front teaser. The back wall was covered with grey material and two tormentors provided masking for center stage entrances. The grand drape had been sewed from old sacking by three ladies who knew no more about theatre than that it was a fine social venture. (40)
There were no wings except the space provided by the proscenium flats that masked downstage entrances. Up center entrances were provided by a slit in the back curtain.
The lighting was provided by two overhead bulbs whose control was limited to on and off. The operator was in a separate room and had no view of the acting area. He was either provided with verbal cues by the actors or conducted his business "by guess and by golly."
The curtain puller was in the same predicament as the lighting operator, in that he would not see the stage and could only hear the actors. Moreover, he had no communication with the lighting technician other than being able to see by ambient light that the lights were on or off. (41) Chairs were rented from a local funeral parlor and set up in the Parish House on the day of performance. As the Hall was lighted by only two bulbs over the stage, house lights were furnished by a local tin smith. He made two tall wall sconces which were lit when the first member arrived and doused with solemn ceremony at curtain rise. (42) Thereafter, the audience was left in the dark.
Photographs of various productions in the first two seasons show a delightful amateurism in the sets. In one, an upstage window is painted on a draw shade and hung by visible cords. A photograph of Bagatelle shows a stage draped in various crumpled length of material to represent a circus tent. The sets improved steadily thought the improvement is apparent mainly in the area of set decoration. By the end of 1928, the Theatre had use of the talents of Boyd Cruse, a high school student, as scenic artist. His first production was ElCristo, and his steady growth as a scenic artist is noticeable in photographs. (43)
As with most fledgling little theaters, the group began by offering evenings of one-act plays. On February 24, 1927, the first production was announced. Three one-act plays were to be done: Overtones by Alice Gerstenbury, Suppressed Desires by Susan Glaspell, and Moonshine an original play by Amy Howard Wells Bullock. The directors of the three plays were Lesa Jordan, Zena Thompson, and Paul Quilty, respectively.
By the time the first plays were performed, there were 213 members and the theatre had one thousand dollars in its treasury.
On April 21, another evening of one-acts was presented: The Trystin’ Place by Booth Tarkington, Two Crooks and a Lady by Eugene Pillot and The Wonder Hat by Ben Hect. The directors were Sam Quilty, J.C. Ayers, and Rosa Hart. At this time the availability of junior memberships was announced. The young people were to study theatre by doing it under the guidance of various adults. (44)
In April 1927, a devastating flood swept through southwest Louisiana. The Little Theatre responded to the tragedy on April 28, by giving a benefit performance of four of its one-acts. Moonshine being added to the three performed on April 24. The box office took in three-hundred dollars that night for the flood relief fund.
On October 27 and 29, 1927, the Little Theatre again presented three one-acts. These plays - Rita, Ricky Runs Amok, and Pierrot’s Penny - were authored by Mrs. Bullock who was also their director. Rita was later entered in a Little Theatre competition at Natchitoches, Louisiana, and was awarded second place. After this evening LCLT came to the decision that it wished to be a community theatre and not an experimental theatre. Miss Hart said, "That may not have been a brave decision, but it was a practical one…for a Little Theatre to exist it must have an audience; to have that, the theatre must please it (the audience). The experimental play was too uncertain a risk for a baby theatre." (45) Only one more untried play was produced as part of the regular season until 1952, when The Snow Queen was mounted. Though the Theatre chose not to present untested works, it did not move to mount productions of any great note, either for their contents or for the author’s name. There is no explanation as to how the plays to be produced were chosen, nor why.
The 1927-28 season offered three evenings of one-act plays and the first full-length play. On December 8, E. E. Bartlett came over from Beaumont Little Theatre, Beaumont, Texas, to direct Will O’ the Wisp by Doris Halman, For Distinguished Service, by Florence Clay Knox, and The Valient by Hall and Middlemass. The Little Theatre had been greatly impressed with his work they considered offering Mr. Bartlett a position as director. They did not, in the end, do so. This feeling that the Theatre could afford to pay a director is a definite indication that the group was doing very well. There is no suggestion of what the salary was to be, but their consideration of the action is a positive light on their success.
The offerings on February 2, 1928 were: The Pot Boiler by Alice Gerstenburg directed by Rosa Hart. Joint Ownership in Spain by A. Brown, and The Cajun by Ada Jack Carver. Both of these last were directed by Iona Raven Ferguson. (46) Of the three plays the Theatre was most excited about doing The Cajun as it had been written by a Louisiana play-wright. The Shreveport Little Theatre had won first place with this play in 1925 at he New York Little Theatre Tournament. (47)
The full-length play presented was Seventeen by Booth Tarkington. Mrs. Ferguson directed this production also. The script called for fourteen actors, the largest cast yet. (48) This was also the first production by the junior members. Only the adult roles were cast from outside the junior group, all other parts coming from the youth organization. (49) This type of production using solely the junior members was not repeated until 1940, when Little Women was produced.
May 18, 1928, Edward Martin directed for the Theatre Bagatelle, an original play by Sam Gilmore. The ban on doing untried work was lifted for Mr. Gilmore’s play because he was a member of the Board of Directors of LCLT and more important because the plans to produce the play had been set before the decision to cease production of such plays was announced.
The same evening, Mr. Martin staged The Florist Shop by Winnifred Hawkridge; and El Cristo by M. Larkin. The Dallas Little Theatre of Dallas, Texas, had taken this play while it was still in manuscript form and won first place at the New York Little Theatre Tournament. (50)
That evening was the last production if the 1927-28 season. Membership had grown substantially through the addition of the junior membership. The Little Theatre had used ten directors, eighty-eight actors, and an untold number of technicians in its first two seasons. A policy had been established of taking no curtain calls. The Theatre felt that those behind the scenes had worked as hard as those in front and deserved just as much applause. (51) The audience had consisted of members only, a policy that continued until 1957, when the Arcade Theatre was large enough to permit general admissions. The members did have guest ticket privilege. Each member could purchase two guest tickets per show for the price of $1.50 each, but reservations had to be made.
A Little Theatre Orchestra under the direction of Eva Livingston was formed at the same time as the Theatre, with about as much ceremony. Miss Livingston met Rosa Hart on the street one day, "I read in the paper that we are going to have a little theatre. Well, we’re going to have a Little Theatre Orchestra, too." (52)
The orchestra played the overture at each performance of an LCLT play. As the Theatre attempted no musicals during those years the entire purpose of the orchestra was those overtures.
The 1928-29 season opened with the second full-length play done by LCLT, Phillip Barry’s You and I. The archives of LCLT are remarkable complete, but there is only a small newspaper article mentioning this production dated October 2, 1928. The actual date of production or anything about its staging is unavailable. Nor can the name of the director be found. It is probable that Rosa Hart directed this show and subsequent productions this year for it seems that this is the season that Miss Hart assumed full directorial duties for the Theatre. No one can pin point the date of her appointment as sole director, if in fact, it was an appointment, and not a matter of tacit agreement as is suggested by those who knew Miss Hart in later years. Miss Hart had always been the driving force behind the organization and at this time was ready to take over full control. Miss Hart said it was only because she was "willing to take on the work and responsibility," (53)
Whatever the reasons, there are no other directors of LCLT until 1957, with exception of those directors of "invited plays."
On December 18, 1928 the Theatre offered its membership another night of unexceptional one-act plays: The Vanishing Princess, The Mayor and the Manicure (a comedy sketch by George Ade), and The Giant’s Staircase by William Daniel Steele. On the same program was The Ship by St. John Ervin, presented by Beaumont Little Theatre. This was the first play offered to the membership from another theatre group. The Beaumont group had suggested the performance and it was warmly received by the Lake Charles audience. It was billed as an "invited play", an offering that became a yearly part of the program beginning in 1947 and continuing until 1959.
The 1928-29 season closed with another evening of one-acts presented on May 7. These were The Eldest, The Twelve Pound Look, and The Cup of Tea, again thoroughly undistinguished plays.
There is evidence of only one production during the 1929-30 season. The Giant’s Staircase was repeated May 29-30 at the Beaumont Little Theatre. Coupled with this was Thursday Evening by Christopher Morley done by the Beaumont group. Nothing further is to be discovered this season through theatre records or the archives of the Lake Charles American Press. And there is no certainty in assuming that other productions were done. However, in newspaper articles published at the time of the theatre’s re-organization in 1936, mention is made that the theatre had previously existed from 1927 to 1930. Claims to a 1930 season were made again in 1939 when LCLT moved into its own home. (54)
From 1930 through 1936 Lake Charles Little Theatre was dark. The Depression had finally hit southwest Louisiana and people were more concerned with making a living than making plays. At the same time the St. James Parish House became unavailable for use by the theatre. The properties were stored in attics around town. Set pieces and flats were stored at Landry Memorial School. This Roman Catholic boy’s school used the flats for the next few years in their own productions. (55)
The Masonic Temple: Re-organization of LCLT 1936-39
Lake Charles Little Theatre was re-organized in February, 1936. At that time the theatre held a five-hundred dollar mortgage on Lake Charles Country Club and had $426.25 in an account at the Calcasieu Marine National Bank. A budget of $1,500 was adopted for the new season. (56) Membership stood at three hundred.
The second site of production for LCLT was the Masonic Temple on Hodges Street. This fraternity does not offer its facility for use of outside groups and how the Little Theatre got permission to use the theatre on the second floor is a subject hidden in the history of the theatre. Current members of the Masons have searched their records trying to find the connection LCLT had with their group that could have led to the Theatre’s occupation. But there is no obvious connection to be found. People, who knew Miss Hart well, speculate that she knew "something on someone" who pulled strings for LCLT with the Masons. However the contact was made, LCLT used the theatre there for three seasons.
The Masonic Temple is the only of the three early performance sites still standing. The space must have been more comfortable than the Parish House, even with the inconvenience of its being on the second floor. The stage had a 36 foot wide and 12 foot high proscenium opening framed in elaborately worked plaster. Doors leading backstage are set into the proscenium at left and right. The stage is 25 feet deep to a solid brick wall. No crossover space is available unless a cyclorama curtain is used. (57)
The wing on stage right is five feet wide, and on stage left three feet wide. The left wing includes a tie rail for eighty-six battens. The theatre has a complete fly loft; its grid is 15 feet high. There is no record LCLT ever made use of the fly facilities.
The original grand drape was of gold velvet. There were no tormentors or teasers. A full drape matching the grand drape hung along the sides of the stage masking the wings. However, this is a solid curtain that provided no entrances onto the stage. This curtain was gathered to the back of the stage during LCLT productions and the theatre provided tormentors for masking.
Upstage left in the back wall is a door that gives into a large dressing room equipped with mirrors. The make-up lights are newly installed.
The house is a large rectangle with a flat floor. Originally the floor was covered with a burgundy carpet and had no permanent seats. The Masons had upholstered benches they moved about to accommodate their meetings. Each bench seated six to eight men. The Theatre moved these benches out into the wide exterior hall and continued to rent chairs from the funeral parlor.
There is no orchestra pit and photographs do not show an orchestra before the stage. As the stage is raised only eight inches from the house floor, placing the orchestra in front would have greatly interfered with the audience’s view of the stage. The orchestra would have been set up to house left as there is a door leading backstage in the wall on the house right.
The windows in the house are three feet tall, six feet long, and seven feet off the floor. These are the largest windows in this part of the building and it was through them LCLT hoisted their sets and large pieces of furniture.
There was no stage lighting equipment in the building, and according to the Mason’s records, never has been. The Masons use simple overhead lighting for their Rites. Little Theatre then, brought all this with them when they mounted a production.
As in the Parish House there was no space for a large cast to await entrances in the wings. There was no space for set storage to facilitate multi-set shows and no evidence in the theatre’s records or photographs that the fly area was ever used. However, there was one space available that had not been available at the Parish House - an area in which to build sets. (58)
The first floor of the Masonic Temple is a large room used for dances, Bingo games, and dinners. This space was given over to the Theatre for set production. Still, the stairways leading to the theatre contain sharp curves and it is almost impossible to cart flats up to the theatre through them. LCLT took the set pieces outside, installed a pulley in the roof of the theatre house, and hoisted their flats into the theatre.
The Little Theatre did a half season in the spring of 1936. Three Cornered Moon by Gertrude Tonkonogy in April, The Trial of Mary Duggan by Bernard Viellier, and The Ghost Train by Arnold Riley in May. The Trial of Mary Duggan was the first of many cooperative ventures between LCLT and other groups. This production was sponsored by the Enterprise Club which provided most of the thirty-seven actors needed. (59) The performance was given in the large courtroom of the Parish Courthouse through the co-operation of the sitting parish judges.
The Ghost Train was particularly exciting for the sound and light crews. In this show there is an invisible "ghost" train that haunts the area around desolate station house. The crews had never had to practice such accuracy in their work as to make the train sound begin so softly to suggest distance and build until it seemed to be in the very theatre. The light crew rigged a large tin can with a floodlight and learned to control the intensity of the light to suggest that the train was nearing the house. The light was seen obliquely through a window on the side of the set. The audience got a great thrill out of these effects.
The 1936-37 season saw the production of Cock Robin by Elmer Rice and Phillip Barry, The Barker by Kenyon Nicholson, The Bill of Divorcement by Clemence Dane and Lightnin’ a comedy by Winchell Smith and Frank Bacon. The first show was the first to make use of the new workshop facilities on Pujo Street. When the group made the move from Pujo to Hodges Street the local police came out and blocked traffic on Pujo (a main thoroughfare) while they lowered flats and furniture on ropes from the second floor to waiting trucks. The police then led the caravan through the downtown area to the Masonic Temple. Miss Hart said it was the strangest parade Lake Charles had ever seen. But she loved the stir as it was good publicity.
A Bill of Divorcement was the first serious play Little Theatre had ever done. They were not sure how their membership would accept the piece as they were used to coming to the theatre for an evening of laughs. However, the audience was very pleased with the play and the local paper gave it excellent reviews.
Lightnin’ was a problem initially because of the three different sets that are called for in the script. The sets were changed using hinged book flats and bare stage for one exterior set. LCLT had once used the unfinished roof in the Parish House to facilitate set changes, and though the Masonic Temple offered full fly facilities that could have made the set changes easier, they were not used.
The 1937-38 season included four full-length plays. LCLT did not again offer evenings of one-act plays. First Lady by Katherine Dayton and George S. Kaufman, in October, was LCLT’s first attempt at satire. The show was a great hit with the audience. In the spring this play was taken to Beaumont, Texas, for two performances at the Beaumont Little Theatre. This latter production was very difficult for LCLT as many of the original cast members were no longer available. Since the original production one man who had an important part in the play had moved to Oklahoma. He was amenable to filling out the cast; however, his script was mailed to him. He relearned his lines, met the cast at 5:30 PM for a quick rehearsal and did the show. He traveled over 1,000 miles, round-trip, at his own expense. (60)
Edward Chodorov’s Kind Lady, Ceiling Zero by Frank Weed, and Stage Door by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman filled out the season. Stage Door and First Lady had unusually large casts for the Little Theatre, the former needing thirty-four actors and the latter, twenty-seven. Stage Door was the last play performed at the Masonic Temple.
Articles of incorporation and a new charter were filed for Lake Charles Little Theatre on March 18, 1937. The motive for incorporation was listed as the [a] means of furthering educational, literary, scientific, and charitable goals.
Non-performers activities in 1936-1938.
In October, 1936 The Junior Welfare League presented The Drunkard (61) at the Majestic Hotel. LCLT assisted them with technical matters.
In December, 1936, two Workshop plays were presented. These drew their name for the fact that they were presented in the workshop space on Pujo Street and that they were not open to the public. The audience for these shows and other workshop presentations were members of the junior theatre, and workers in the adult group. The junior members had been working on learning technical theatre under the various heads of committees as they produced the sets, costumes, and lights for LCLT shows. The juniors also had been studying acting under adult supervision. The youngsters took full responsibility for their workshop productions, giving them full value as to sets, costumes, make-up, lights and sound. On this first night they presented The Rehearsal by Christopher Morley. On the same evening, the adults presented The Revealing Moment by Oscar Fiskin. Production of Workshop plays continued until 1939 when the space was closed as the theatre moved into its new facility. Subsequent workshop-type productions were staged by the Culture Club or the Associated Summer Suckers.
One non-production activity that was open to the public was the Drawing Room meetings. These meetings were held on week nights at the Majestic Hotel. The hotel’s manager, Miss Emma Michie, had been responsible for intermission coffee since the first LCLT production and was greatly involved in the various activities of the Theatre. Miss Michie offered a sitting room at the Majestic Hotel and supplied tea and cookies for the guests.
In November, 1936, Waiting for Lefty by Glifford Odets was presented as a reading, and in January, Winterset by Maxwell Anderson was read. After the reading the guests would adjourn for tea and to discuss the work. These were the first works in which the Theatre involved itself that came from the mainstream of American theatre, and comprised true American classics. Why did LCLT choose these pieces, and why at this time? Once again the reasons are know only to those who were in charge of LCLT. They are deceased and never made written comment on the sudden change from undistinguished small pieces to plays that were stirring the theatre world-wide. There was no upsurge of unionizing activity in Lake Charles at this time. The Depression was over, leaving the area relatively unscathed. New industries were opening and an air base was being built. There was nothing that would necessarily point to this unexpected change in the theatre’s fare; a change took place however, and was reflected in regular seasonal offerings from this year forward. People who came to work with the Theatre within the next five years suggest that the population of Lake Charles was changing; not only the composition of its population, but of the types of people who were coming to the city. There were more skilled laborers coming to work in the petrochemical plants, and at the air base. And there were more educated people moving in to work in these areas. The growth of John McNeese Junior College was heightened. Older members of the theatre thought that these new workers brought with them a different awareness of the world at large and the news stories from around America sparked interest in new situations and new points of view. These are reasonable assumptions and offer an explanation for the discussion of new works by a conservative theatre that saw its purpose as "having fun."
A third Drawing Room production that year was a one-man show of Booth Tarkington’s Mr. Antonio in April. Mr. Bernard Szold of LePetite du Vieux Carre in New Orleans presented the evening. Mr. Szold was touring Louisiana, offering the show to cultural groups around the state. Three Drawing Room Meetings were held in 1937-38. Tonight at 8:30 by Noel Coward in November, and Susan and God by Rachel Crothers in March. Both were presented as readings. One scene from Victoria Regina by Laurence Housman was performed in April. Again, all were done at the Majestic Hotel. This was to be the last season of Drawing Room meetings.
The Stable Theatre: 1937-1957
Using borrowed facilities is rarely ideal under any circumstances. In the spring of 1938 the Masons declared that they, too, as St. James before them, needed their own facilities exclusively. LCLT was not unprepared for this announcement, however, and had been laying concrete plans to build its own theatre. In July, 1937, the theatre purchased three building lots on Edgemont Street hoping to build there at a later date. A plan was made whereby the Little Theatre would gift-deed the property to the City of Lake Charles. The city Council was to secure federal grant money for the purpose of building a civic auditorium and theatre. Once the building was completed, it was to be turned back to Lake Charles Little Theatre. A problem developed in this plan when it was discovered that even if the city could get the aid, it would be a minimum of two to three years to get the grant. (62)
At that time the theatre sold the Edgemont property and bought an abandoned Railway Express Company stable at 320 Bilbo Street. The building had been erected in 1910 by the American Express Company to house its horses. As it was no longer in use, Little Theatre was able to purchase the property for $4,000. The theatre raised the money from funds saved from previous seasons and donations from the members. The largest of these donations was one hundred dollars. Records of donations were not kept. But it would have been interesting to know on whom Rosa Hart could turn for a large donation in this post-Depression year. When renovations were finished, the mortgage stood at $9,000.
No one in the theatre knew anything about designing a theatre plant. Dunn and Quinn Architects had consulted on design when the city was working with Little Theatre on the plan to use the Edgemont property. Their architects had traveled to Dallas to get advice from theatre architects there. However, Lake Charles Little Theatre could not afford an architect and what advice Dunn and Quinn could give was given free of charge early in the renovation project. From then on no professional architect was used.
The building was 100’ long by 40’ wide. A contractor advised Little Theatre that supports would have to be placed every twenty feet if all the horse stalls were removed. Therefore, the theatre was divided into multiples of twenty. In the renovation work a contractor did all the major changes - tearing out the stalls, erecting the stage platform, and foyer platform. Mr. Mandel, and engineer, supervised the workers and set up specifications. No blue prints were used. Gene Cuny just drew walls and partition positions on the existing walls, and someone built them. Mr. Mandell saw to it that all the work was as strong as necessary. The skylight was left unchanged; and, after all the work was done, the acoustics were declared perfect.
The stage floor was forty feet wide and twenty-one feet deep to the dressing room wall. The proscenium was eleven feet high and twenty-seven feet wide leaving six foot wings on each side. There was no loft built. A fourteen foot flat was the tallest that could be used without scraping the ceiling.
The grand drape was sewn from old sacking by the costume committee. George Boudreaux hung it on a track he made himself. It was held up by coat hanger wire attached to little pieces of mahogany scrounged from the trash of other building projects.
The dressing rooms and shops were built in the thirty-eight feet directly behind the stage. Four dressing rooms were built, two on each side of the room, one atop the other. A Green Room was built next to the stage left dressing room with a property dock above it. Make-up occupied the lower left dressing room. Its mirror had been salvaged from the mantle of a fireplace in a house under demolition, and its table was the counter from the local drug-store. The hole in this counter, where the ice cream container had been set, was now over a receptacle for used tissues. The costume room was part of the upstairs right dressing room. The open area remaining was outfitted with racks for flat and lumber storage, a carpenter’s bench, an electrician’s bench, and a paint storage area.
The house seating area was forty feet by forty feet with rear entrances and aisles at the left and right. The rise in the floor was about one inch per foot. The seats were purchased for fifty cent each after they were discarded from one of the city courtrooms. There were fourteen rows of nineteen seats each. The seating was staggered more by accident then design, as some of the seats were wider than others. Dr. Walter Moss supervised their installation. The walls were painted with what the group called Dr. Pepper, a red-brown mixture of 10-2-4 proportions. Carpet eventually came from the Charleston Hotel. They were dyed red each season by a group who used brooms to apply the color.
House lights were ox yokes to match the lobby lights. An orchestra pit was built on floor level at the foot of the stage. The pit also contained the light booth. (63) The floor of the pit leaked for years because of the high water table in this area. Before the light booth was moved to the back of the house, the technicians had many a hair-raising moment with their salt-water dimmers in a damp pit. (64) Windows in the house were the barred grills that had been at the head of each horse stall.
The front of the house contained a twelve foot lobby housing a ticket office on the left and on the right a lavatory. Over the box office was hung the only mule shoe found on the property. Lighting was provided by old street lanterns that had been salvaged off the streets by Little Theatre workers and then wired for electricity. Bob Coffey had a number of these which he gave the theatre. The lanterns were suspended from the original harness hooks which George Boudreaux had retrieved from the city dump. An ox yoke chandelier was also given by a Mr. Boudreaux. Sofas were donated by various people and were re-upholstered with dyed salt sack material by Mrs. Dees and Mrs. Briggs. A piano given by Mary Schermerhorn occupied one wall. Hazel Vincent brought in a rug that she did not want because it had a hole in it. Eventually a small kitchen was built to the physical requirements of Mary Ellie Leonhart, a lady of formidable proportions. Mrs. Leonhart had prepared intermission coffee since the first plays were done. The coffee urn was bought through the collecting of Community coffee coupons by the workers. The cup collection was the result of members bringing their own cups and leaving them at the theatre. Any extras were purchased at the Kress five-and-ten cent store.
A tapestry was borrowed from the lobby of the Majestic Hotel to decorate the Stable lobby for opening night. It was never returned. A couch for the hayloft came the same way; Joe Fry lent one. It had to be taken apart and moved in through the window; and apparently it was too much trouble to return.
In the center of the lobby a short staircase led up to a foyer. The steps were measured against the tallest man in the theatre, Paul Quilty. When Mr. Quilty’s head cleared the ceiling, the steps were set. Over this was built a lounge and a powder room in what had been the hayloft.
Heat was eventually added through the offices of the gas company. The company would contact the theatre with the names of users who were converting from space heaters to central heating. The theatre workers would then approach these people and cajole their old heaters for the theatre. The only cooling was by fans borrowed from the electric company and theatre members. Plans were made in later years to add air conditioning, but these were never to be realized. (65)
During the time that renovation was being done, the Little Theatre produced only one play, The Night of January 16th, at the Parish Courthouse on November 2, 1937. Workers literally painted themselves out of the Stable on New Year’s Eve of 1938, and immediately began rehearsals for the play Outward Bound, which opened February 6, 1938.
The theatre did not print its usual program for Outward Bound. Instead, the first issue of Stable Talk, the Little Theatre newspaper, was published. It contained a history of the theatre’s early years, information about the renovation, and notes on the production’s cast.
Personal Appearance by Lawrence Riley was the second production in the Stable, as the building became known. The closing production was Medcroft and Mitchell’s Cradle Snatchers.
Non-production activities 1938-39
The junior members held a night of one-acts in May, presenting Cottman and Shaw’s Submerged, and The Tenth Word by Florence Ryerson and Colin Clements.
There is mention of two Drawing Room meetings being held, but their content is unknown. A series of commercially sponsored Sunday afternoon broadcasts were presented over radio station KPLC. These were adaptations of one-act plays.
During its first season and every year thereafter, the Stable was made available to other civic groups, the only provision being that Little Theatre itself did not need the space. Many groups used the facility free of charge, and the cost for those paying the highest fee was ten dollars. Numerous lectures and dance and piano recitals were given here.
In the summer of 1939, the "Sweat and Culture Club" was organized. This group was composed of no more than fifty workers who used the summer months to repair, clean and re-organize the theatre building for the coming season. For a fee of fifty cents, members worked on Friday nights for a few hours and were then entertained by a "cultural" offering. (66) Springtime for Henry by Ben Levy was directed by Barbara Kaufman this first summer. This play was the first time the theatre had worked arena style. In August construction was begun on a twenty foot by forty foot addition across the back of the building to expand the dressing room and workshop area. The addition cost $1,500. $500 of this was borrowed from Joe Fry, the only man in town who would trust the theatre at the time, and anyone else who wanted to contribute. Mr. Fry had been responsible for the $2,500 loan the year before that paid for part of the original renovations.
You Can’t Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman opened the 1939-40 season. LCLT’s audiences loved any play that carried Kaufman’s name. (67) Over the years they have seen five of his plays with three of them repeated.
The second production was Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams. The orchestra, which had played the overture at every performance previously, was an integral part of this show. Eva Livingston composed "sneak music" to be played throughout the performance. The work of the orchestra delighted the audience, but it was never to be repeated. This may have been due to constant battling between Rosa Hart and Eva Livingston, the orchestra director. Miss Hart’s letters to various friends during this period allude to "blow-ups" with Livingston over a variety of matters. Maxine Ray remembers a vocal public fight between the two precipitated by the musician’s habit of sailing into the theatre for final dress rehearsal and expecting chairs and music stands to be set up for them. Miss Livingston resigned more than once because Miss Hart demanded the orchestra care for its own area. Technical crews had complained at having to set up the pit and clean up the mess left by the orchestra members. At one point their relationship deteriorated to the point that Rosa Hart wrote a three-page letter to Miss Livingston recounting their long relationship and the hard work they had both contributed to the theatre. That time the orchestra returned to the fold, but relations remained strained. Finally in 1947, the Little Theatre Orchestra ceased its collaboration with LCLT and formed a separate Community Concert Association. Loyalties remained, however, and their initial membership was almost entirely from LCLT roles.
Judge T.F. Porter wore his own gown and a borrowed wig to portray the judge in Night Must Fall (68) It was not unusual for LCLT to obtain the services of an actor to portray a role he pursued for a living in everyday life. Harry Bollock, an employee of the U. S. Post Office, said he was delivering mail one when Rosa Hart ordered him to appear at the theatre that evening with uniform and mail bag. He was to play the postman in Two Blind Mice. (69) A school teacher echoed herself in What a Life, a Negro cook played that role in Here Today, a state Senator played a senator in Ceiling Zero, and a news reporter played one in Personal Appearance. Twins played twins in The Great Big Doorstep. Mayor Tom Price played the mayor in Life With Father opposite his political rival Ray Wallace during the campaign months.
Not only were ordinary people shanghaied into doing parts, but un-ordinary people were cajoled into doing favors. Colonel James Kuttner who served with General Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II later wore the General’s eagles in Over Twenty-One. (70) The favor was asked by Miss Emma Mickie, who had become friends with the general during the war. George Freedley, author, critic, and director of theatre archives of the New York Public Library, sent his favorite checked bow tie to be worn by the critic in Arsenic and Old Lace. (71) Freedley had been part of the City Hall lecture series and had delivered his address in the Little Theatre building.
The junior members presented Little Women by John D. Rovold in February, as a part of the regular season. As with Seventeen in 1928, only the adult parts were cast outside the youth group. Some authentic Civil War uniforms were dug out of attic trunks and worn in this production. And costumers relied on photographs of their female relatives in designing dresses for the actresses.
Little Women was followed by John Murry and Allen Borotz’s comedy Room Service in April. The season closed with The Bat by Mary Roberts Rhinehart and Avery Hopwood. The Bat had been very popular with Lake Charles audiences when it was first presented by a professional touring company in 1922. It was presented again in 1923 and 1925 by the same company and enjoyed good houses each time. (72)
The Junior Welfare League presented P. G. Wodehouse’s translation of Geyer’s Candle Light in the McNeese Auditorium in October with the technical assistance of the Little Theatre. Then in November the Junior League assisted the Little Theatre in presenting The Women by Clare Boothe at McNeese. This was Little Theatre’s most ambitious project to date, using over forty actresses and numerous set and costume changes. Box office receipts for the first show went into the Junior League treasury to finance one of it many civic projects. But in return that group asked no money of the Theatre for its own assistance with Little Women.
Whistling in the Dark by Laurence Gross and Edward Childs Carpenter was shown at the Stable in December. Because of the war in Europe, the next Little Theatre production was given as a Bundles for Britain benefit. Maxwell Anderson’s Elizabeth the Queen was presented at the end of April. The box office was able to turn over $490 to the fund. In this show, spotlights were used for the first time to define acting areas. Lights were hung on fixed overhead beams above the stage and in the house and, therefore, could not be used as follow spots. Double casting was done for the part of Elizabeth. This set a trend for future Little Theatre productions. From this date forward, during Miss Hart’s tenure as director double casting was employed for almost all children’s roles and many female leads. Men were rarely doubled as there were fewer interested and available. The Little Theatre was honored by an invitation to present this play at a meeting of the National Theatre Conference in New York in 1941. Lake Charles Little Theatre was one of the four community theatres invited to perform. Plans were made to accept the invitation. The group could not raise the necessary funds, however, and could not make the trip.
In 1941 the Little Theatre joined the Home Defense Plan for Civilian and Soldier Morale Building. The Stable was the headquarters for the Bundles for Britain drive and was the tin foil collection point. In 1942, a Greek Relief benefit was given. No record exists of which play was produced for this benefit, nor how much money was raised.
The closing play of the 1940-41 season was George Oppenheimer’s Here Today in June. The season had been purposely light-hearted to help make the year less harrowing. (73)
By the 1941-42 season the original mortgage of $9,000 had only $300 yet unpaid. The season opened with The Man Who Came To Dinner by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Soldiers from Camp Polk, fifty miles away in Leesville, Louisiana, were invited to two free previews. This began a long association between Little Theatre and Camp Polk. Until the early 1950’s soldiers from the base were regularly invited to attend dress rehearsal previews and drop by the Sweat and Culture Club meeting in the summer.
Lake Charles Little Theatre also toured three shows to Camp Polk. The first was the second show of this season, What a Life by Clifford Goldsmith. The play was presented at the Stable in February, and taken to Camp Polk the next weekend. This play also used a large number of junior members in the cast. Reserve Two for Murder by John Randall was presented in June.
During the summer months the Associated Summer Suckers, the new name of the Sweat and Culture Club, met each Friday. The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Happy Journey, and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals were presented arena style during the course of the summer.
Between 1942 and 1946, no plays were presented. World War II had intervened and the scarcity of men made it difficult to cast shows. The members paid a sustaining membership of one dollar during this period. This money was used to pay utility bills and keep up the insurance on the theatre. Joe Fry carried the note all through these years interest free. (74) The group still met and kept the building and contents in order. Although no plays were produced, there were readings done with the service men who came into Lake Charles. (75)
The first post-war season was 1946-47. The junior theatre was discontinued at this time as there was no adult willing to take on the responsibility of the youngsters. Its members were eligible for, and played many roles in Life With Father and The Great Big Doorstep.
Boy Meets Girl by Moss Hart was the opening selection, playing in October. (76) The second Stable Talk was issued in lieu of a program. It included news about the early theatre and notes on the actors. John Van Druten’s I Remember Mama was presented in December. The show involved over 100 light cues. Revolving stages were set in the wings on either side of the stage to facilitate the numerous set changes required. (77) This play was staged five nights to accommodate a problem with the weather. A flood had closed the river bridge shutting the west bank off from Lake Charles. Three actors were ferried across at various points by theatre members who had boats. But the audience was not so serviced. The extra playing nights allowed all members to see the play. To make the extra performances more profitable, they were opened to the general public.
On December 28, 1946, the mortgage on the Stable theatre was burned amid much ceremony. A musical evening with refreshments was given afterward. (78)
In February another Maxwell Anderson play, Mary Queen of Scots, was presented. The part of Mary was doubled and three cast members from Elizabeth the Queen appeared in this show. Much was made of the fact that one of the Elizabeths from the previous show played that part again.
The third play of the season was the "invited play." This re-established and idea with which the theatre had desired to fulfill since 1929, with the visit from the Beaumont Little Theatre. The tradition continued until 1959. LCLT claimed to be the only Little Theatre in America that presented plays from other Little Theatres on a co-operative basis. The invited theatre brought its cast costumes and necessary props. LCLT built the set from drawings and photographs forwarded to them, and secured furniture and large unwieldy props. The plays were offered for one night in the new auditorium of John McNeese Junior College (later McNeese State University). This house seats 2,500 and could accommodate the entire membership in one night. Often the Theatre allowed general admission by reservations or extended member’s guest ticket privileges. In the program for the 1952 "invited play" Come Back Little Sheba, Miss Hart listed nine considerations to be met in mounting a guest production:
Le Petite Theatre du Vieux of New Orleans presented Behrman’s Biography on March7. The closing production was John Kesseiring’s Arsenic and Old Lace, in April.
Non-production activities 1946-47
During the summer Ethel Crumb Brett, the designer of Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre, and Earl Crumb of the New Orleans Theatrical Supply House gave instructions in scene design and lighting techniques to the Associated Summer Suckers. Special sessions were held with Little Theatre’s lighting technicians on the use of the new lighting equipment the theatre had recently installed.
By the beginning of the 1947-48 season the theatre had 1,000 members and $4,370 in its account. (79) This larger membership forced the theatre to begin five night runs. This season opened with State of the Union by Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse in October. As this play required only four realistic interiors, the stage crew found it an easy run after the two elaborate productions of last season. (80)
Ralph Besier’s The Barretts of Mimpole Street, in December, was the second production. The wallpaper for the set was painstakingly copied from pictures of the Broad-way sets furnished by the rental agency. Lillian Reed, who had been set designer and part of the construction crew from the very beginning, used a magnifying glass on the photographs and spent long hours painting the sets herself. (81) Lillian Reed, says William Ray, was a perfect example of the typical LCLT worker until the late 1960’s. Miss Reed was an X-ray technician at St. Patrick’s Hospital, not a trained theatre artist. "None of us knew what we were doing. We just figured it out as we went along." All the workers could rely on Rosa Hart’s sense of a period and her innate good taste. She was reported to have done a great deal of research in the library before beginning a show. She would read books, especially novels, to give herself a feel for the period. Then she would look at pictures and paintings to get ideas on dress, deportment, and interior decoration. These gleanings were passed on to costumers, actors, set designers, and musicians as the show developed.
During the late 1960’s there began an influx of not only directors, but actors and technicians who had academic theatre training. According to Ray, much of the mystery, fun, and delicacy of discovering a play and surmounting its problems disappeared. (82) John Wray Young, director of the Shreveport, Louisiana, Little Theatre, brought his theatre’s production of Dear Ruth by Norman Krasna to the McNeese auditorium in January as that season’s "invited play."
The next production was Walter Ferris’ translation of Albert Casella’s Death Takes a Holiday. The leading man became ill and had to be replaced six nights before opening. A possible replacement was suggested by one of the actors. The only drawback with the new man was that he lived fifty-six miles away in Crowley. True to form, Miss Hart convinced the man to do the part. He commuted 112 miles a night on the Greyhound bus at his own expense to do the show. (83) A production of Joan of Lorraine had been planned for this slot. Casting had been completed when the Little Theatre was notified by Samuel French that it could not have the rights. Diane Barrymore was playing in New Orleans in a professional touring company of this show. Because of the possibility that that show might play in Lake Charles, the Little Theatre was refused the rights and production was suspended.
The final production of the 1947-48 season proved particularly interesting for Lake Charles Little Theatre. As a result of Rosa Hart’s negotiations, Life magazine sent reporter Mary Leatherbee and photographer Michael Rougier to Lake Charles to prepare a short piece for the "Life Visits" section. The article was published June 28, 1948, and was a short eight pages long, one of the longest articles of its type Life had ever done. For this production, an old shack standing on the Chalkley property in the community of Sweetlake was torn down by theatre workers and moved piece by piece to the Stable. There it was re-erected and served as the set for The Great Big Doorstep. (84) This play by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett depicted Cajun life, and as many of the people in southwest Louisiana are of Cajun descent it was of great interest to the audience. The play, which had opened and closed rather quickly in New York a few years previously, played very successfully in Lake Charles. And because theatre workers had always involved their whole families in their work, it was not unusual that they had their pick of real babies to use on stage. (85)
As a result of the Life article, Lake Charles Little Theatre helped to found the Sherman, Texas, Little Theatre; the New Iberia, Louisiana, Little Theatre; the Central Louisiana Little Theatre (CENLA) in Alexandria; and re-organize the defunct Beaumont, Texas, Little Theatre. (86)
LCLT had already had a hand in starting little theatres in Port Arthur, Texas; and Opelousas, Crowley, Lake Arthur, DeRidder, and Lafayette, Louisiana. Lake Charles Little Theatre members had visited personally and helped direct plays, set up membership drives, and organize guidelines for these groups. (87) A few months later Rosa Hart and a friend traveled to England. While visiting the small theatre at Cheltenham, Rosa was recognized from pictures in Life and found herself asked to give speeches on organizing a successful theatre. The local persons recognized her expertise. (88)
It is possible Rosa Hart suffered the first of a series of heart attacks in late May, 1948. In the archives containing her personal papers there are many get-well notes dated around this period though none of them specify the nature of her illness. In a letter to Mary Leatherbee of Life magazine, dated May 15, 1948, Rosa Hart states that she had been in bed for three weeks and unable to use her typewriter under doctor’s orders. (89) As she is known to have had a heart attack in 1951, and that her heart was the major cause of her retirement in 1957, the nature of her illness may be debatable but was, in all probability, her heart.
The 1948-49 season began with the October 20-26 run of Life With Father. Some authentic period costumes were unearthed in attic trunks to be used is this production of the Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse play. (90)
On September 27, the theatre began a series of radio shows aired over KLOU radio station. Once again it was a series of one-act plays adapted for the air. The first broadcast was Moonshine, which had been one of the original plays presented on the first night of LCLT’s production in 1927. (91)
The second show was Seven Keys to Baldpate, a mystery by George M. Cohan, which ran in December. The "invited play" that season was from Houston, Texas, Little Theatre. It was an original play by the group’s director, Ralph Mead. The play was titled Lovers and Madmen and played at McNeese in January. Mr. Mead also played the male lead. During the month of January LCLT was featured in articles in the Houston Chronicle and New Orleans Times Picayune newspapers. Both articles concerned community theatres in general and Lake Charles Little Theatre in particular.
Tennessee William's Glass Menagerie played in March. Blythe Spirit by Noel Coward closed the season. The third issue of Stable Talk was issued as the program for the Coward play.
Non-production activities 1948-49
The Associated Summer Suckers again met over the summer months. As the "culture" part of their work on August 23, two student actors from McNeese presented Tennessee William’s This Property is Condemned arena style. Kenneth Rose appeared in and directed the play, with Pat Chenet playing opposite him. Both Rose and Chenet went on to New York to try their luck in professional theatre though neither met with great success.
The membership rolls topped 1,650 in the 1949-50 season forcing the theatre to extend the run to six nights. The auditorium seated 265 and Rosa Hart said it would never be enlarged. "A Little Theatre should be little, because amateur voices are not trained to reach…and because, after a cast has worked for four to five weeks on a play, they ought to be able to play more than one or two nights which would be the case if the auditorium were enlarged and everybody could be accommodated in one or two nights of playing." (92)
Over Twenty-One, a comedy by Ruth Gordon was the 1949-50 season opener, running in October. In Pursuit of Happiness by Lawrence and Armie Marshell Langer ran in December. This show, known on Broadway and The Bundling Board, featured a real newcomer to the area, Walter Stepfer. The young Swiss had been in the United States only three days when he was "discovered" in the dentist’s chair by a diligent theatre worker. His accent was perfect for the Hessian soldier and Stapher was recruited on the spot. The lines were re-written in straight English from the accented speech of the play, and Stapfer supplied his own accent. As time was very short, he was taught his blocking on a chess board, with the pieces representing other actors. (93)
The "invited play" of that season was The Fatal Weakness by George Kelly. Memphis, Tennessee, Little Theatre presented the play February 4, 1950, in the McNeese Auditorium. Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes was the fourth production. It played March 27 through April 1. Clara Gebsen moved down from Shreveport to do the part of Birdie. Mrs. Gebsen had worked for LCLT during the many years she had lived in Lake Charles. After moving to Shreveport, she preferred to stay active in LCLT rather than move her membership to one of the theatres in that city. Mrs. Gebsen often drove down to Lake Charles, a three hour drive over poor roads, to assist Miss Hart with a production. She handled a much of the publicity over the telephone, and came into Lake Charles on weekends to attend to costume, publicity, and hospitality details. Some resentment was seen from a Lake Charles actress, who felt she should have been given the role of Birdie. This dissent was so quickly scotched by Miss Hart that only an unsigned note in the archives suggest that there was trouble. (94)
Two extra nights had been planned as a benefit for the Memorial Hospital Building Fund, but were cancelled because of illness in the cast. The theatre made a donation of $200 instead. Dress rehearsal for this play was a wing warming party to celebrate the opening of fourteen by fifty-six foot wing added down the left side of the building. The wing had cost $3,000 and included a new make-up room, an overhead prop storage area, and a new costume room containing three cedar-lined closets. (95) This added to the existing wing space in such a manner that sets could be shifted from the wings in the conventional manner rather then having to be brought around from the workshop behind the stage. An outside patio was also completed. This ran the length of the auditorium and had entrances from it to the new wing, the lobby, and the street. Mr. Torbert Slack brought some shrubbery and planted it around the patio to dress it up for the opening. Now, weather permitting; intermission coffee could be served on the patio instead of in the cramped confines of the lobby.
Lake Charles Little Theatre was again featured in a national magazine. The May, 1950, issue of Pageant magazine included an article by the Southern author Harnett T. Kane titled, "They’re All Characters in Lake Charles". The article played up unique incidents in the theatre’s history mostly those concerning actors playing roles reflecting their own lives. (96)
The final production of the season was Samuel Spewack’s comedy Two Blind Mice, which ran in May. In the cast were five Negroes from the choir of the Sunlight Baptist Church. Their parts called for them to parade across stage at the beginning of the show and then sing offstage at predetermined points through the show. They were supposedly renting the basement as a rehearsal space. Rose Hart often said LCLT was one of the only Southern Little Theatres that used Negroes on stage in parts called for them. (97) No other evidence exists of blacks being onstage except for the Negro cook in Here Today. The claim may not be spurious, for there was little call for Negro actors in the plays LCLT presented. But it does point out that LCLT did not indulge in blackface make-up, a convention that often replaced Negro actors in community theatres in the South.
In the play the two elderly ladies run a parking lot as one of their schemes to earn money. At each performance a different man would be selected to come onstage and pay fifty cents to park his car. One night Cashota (sic) Indian Chief Shawa arrived in full ceremonial dress to pay his fee. (98) Another patron from Eunice, Louisiana, wanted to be the one to pay his parking fee so badly that he wired the money to the theatre to prevent another being selected. (99)
In June 1950, Lake Charles Little Theatre received a copy of a recent Voice of America broadcast. The transcript was of a show scripted from the Pageant article written by Kane and aired in Germany. It was translated into English by Walter Stapfer and Marion Reed so that the group might listen to it. The show was part of a series on American life, presented by Voice of America in Europe.
Light Up the Sky by Moss Hart opened the 1950-51 season in October. In December, 1950, Rosa and a small group of technicians flew to New York with the purpose of seeing Peter Pan on Broadway. Mary Leatherbee of Life had promised them tickets and backstage tours through Joshua Logan and a good look at the machinery that made Peter fly. (100) Little Theatre found it was unable to use the same equipment because of space considerations, LCLT was much smaller than a Broadway house as to fly loft (actually, there was none) and wing space. The equipment was modified by Bill Ray and a group of men from Columbia Southern petrochemical plant. They flew five actors of the small stage at the Stable. (101) By opening 349 people had worked on the show. (102) It was such a success the show was repeated in February. Tulsa, Oklahoma, Little Theatre brought the "invited play" that season. Goodbye, My Fancy by Kay Fanin was presented March 17 at the McNeese Auditorium. Robinson Jeffers’ Medea was next, with an April run. Constance Conover Wilder who played Medea went on to do professional summer stock, New York theatre, and radio and television performances. Robert McEnroe’s The Silver Whistle closed the season.
Non-production activities 1951
That summer the Associated Summer Suckers saw a production by Clem White, a public relations man for Colombia Southern Petroleum Company in Lake Charles who wrote and directed the play. It had been aired as a radio broadcast from Oslo, Norway, to Nazi Germany during World War II. (103) Most of the present cast were from various departments at Colombia Southern, The play was West From the Panhandle and was featured in the Colombia Southern in-house magazine that summer.
The 1951-52 season opened in October with The Voice of the Turtle by John Van Druten. The "invited play" was Rain by John Colton and Clemence Randolph. The show was presented in February, in the McNeese Auditorium by the University of Houston Players. This was the first time and academic theatre had been solely responsible for an "invited play." McNeese and Tulane universities would later be part of other productions affiliated with Lake Charles Little Theatre.
In December, 1951, Talbot Pearson, associate editor of Players Magazine, featured Lake Charles Little Theatre in an article on community theatres in America.
Ben Hecht’s 20th Century was presented that February. Clara Gebsen and Barbara Stewart co-directed this show when Rosa had to step down for health reasons. It is assumed that this was her second heart attack. The program notes include a story about Southern Pacific side-lining a car for a few hours so that Little Theatre’s technician could measure it. They claimed the set, which showed three compartments of a passenger car, was as close to actual dimensions as they could be and still fit on the stage. (104) It may seem surprising an entity the size of Southern Pacific Railroads would perform such a favor for a small community theatre, but the incident is another reflection of Rosa Hart’s persuasive talents.
One Sunday night performance was scheduled to coincide with the opening night of Lake Charles Little Theatre’s first production, February 24, 1927, twenty-five years earlier. The opening lines of this play were spoken by Paul Quilty who had spoken the first lines of the first play, Moonshine. Mr. Quilty had then said, "Bring him in here, boys. I’ll take care of the rest." His line in the 1952 production was slightly amended to be, "Bring ‘em (the luggage) in boys. I’ll take care of the rest."
The play was dedicated to George Boudreaux, Sr., who had rigged the first Little Theatre grand drape and had headed all carpentry work for the following twenty-five years. Mr. Boudreaux was very ill at this time and died shortly thereafter. He was replaced by George, Jr., who was already a veteran Little Theatre carpenter. Mr. Boudreaux, Sr. had worked for Kansas City Southern Railway Lines. Therefore, the theatre felt the dedication of a show played within the confines of a railway car to be fit and proper. Missouri Pacific Railway Lines provided the actors with proper uniforms for the play. (105)
Once again the U.S. State Department featured Lake Charles Little Theatre. In an article in the Russian-language magazine Anepuka, Vol #26, a picture from the Life article showing the Board of Directors meeting on Mrs. Dees’ front porch was prominently displayed. The article was to show American life and leisure-time activities.
The financial report at the end of the third show revealed that the theatre had $3,844.92 in the treasury. The final production was an original opera, The Snow Queen, written by Margery Wilson and Sam Gaboro of the McNeese Fine Arts faculty. The libretto based on the Hans Christian Anderson story of the same name. Stories about the opera were published in the Danish paper, The News of Denmark, on April 12, 1952. The overture was sent to the Danish Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. (106) The Orchestra had been scheduled to play in Lake Charles and wished to play the overture at their concert. No record exists of this happening. The opera was Little Theatre’s first attempt at a musical. The orchestra was seated in the stage left wing, and the cast took their cues from the conductor in the wing. Orchestra instruments included chains, steel pipe lengths, and trashcan lids hung from the ceiling and used for sound effects.
The setting was surrealistic. Photographs show a set of two levels; the upper painted in blue-whites to represent the Snow Queen’s icy world, the lower painted in warm beige-whites to represent the real world. (107) Special blue gelatins were used on the instruments that lighted the upper level. A slight contretemps developed at first dress rehearsals. Rosa Hart had told the costume mistress to read the story and design the costumes. The cast was presented with lovely old-world costumes. Unfortunately, the sets and music were decidedly modern. There was no time to rebuild the costumes and the conflicting clothes had to be worn. Surprisingly the contrast worked well and everyone ended the run satisfied with the effects. One exception to the general approval was the costumes of the green birds. The lights turned the birds iridescent black. Rosa Hart physically removed the offending feathers during the last dress rehearsal and ordered changes. The changes were not made, the green feathers were re-applied and the shiny black birds strutted through the snow, avoiding the eye of the director whenever possible. (108) The production was cited in the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s Opera News and Ross Parmeter’s column of April 20, 1952, in the New York Times as a musical debut. (109) The New Orleans Times-Picayune "Dixie Roto" magazine gave the production a cover picture and an article on June 8, 1952. (110)
The productions in the 1952-53 were Happy Times by Samuel Taylor, Darkness at Noon by Sidney Kingsley and another Lindsey and Crouse play Remains To Be Seen. The closing play was John Van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle in May. An artist on the faculty at McNeese made the masks and other odd pieces of decoration needed for the apartment. (111)
The "invited play" was William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba presented by Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre with Tulane University, in December.
In 1953, Lake Charles Little Theatre was featured in an article of Pittsburg People magazine, the in-house magazine of Pittsburg Plate Glass Company. The article focused on their employees making good use of their leisure time by doing community theatre. (112)
In the 1953-54 season Lake Charles Little [Theatre] tradition of using professional actors as guest stars. This program, however, was only repeated three times before being cancelled. LCLT relied on the good offices of a lady only identified as "Mary" at Samuel French publishers to find appropriate name actors for their shows. However well she did this service, not until 1979 was another guest star featured in a Little Theatre production. One can posit rising expenses as one reason for discontinuing the program. It cost approximately $1,500 to bring in a "name." The guests were usually housed at Mordello Vincent’s spacious house in Moss Bluff. After the problem of Edward Everett Horton charging a dozen silk monogrammed pairs of under drawers at one Theatre inaugurated what it hoped would become a of the most expensive men’s stores in Lake Charles, the theatre may have decided it needed to take a second look at the idea. (113) In 1979, the guest star was funded through a State Arts Council grant.
In October, 1953, Jeffery Lynn was the first guest star. He appeared in the title role of Mister Roberts by Thomas Haggan and Joshua Logan. Mr. Lynn apparently got on well with the cast and crew to the collective relief of all involved. (114) The theatre’s workers had been very concerned as to how well a professional actor would work with their amateurs. The cast included seven men for the U. S. Naval Reserve Unit and twelve men from Chennault Air Force Base. The air men were given special duty assignments that assured their being available for all rehearsals and performances. This demonstrates the close ties that had developed between LCLT and the commanders at Chennault Air Base. These commanders and their wives were always honored guests at LCLT productions and co-operated repeatedly with LCLT in an effort to find a worthwhile leisure time activity for the military men. LCLT had established its interest in military men in WWII with a concern for Army personnel. The Theatre’s invitation to military men to attend Associated Summer Sucker activities and special dress rehearsal previews had been important to the military men and their commanders.
Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin was the second production of the season. The third production was the "invited play." This time Lake Charles Little Theatre was intimately involved in the technical aspects from the beginning. Margery Wilson the theatre director of McNeese directed Henry IV, Part 1. Rosa Hart was tapped to play Dame Quickly. Lillian Reed and the carpentry crew spent many hours on sets and decorations with the McNeese crew. In this play Lady Mortimer is noted as speaking Welsh. Mrs. Wilson, therefore, wrote lines for her in English. The lines were translated into Welsh by Dane Jones, then rendered phonetically by Florence Evans for the actress to memorize. Miss Evans had done her Master’s thesis at McNeese on the Welsh Eisteddfod. The lines were referred to a friend of Mrs. Wilson’s in Ohio and to Mae Jenkins in Lake Charles to be checked for accuracy. The set was decorated with banners the designs of which were taken from shields and heraldry pieces of the Mortimers, Plantagents, Percys, Lancasters, and the Prince of Wales. (115) This was the first time Lake Charles Little Theatre had been involved in a Shakespearean production and the first time a guest play was done two nights, from February 19 through 20.
In July 1954, Seventeen magazine ran a feature article on "young theatre" titled "Cross-Country Shakespeare." It discussed the renaissance of interest in Shakespeare’s plays. A picture of the McNeese / Little Theatre production was one of the fourteen chosen to illustrate the article.
That year Lake Charles Little Theatre funded a technical theatre scholarship at McNeese. The scholarship was awarded to Speech and Theatre majors chosen by the McNeese faculty for their continuing contribution to technical theatre at McNeese. The scholarship was worth $250. It was often divided up and allocated to more than one student. (116)
The last two plays of the season were John Patrick’s The Hasty Heart, and Out of the Frying Pan by Francis Swann.
The 1954-55 season also opened with a guest star Steve Cochran who played the lead in Sidney Kingsley’s Detective Story. This was not the happiest association between guest star and a community theatre, as Cochran’s overly affectionate nature discomfited theatre workers. But the show was a great success. (117)
My Three Angels by Sam and Bella Spewack opened in December. The third play the season was the "invited play." San Antonio, Texas, Little Theatre brought Mel Dinelli’s The Man to McNeese Auditorium in January.
LCLT again joined with another community group, this time to present a two part evening. Ida Winter Clarke directed her dancers in Le Carnival by Robert Schumann, followed by the Little Theatre production of Androcles and the Lion by George Bernard Shaw. The fantasy setting showed a forest represented by huge cardboard cutouts of cartoon-colored flowers and leaves. (118) The closing play was Jan de Hartong’s The Fourposter. Photographs show a realistic bedroom whose walls contained patterned panels. (119) These panels were changed to indicate the passage of time.
The 1955-56 season opened with Stalag 17 by Donald Beran and Edmund Trzeiski. Hurd Hatfield was the guest star for this production. Hatfield was immensely popular with Theatre personnel and audiences. He visited local schools and delivered lectures on the play to high school English classes during his stay in Lake Charles. Once again, many of the actors were from Chennault Air Base. Quality Street by Sir James M. Barrie played in December. Photographs of the production display intricate period costumes made by the costume committee. (120) The "invited play" of the season was Anita Loos’ Happy Birthday. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Little Theatre brought the piece to McNeese on January 7.
The season closed with The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker by Liam O’Brien which played in May at the Stable. The children’s parts were double cast as was the theatre’s policy when using younger actors. (121) Backstage parents took responsibility for the children’s behavior and oversaw their school work.
The 1956-57 season was to be the last season directed by Rosa Hart. The season opened in November with a seven night run of Kaufman and Teichman’s Solid Gold Cadillac. The longer run once again was the result of the growing membership of the theatre. The second play was the "invited play," The Fifth Season by Sylvia Regan. Stage Inc., of Beaumont, Texas, brought the play for production at McNeese December 3 through 8. This show ran longer than any other "invited play" as Beaumont is close enough for daily commuting by the cast. The box office was open for general admission because of the longer run, though the revenues were really no a great deal as LCLT paid transportation costs and provided supper for the cast.
Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s The Lark played in February at the Stable. This show was billed as the 30th Anniversary play of Lake Charles Little Theatre. The membership at this point stood at 1,500. The play was done with non-representational sets and a minimum of furniture. Slides were painted by Jim Miller of Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, and were projected on the walls of the set. (122) The slides were splashes of blue and reds suggesting stained glass windows, or greens and golds for exterior scenes. Red and deep browns were used for confrontation scenes. The lighting for the show was very complicated. The crew had hardly attempted anything more difficult. A friend of Bill Ray’s, the head lighting technician, gave him a copy of a General Electric advertising magazine in which was outlined the entire light plot for the coronation scene. Mr. Ray lifted this complicated scene straight out of the magazine and never looked back. (123)
The season closed with Maxwell Anderson’s Bare-foot in Athens, May 11 through 15. This was done as a dramatic reading, and was the first time a reading was presented as a part of the regular season. The stage was painted black and covered with platforms that provided three levels. The backdrop was painted with Doric columns that decreased in height from stage right to left. The actors sat on white stools of varying heights and wore formal evening clothes. (124) A local recording company pressed an album of one performance. The theatre was invited to perform at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival that summer, but was unable to make the trip, as again, funds were not available.
This production marked the end of the Rosa Hart era for Lake Charles Little Theatre. Next season, Ed Daughtery would take the director’s chair. Mr. Daughtery was the first paid director the theatre had ever used. Rosa Hart had given her time for thirty years without ever being paid a penny, as had did everyone else who worked with Little Theatre.
Rosa Hart formally retired before the 1957-58 season under the orders of her doctors. By this time her heart was badly damaged and she could not continue the pace of the Theatre’s work with impunity. Those who knew Rosa well at this time compared her attitude as psychologically reflecting the death of a child. She had founded the theatre and seen it through its struggles. (125) She did not want the theatre to continue if she could not lead it. Though she gave lip-service otherwise, she was positive the theatre would stop when she did. (126) Because she was made Director Emeritus, the new directors felt they should listen to her and her long service gave seeming credence to her words. Many problems stemmed from this. Miss Hart played actors against directors and against each other in pathetically obvious attempts to cause strife and disunity. (127) She also persisted in chain smoking in areas that were strictly non-smoking because of the danger of fire. There did not seem to be any way to bar her from the theatre without acrimony and adverse publicity. Eventually Miss Hart refused to speak to anyone from the theatre except a few of her oldest friends. (128) But Rosa Hart attended few productions after the first few years of her retirement. (129)
Internal Organization from 1927-1957
When Lake Charles Little Theatre was founded in 1927, the following officers and committees were organized: president, vice-president, secretary, play reading committee, ways and means committee, costume committee, and publicity committee. These officers and chairpersons comprised the Little Theatre Board of Directors.
In the 1927-1957 period few business meetings were held. "All energy is put on production and very little on rules and regulations and meetings that are all talk and no work." (130) Between 1927 and 1957, the theatre had only six presidents. They were: Rosa Hart (1927), Mrs. T. F. Porter (1928-36), C. Loree Briggs (1936-38), Charles A. Richardson (1938-40), B.A. Mariner (1940-42), and Richard Richardson.
Mrs. Dees was the first vice-president serving one-year term. The next vice-president was Hazel Vincent who held that post from 1928 through 1948. Information on her successors is not available in theatre files. People were elected and stayed in office because they forgot to have annual meetings. (131)
The treasurer was Margaret Conover. According to Rosa Hart, the only book kept while she was director was a checkbook. No bills were questioned. The treasurer simply paid them. Mrs. Conover lived in Houston for nine of the eleven years she was treasurer. She took care of day-to-day expenses by periodically mailing over a book of signed checks. Otherwise, she visited at least once a month to settle debts. In between, people phoned her or mailed her bills to be paid. Rosa Hart admitted this to be a rather cavalier way of handling money, but claimed that everyone knew no one would do anything detrimental to the theatre. (132)
The plays were chosen each summer and turned over to various committees. Rosa Hart always told that the plays were read by a great many people who then made recommendations to the theatre. For the first few years scripts were placed on loan at the public library for the reading public. After 1939, this collection was housed at the Stable. There are numerous letters from Rosa Hart to Samuel French requesting reading copies of an enclosed list. William Ray states that for all Miss Hart’s claims, the season was chosen by her alone and presented to technical committees as a "fait accompli." (133)
Miss Hart always said the theatre was run with a minimum of rules. There was a charter of sorts on file but only because the act of incorporation called for one. Evidently that was the only copy as one cannot be found among the theatre’s papers and fire has since destroyed many public records at the court house. There is a copy of a charter from a local real estate company among the theatre’s papers. According to a handwritten note on this charter, it was the basis for the theatre’s charter. The note suggests that this would be one guide to follow with a few changes because of the difference in business. The absence of a copy of the final document indicates how little attention was paid to the paper. There does not seem to have been a constitution until the mid-1960s.
According to all who worked with her, Rosa Hart ran the theatre rather like a "private fiefdom." Once one was invited to work with the group, absolute loyalty and an immense amount of work was expected, and it seems, delivered.
The source of funds to purchase expensive equipment and pay for annual treks to New York is not to be found. As no budgetary material is available, no conclusions can be drawn from that quarter. "The money was always there," states William Ray. Speculation as to its source is impossible; that funding remains between Rosa Hart and her angels to this day.
In the initial three decades, Lake Charles Little Theatre shoved tremendous growth in all areas. The membership rolls went from an estimated 150 the first season to 1,700 in 1957. Membership prices are not indicated in the theatre’s archival material, but given the times could not have been more than two dollars. This estimation is based on the $1.50 guest ticket prices and the fact that in 1975, [1957?] a season ticket was only five dollars. The Theatre had used ten directors in its first two seasons, but after that time Rosa Hart assumed the position and held it until she retired. The group had progressed from evenings of completely unknown one-act plays to evenings of full-length plays from the Broadway stage. The progression of facilities was dramatic also. The group had begun on a temporary stage with two over-head light bulbs for illumination, and ended its third decade with clear ownership of its own theatre, equipped with dressing rooms, ample wing space, and modern lighting.
The Theatre had widened its sphere of influence to include all of Louisiana and Texas, helping to establish community theatres. Closer to home, they had included other civic groups, as well as academic theatres, in their productions. And they had made the men of the Armed Forces not only welcome, but had also used them in productions at the Theatre with the full co-operation of the installations’ commanding officers.
LCLT was definitely a community theatre on the move. With its new facility the group had the capabilities of continuing to go forward. The only dark portion of the theatre’s future was its loss of Rosa Hart as director. Personnel was divided as to whether her departure was a blessing or a shame. Whether the group would be able to survive without this dominant figure would be a source of concern and constant speculation through the next years. Little Theatre was moving into a new phase of it development which did not fill the personnel with unmixed delight. Rosa Hart had provided the focus and impetus for Little Theatre for so many years that some were unable to for see a successful future without her. Other personnel looked on the change of leadership as an opportunity for greater expansion of their programs. Though the theatre would no longer have the firm guidance of Rosa Hart, the next decades would be fraught with great success and other strong personalities who would provide both important leadership and disillusioning divisiveness.
NOTE: After Miss Hart retired from LCLT, she ran the 3 R’s bookstore on Pujo until her death in 1964. Three months before her death she mounted her last production, playfully entitled "Shakespeare in a Bar-b-que Pit" or "The Charred Bard". Billed as a Summer Divertissement, the entertainment was held in celebration of Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary. Rosa wrote the piece which included speeches from the characters of Portia, Juliet, Emilia, Desdemona, and Katherine; an imagined meeting of each of them with Queen Elizabeth I; and a conversation between the Queen and Shakespeare. The ladies wore white chiffon dresses and used colored scarves as hand props. The program was presented May 10, at the home of Mordello Vincent, a lone-time LCLT supporter and friend of Rosa Hart’s. Guests sat on chairs around the Vincent’s bar-b-que pit, which is contained within a 20 foot by 30 foot slab of poured concrete over-looking the Calcasieu River. (Final Curtain, ed. Anne Quilty Smythe, memorial book, Lake Charles, La., 1964.) Rosa Hart died June 12, 1964 of a heart attack and is buried in Opelousas, Louisiana with her family.
LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE FROM 1957-1982
The successful pattern of Lake Charles Little Theatre continued unbroken for eleven years after Rosa Hart’s retirement. The production staff remained loyal and hard-working, producing shows of good quality. But it was not long before the unity of the group began to disintegrate through lack of a strong leader. Hart had been the driving force of LCLT for thirty years and whether the workers loved or hated her, they knew who held the reins. It had been comfortable to be able to depend on answers from one whose work had been crowned with success. Continuity of leadership was a factor sadly lacking in the theatre. Over the next six years only two directors stayed more than one season. Marc Pettaway was the only director to provide long-term guidance to the group. Pettaway’s departure in 1966, after three years began a second decline for LCLT.
Through these years the board provided guidance in management, but the production crews were left to their own devices. It is fortunate that these crews were staffed for the most part with experienced, capable people. Nevertheless, membership rolls would show only one more increase, and that came the first season after Rosa Hart retired. Thereafter, the numbers steadily declined until the rolls ultimately matched the small numbers of the third season. If a steady decline in membership numbers were to be used to measure the success or failure of the company then the failure began in 1958. No one seems to subscribe to that measurement system. Rather it should be noted that with declining membership numbers, and very small increases in membership prices (ten dollars for five shows in 1980), the Little Theatre has never had a deficit season.
It should also be noted that in the middle 1970’s, a strong management appeared again. This group oversaw production and gave guidance as no previous board had done. It did not see the necessity for a strong director, but rather ran the theatre with more egalitarian values in mind. This trend toward representative government was in opposition to the usual little theatre practice of relying on a director to provide leadership. The Lake Charles Little Theatre chose the directors and productions to fulfill its vision of the theatre’s purpose. That the membership numbers have fallen may not reflect failure at all, especially failure because of the lack of a single person to exemplify the "Cult of the Director" so prevalent in some community theatres.
Rather the smaller numbers of members may instead mirror the general decline in public interest in armature theatricals.
In 1957, Rosa Hart retired; the theatre had to look for a new director. This was the end of the volunteer director era. Directors from this point on were paid on a per show or per season basis. Information on salaries is generally unavailable, though mention is sometimes made in LCLT records of amounts directors received. It is understood that some directors were not paid, but identification of those directors is not possible.
Ed Daughtery was hired to become the new director for LCLT. At that time Daughtery was the technical director for McNeese University’s theatre department. Members of the theatre were familiar with his work from plays produced at McNeese. Some of the Little Theatre’s technical staff had assisted Daughtery in lighting the McNeese production of Brigadoon and liked his manner of working. Daughtery had a B.A. in theatre from Henderson State Teacher’s College in Arkansas, and a M.A. in theatre from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He had directed for Baton Rouge Little Theatre and had been technical director and Assistant Professor of Speech for McNeese State University from 1952 to 1957. Daughtery stayed with the Little Theatre for two seasons, 1957 - 58 and 1958 - 59. During his tenure, membership in the theatre topped 2,000 for the first and only time.
The first production Daughtery staged for Little Theatre was John Patrick’s Teahouse of the August Moon at the Stable theatre in October, 1957. This was followed by Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Sabrina Fair by Samuel Taylor. The guest play that season was Bus Stop by William Inge. This was performed by the Galveston, Texas, Little Theatre December 14 at the McNeese Auditorium.
The opening play of the 1958-59 season featured Edward Everett Horton as the guest star of White Sheep of the Family by L. du Garde Peach and Ian Hay. The play was performed in October at the Stable theatre. The theatre had a bad experience with this guest star and did not again invite any stars to perform with their group. Mr. Horton is alleged to have charged a dozen pairs of monogrammed silk under-drawers at Louis’, one of the more exclusive men’s shops in Lake Charles. He also required a professional player for tennis every morning. Horton never felt it was necessary to learn his lines, but only to deliver the flavor of them. He rewrote the script every night without regard to light or sound cues. Everyone on a technical crew fought with Horton over this practice. (134)
Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee was the second show of the season. It opened December 14 and played an additional five nights. Each night the jury was selected from the audience. (135) In the small hours of the morning after the production of December 18, the Stable caught fire and burned to the ground despite the efforts of the local fire department. Only a few items were rescued from the conflagration. The final show was given in the Arcade Theatre on Ryan Street. This same theatre had housed vaudeville and movies for years before being closed. Little Theatre planned to use the Arcade only until it could find a new home. (136) But Little Theatre stayed in the Arcade until 1966.
The Arcade Theatre: 1957 - 1966
The first show to have a full run in the Arcade was No Time for Sergeants by Ira Levin in April. The airplane interior needed was built on stage using divided platforms that rolled and moved as the airplane went through the air. (137) The season closed with Fredrick Knott’s Dial M for Murder.
At the end of this season Ed Daughtery left the Little Theatre and went to Arkadelphia where he took a position with the theatre department at the Baptist College. Mr. Daughtery’s personal problems had a great deal to do with his being asked to leave the Little Theatre. He died a few years later when his car went over the edge of a mountain in Arkadelphia. (138)
The 1959-60 season was directed for Lake Charles Little Theatre by Byron Dowty, who was an advertising salesman for KPLC Radio station in Lake Charles. He was paid three hundred dollars per show by the theatre. His first show was the Rain Maker by N. Richard Nash and had an October run at the Arcade. This show did not live up to standards of previous Little Theatre productions and was not well received by the membership. (139)
The second show of the season was the "invited play" A Visit to a Small Planet by George Axelrod, from the Port Arthur , Texas, Little Theatre, directed by Karl von Lewen. This is one of the few guest plays to have a full run as the town of Port Arthur is close enough for a cast to commute each night. This was the first "invited play" done in the Arcade, as this theatre could seat many more than the Stable had seated and the desire to do a full run of the show precluded using the McNeese Auditorium.
Tiger at the Gates by Jean Giradoux played in the Arcade in February. Costumes for the production were borrowed from Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre as they had recently done the production. (140) John Patrick’s Lo and Behold closed the season. The fireplace used onstage was one of the items taken from the ruins of the Stable after it had burned. (141)
The 1960-61 season was directed by Elwin E. Causey. Causey was the first full-time paid director for the Little Theatre. (142) A recommendation from Paul Baker under whom he had studied led the board of the theatre unanimously to appoint him to the directorship. Causey received his B.A. in drama from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and did a year’s graduate study with Baker at the Dallas Theatre Center. Causey had been resident director at Galveston, Texas, Little Theatre and director of the "Marionette" theatre in Tyler, Texas. He had directed the Children’s Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida. Summer stock and off-Broadway productions were also on his resume. He had toured with the Phoencita, New York, Summer Stock Company as a resident character actor. Previous to his appointment as director of Lake Charles Little Theatre, the membership had seen his work when Bus Stop had been the "invited play" from the Galveston Little Theatre. (143)
In October, 1960, Causey’s opening show for Lake Charles Little Theatre was Charlie’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas. At this time the membership stood at 1,276 members. The show was so popular that the theatre still receives requests for a repeat presentation. Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie, The Skin of our Teeth by Thornton Wilder and See How They Run by Phillip King were the next three shows.
The last show of the season was the first musical done by the Little Theatre, The Boy Friend by Sandy Wilson. This show played two weekends in April with a matinee being given on April 30. The show was a benefit for the Little Theatre building fund and one of the first shows of a regular season to be open for general admission. (144)
The 1961-62 season opened on October 18 with a five night run of Mrs. McThing by Mary Chase. The first night was dedicated to Mrs. Anabelle Dees who had missed only three opening nights in the history of the Little Theatre. A dittoed sheet entitled The Call Board was handed out at this production in addition to the program. It contained information on upcoming shows and audition dates along with newsy articles on the current cast and the Arcade theatre.
Arthur Laurent’s The Time of the Cuckoo ran in November. The third show was The Diary of Anne Frank by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett. George B. Shaw’s play Misalliance, which played, in May was the fourth show. The season closed with the theatre’s second musical Pajama Game. This was Causey’s last show with the Little Theatre. He announced his intention to leave in order to pursue his acting career. The theatre presented him with a watch at his farewell party. (145)
The new director was Elwood P. Williams who held a B.A. in Drama as had Causey. Williams’ first production with the theatre was The Pleasure of His Company by Samuel Taylor and Cornelia Otis Skinner. It was dedicated to McNeese University for that institution’s continuing contribution to the performing arts.
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible ran in December. The actors performed with no sets, only steps and platforms being onstage. Furniture used was painted white to contrast with the black platforms. (146) The Deadly Game by James Yaffe was Williams’ third show. Nude with Violin completed the season in March.
In the summer of 1963, Williams inaugurated the first summer season. Three different melodramas were presented at the Sonnier Building, an empty store at 3114 Ryan Street. The building was renamed The Cabaret Playhouse for these performances. Williams designed and built the stage, sets, lights, and costumes for all three productions. Advertisement was sold to support the initial outlay. The ads were painted on the act curtain in the manner of old vaudeville houses. (147) The three melodramas were The Rebel’s Revenge by Moe Samuelson and Sig Aaronson, and The Perils of Pamona and Love Lies A’Bleeding, both by Aaronson. A long handbill-type program carried song lyrics printed on the reverse side to be used in sing-alongs between acts. Some vaudeville skits were also performed between acts. Beer was sold, as well as peanuts, which the audience was encouraged to throw at the villain of the piece. The price of admission was one dollar, and the shows were open to the public. (148) Each show ran approximately a month during the summer. These melodramas were greatly popular with the public, though no one under eighteen was admitted because of the sale of alcohol during the show. In later years, summer seasons offered special family nights where no alcohol was served so that young children might attend.
The 1963-64 season opened with Carnival, the musical by Michael Stewart and Bob Merrill. This was the first time a musical had opened the season. During rehearsals for this show, Williams resigned and the theatre hired March Pettaway to complete the season. Williams went on to McNeese where he was an Assistant Professor of Speech. Marc Pettaway had been noticed by the theatre for his work at LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. Pettaway had an excellent reputation for the musicals he had directed using the high school students. His B.A. in drama was from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pettaway completed rehearsals for Carnival. For the first time, a play was done with no curtains; all changes being made in full view of the audience. The show was a great success and Pettaway stayed on as director until the end of the Summer, 1966 season.
The second show was Everybody Loves Opal by John Patrick, followed by the March run of George Axlerod’s The Seven Year Itch. At this point the membership of the theatre was 1,040.
The season closed in April with Once Upon a Mattress. The show was a huge success with the audiences who packed the house each night. The cast requirements allowed a large number of high school students the opportunity to become active in the theatre. Many of these teen-aged students have continued to work with LCLT. One of them, Thomas Munger, was President of the Board from 1982 through 1986.
The summer productions were held at the Majestic Hotel that year. At the end of the season, this building was demolished and a new parking lot was made there for Gulf National Bank. (149)
The first melodrama of the 1964 summer season was Dirty Work at the Crossroads by Bill Johnson. The play ran for four weekends. Once again sing-alongs were conducted and beer and peanuts sold to the audience. The Drunkard was the second melodrama that summer and played the month of July. In August the theatre was dark.
Pettaway opened the 1964-65 season with the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee play Auntie Mame in the Arcade. The setting for Mame’s apartment was built on three connected trucks that moved upstage and downstage in troughs. The twenty-four foot tall spiral staircase was constructed at stage left on a separate truck of its own. The staircase was moved off and on to accommodate entrances and exits to the offstage second floor of the "apartment." The back wall of this set contained three panels pinned to allow for rotation. There were two sets of these panels. They were painted to represent a library, modern art paintings, Chinese art, and other redecorating schemes of Mame’s. Gus Quinn, a local architect, sketched a brilliant perspective drawing of an outdoor patio cover for a scene in Act II. One of the cast members was Mary Ellie Leonhart, aged 75. Miss Leonhart had been responsible for intermission coffee since the first production of the Little Theatre in 1927, but had never been on stage. During this show, a youth group was organized somewhat along the lines of the Junior Group of the 1920’s and ‘30’s. The group was named Little Theatre Little Group and was to study technical theatre through doing production work.
A Far Country by Henry Decker was the second show of that season. Its run included a Sunday matinee. Membership rolls at this time showed only 300 (800?) members.
Norman Krasna’s Kind Sir was the first show to play for two weekends instead of on consecutive nights. The theatre had found its audience numbers to be light on week nights and decided the two weekends would better serve their members.
NOTE: After Rosa Hart died in June, the group presented a memorial on September 27, 1964, in the form of a theatrical presentation in Ralph Squires Theatre at McNeese. Twenty-one scenes were presented from plays Rosa Hart had directed. The scenes were performed in all cases by the actors who had created the roles originally. The memorial book previously mentioned was published at this time.
The season closed with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. The dress rehearsal was given as a benefit for the YMCA building fund drive. The roles of the younger children were double cast as had been the theatre’s policy in the past. The actress playing Maria was an elementary school teacher and oversaw the children’s homework backstage. This was the first time since Peter Pan it had been necessary to provide tutoring backstage.
The summer of 1964 program was held in a rented store in the Third Avenue shopping center. Rather than melodrama open to the public, this summer’s program was more on the order of an actor’s workshop. During the morning hours, children between the ages of 7 and 12 met and took part in theatre games and activities. The afternoon was given over to the Little Theatre Little Group which worked on scenes and studied pantomime and stage craft. The evening was devoted to adult scene work and actor training sessions. Presentation of final works was held only for other actors and parents.
The 1965-66 season opened with Harry Kurnitz and Marcel Archard’s comedy A Shot in the Dark at the Arcade. On November 5 the group broke rehearsals for the next show to take this comedy to Beaumont. There they performed two evenings for the Beaumont Community Players membership. Mary, Mary by Jean Kerr played only one weekend in November because of the holiday season.
A staged reading of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest was given on January 15. This book was open only to members of the Little Theatre. The stage was bare except for wooden stools and music stands and was draped by the black curtains of the stage. The actors wore formal evening dress. This was an attempt to offer something special for members only, a move to shore up the sagging membership rolls. There is no reflection in future membership lists to suggest the idea worked as intended.
February was the production time for The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Inge. The children’s roles were again doubled and, excepting the youngest actor, all came from the youth group. Some of the costumes worn were original period clothes. The lighting design included some 116 cues. To accommodate this large number of cues and special lighting effects, Pettaway requested the light crew add a third member. The cues were run on the dagger board original to the Arcade and on a newly acquired radial dimmer board. Extra instruments were borrowed from McNeese’s theatre. (150)
The season closed with an extravagant production of Camelot. The budget for this show far exceeded any other to date, with over $9,000 being spent for royalties, sets and costumes. Dot Edelstein, the costume mistress, knitted ten pairs of "chain mail" from rug yarn for the knights. Twenty-seven different crowns and headpieces were created by Jo Fox and Les Armos. Louise Stowe, a local artist, created thirty animal heads for the enchanted forest scene. These heads and the actors’ bodies were accented with fluorescent paint, and the scene was lighted with black lights. (151) Sixty actors played onstage, some doubling and tripling roles. A backdrop was discovered hanging against the rear wall of the stage which depicted a forest scene and seemed to be left from the days when vaudeville played at the Arcade. The drop was used behind both forest scenes in the play.
Chennault Memorial Theatre 1966 -1975
Camelot was to be the last show performed by Little Theatre in the Arcade. At the close of the show it was announced that the theatre had acquired property on Chennault Air Force Base which had been offered for sale by the federal government. The base had been closed, and the government was anxious to transfer the property to private ownership for a very small fee. The Little Theatre purchased the base church complex. The property included the sanctuary building, a connecting hallway containing restrooms and a kitchen, and another wing that had been a meeting hall. Also included in the purchase was a barracks building across the street behind the church. For years the barracks was used for costume storage, but because of vandalism was finally abandoned. It was later sold to the Calcasieu Academy for a school building.
The theatre took possession of the building in the summer of 1966. Renovations were begun on the sanctuary that would convert that area into a theatre house. The area was complete enough to allow the 1966-67 season to use the facility. The summer work, however, was done exclusively in the meeting hall area. This room was long and narrow with windows lining both side walls. A stage platform eighteen inches high was erected in the east end of the room next door to the kitchen. The stage was twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep to a wall. There was a door on stage left that led into a tiny closet. The closet then opened into the main room. Another door was in upstage right and opened into the kitchen. The kitchen opened into the hallway connecting the sanctuary and the meeting hall. There were no curtains hung during the first summer. Pipes were attached to the ceiling directly before the stage and ten feet back from the stage to carry light instruments. Control of the lights was from the used radial dimmer board the theatre had secured while in the Arcade.
The summer was occupied by the work of the Lake Charles Little Theatre Actor’s Studio. An intern program was established with two McNeese theatre majors being hired to fill those positions. They were Ken Prejean and Nancy Key. They were paid twenty-five dollars a week. Their duties included cleaning the building, assisting Pettaway in teaching theatre activities to the youngest group, direction of a children’s theatre piece, and technical assistance for productions done by the adult group. This program was very important to Pettaway, though he did not find much support from the board members. Lack of support for this program from the board was an indication of the deteriorating relationship between Pettaway and the board members.
Ultimately this situation helped lead to a direct confrontation between the two parties and Pettaway’s leaving the theatre.
This summer, like last summer, there were three age groups for participants. The Cotton Candy group was comprised of elementary and junior high school students. The Summer Mummers consisted of high school students, and the Actor’s Studio was open to adults.
The opening production of the adult group was a repeat run of Kerr’s Mary, Mary. Most of the original cast repeated their parts. The second production by the adults was Bell, Book and Candle by John Van Drutten.
The final adult production was Never Too Late by Arthur A. Long which played in July. All three of these productions were open to the public with a one dollar admission charge. The theatre showed a profit of $1,028 that summer.
The Cotton Candy productions were Puss N’ Boots and The Red Shoes directed by the interns. The Summer Mummers presented scenes from Molier’s The Affected Ladies and The Miracle Worker. Also presented were musical pantomimes to Little Tin Box, Don’t Be Discouraged, Lizzie Borden, and Banjo.
Marc Pettaway resigned during the last week of production for Never Too Late. He went to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, to complete a Master’s degree in theatre. He later returned to Lake Charles as resident director of a new community theatre Artist’s Civic Theatre and Studio. When Pettaway resigned there was a serious split in the theatre for the first time in its history. No information was given to the workers of the theatre concerning the circumstances that lead to Pettaway’s resignation, and many understood he had been fired by the Board. A large number of the workers were personally loyal to Pettaway and emotions ran high during this period. Many of the adults and almost all of the young people who had worked in the theatre only under Pettaway felt betrayed by the theatre’s Board of Directors and left the theatre. This group formed the core of the new community theatre, Artist’s Civic Theatre and Studio which was formed in the next year expressly to enable Pettaway to return to Lake Charles as a director. Many members also left the theatre at this time. Some have returned, or hold membership in both organizations. This split had a serious effect on Little Theatre, one which many credit as the beginning of the decline in Little Theatre’s popularity and the ability to hold its membership. (152)
After Pettaway left the theatre in 1966, LCLT used a series of directors some with more training than others and many with little more than an attachment to LCLT through years of association. The 1966-67 season had Rosalie Robinson as its only director and in the 1969-70 season Ramsey McLeod served as sole director. In 1972, James Ayo directed a complete season. No other seasons have had single directors since Ayo left the group. No deliberate determination had been made to avoid the use of full-time directors. The theatre simply could not find and could not afford to hire a trained professional to steer them through the seasons. The next years were fraught with constant worries over finances and directors. The group would never again be as stable as it had been when Rosa Hart and Pettaway had headed the organization.
By the time the regular season was ready to begin the work on the main theatre had been completed. The wing that had been the sanctuary now housed the theatre auditorium. The north end of the room which led off into the connecting hallway became the stage area. A platform was erected on a base of upright cinder blocks which raised the stage floor sixteen inches. Over the blocks was laid a floor of three-quarter inch plywood. The floor was very sturdy and had enough elasticity to become very popular with dance companies without creaking when actors crossed the area. The proscenium opening was twenty-eight feet wide and fifteen feet high. There were no fly facilities, though pipes were placed for teasers and onstage lighting. Wing space was limited to four feet on stage right and six feet on stage left. The stage left wing, however, had a door near the proscenium that led into a store room and thence into a make-up room. The store room also had access into the hallway between the building’s wings. Sets were moved forward to allow crossover space. Lighting controls were originally by the proscenium on stage left, later these boards were moved to the back of the house. Old black tormentors and teasers found rotting in the upper storage rooms of the Arcade theatre served to mask the wings. A six foot wide area in front of the stage allowed for a pit.
The house seated two hundred fifty patrons. The seats were fixed into wooden tiers built beginning at a four foot high wall constructed at the edge of the orchestra pit area. The seating tiers went up to a height of twenty feet. The sight lines in the house were excellent because of this high rake. Old seats from the Paramount movie theatre were purchased at a reasonable rate.
In the space under the seating were built racks for flat storage, stacks of raw lumber, paint shelves, pipes to hold extra lighting equipment, and prop storage shelves. Before the building was opened for the first show, however, the city fire marshal demanded the paint be removed to a backstage area for the safety of the audience. Not too very long after the group began operating in the new auditorium it was found that storing flats under the seating necessitated hauling the fourteen foot tall flats up the seating area, down the stairway, into the lobby and then under the seats. This was not appreciated by the technical crew and the flats were removed to the offstage left store room.
The next director for the Little Theatre was Rosalie Robinson. Mrs. Robinson had been a student of Rosa Hart’s many years before, and held degrees from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and McNeese State. Her work included summer stock in San Francisco and a stint as a member of the Dallas Theatre Center Repertory Company. In Lake Charles, she had opened her own acting school and ran an arena theatre there.
Robinson’s first show, West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Henry Laurents, opened the 1966-67 season in October. The show was done without an act curtain, all changes being made in blackout. The sets were "neo-abstract." The theatre board decided that the shows would no longer be open to the pubic as they had been since 1961, but members’ guest privileges were extended to three nights. The house at Chennault Memorial Theatre seated only 250 and this reduction in available seating prompted the change in policy. (153)
The second show of the season was Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams was the third show. Any Wednesday by Muriel Resnick played in April. The musical Riverwind by John Jennings closed the season with its May run.
The summer 1967 season was mounted by Elwood P. Williams, a past director of Little Theatre. This year the melodramas were done in the meeting hall at Chennault which had been named the Rosa Hart Room after the theatre took possession of the property. Rosie’s Ricochet Romance by S. J. Aaronson played through the month of June. Then Rebel’s Revenge was repeated all of July and August.
Director Rosalie Robinson named the 1967-68 season as a "season for laughter." (154) The opening show was Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, followed by The Man Who Came To Dinner by Kaufman and Hart. After this production Rosalie Robinson resigned from Little Theatre and left Lake Charles.
The third show, Ira Levin’s Critic’s Choice was directed by Lady Leah Lefargue Hathaway. Lady Leah had performed in many Little Theatre productions from the time she was a child. She currently has her own ballet school in Lake Charles. Rehearsals of this show were interrupted by crisis that threatened the existence of the Little Theatre. A meeting was held by certain board members wherein it was voted that Little Theatre would cease operations and turn its property and equipment over to ACTS, the theatre that past Little Theatre director Marc Pettaway headed. A contretemps developed when this decision was made a public through the local newspaper via a letter written by Harper Clark, Sr. and addressed to the theatre’s membership. A general meeting was called and the decision to cease operations was vetoed through a vote of the membership. Rehearsals began anew for Critic’s Choice and the show had a four night run in April. This show was opened for general admission and all Lake Charles Little Theatre productions have continued this policy.
Karl von Lewen directed the closing show of the season. The Winslow Boy by Terrance Rattingan. Von Lewen was a graduate of Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts. He had been resident director for both the Beaumont Community Players and the Port Arthur Little Theatre in Texas. Because of the proximity of these theatres to Lake Charles, the Louisiana group was familiar with his work, one of his productions for Beaumont having been an "invited play."
In the summer of 1968, the summer melodramas were repeated. Bill Johnson’s Dirty Work at the Crossroads was directed by Horace Lyons. Lyons had no formal training in directing but had appeared in Little Theatre productions for many years. One of his favorite roles was that of the villain in melodramas and had played that part in almost every melodrama the Little Theatre had done. Next Patricia Shawa directed Rosie’s Ricochet Romance by S. J. Aaronson. Shawa was another of the Little Theatre directors that had no academic training, but had learned her craft through participation. In this case, Mrs. Shawa had participated in the summer melodramas as an actress for three seasons prior to her taking over the direction of this production.
The fact that Little Theatre had reached the point of relying on directors who had no training in theatre other than three productions with the group points out the level of leadership the theatre had reached. The board was not directly involved in production, no more than it had been in the past few years. The board seemed concerned only that a production be mounted, not that the show have the best production values possible. There was no really active search being conducted to find qualified personnel outside the group itself. This situation was to continue until 1972, when a group of workers who had left Little Theatre returned and a disaster occurred that allowed for space to be made to accommodate new leadership.
The 1968-69 season consisted of only three productions. The first was the "invited play" Little Foxes, brought by Beaumont Little Theatre. The show was directed by Terry Dopson and played December 12 at Chennault Memorial Theatre. The late opening of the season reflected the problems Little Theatre was having at this time. The membership had dropped off steadily, and consequently, so had revenues. Members mainly consisted of old patrons of the theatre with fewer and fewer new young members being added to the rolls. This may be explained by the fact that at this time Artist’s Civic Theatre and Studio was in full production and had attracted both the young workers of LCLT and young members who would have previously attended LCLT productions. It may also reflect the membership’s standing objections to the use of the Chennault facility. The old air base is located far from the population center of Lake Charles and the drive out to the facility was not appreciated by the members. The area was not well lighted and at night was very dark. Most of the buildings on the base property were abandoned and had been subject to obvious vandalism. The only occupied area of the base was a trailer park located across the street from the theatre. The trailer park had a reputation for providing most of the vandals and members were, simply put, afraid to go to the theatre. This problem of location was to haunt the group for the rest of its time in the Memorial Theatre and is considered by many to have been another cause of the decline of Lake Charles Little Theatre. (155)
The Kiwanis Club of Lake Charles sponsored the second show of this season, Neil Simon’s The Star Spangled Girl. Ramsey McLeod directed the production which ran in February. McLeod also directed the last show of this season, another Neil Simon play, Come Blow Your Horn.
In the summer of 1969, only one melodrama was presented. This time Caught in the Villain’s Web played from mid-July through mid-August on Friday and Saturday nights. The director of this production was Norris Lebeouf. Lebeouf was a drama major at McNeese and had begun working in theatre while a high school student at LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. His director at that time had been Marc Pettaway. LeBeouf had acted in many productions both with Little Theatre and McNeese before directing this melodrama for Little Theatre.
Ramsey McLeod was chosen to direct the next four productions for Little Theatre. The 1969-70 season opened with LUV by Norris Shisgal. The play was shown only the weekend of October 9-11. This one-weekend run was to be continued for the next three seasons. The lack of membership and small attendance by non-members had caused the theatre to drop the second weekend.
The second show was an original play, Glouster, by Ramsey McLeod, which received generally good reviews. McLeod had been working on the script for a number of years and the final format used poetic meter and rhyme vaguely reminiscent of Shakespeare. (156) Wait Until Dark by Fredrick Knott was the third show of the season. It ran in February to a very small audience. (157)
The last play directed by McLeod was Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. The show was seen in April by small but appreciative audiences. (158) McLeod died of a heart attack while driving his car, December 24, 1970.
Francis Fusilier came out from McNeese Theatre Arts Department to direct the next production. This was a repeat of the initially successful play The Women by Clare Booth. The script was the revised version printed in 1966 and was quite favorably received by the audience. (159) The audience was larger than hitherto had attended Little Theatre productions. One might suggest that the cast of forty women was a reason for the growth of audience members for this production. The stage was essentially left bare for this show. A two step unit led up to a platform that crossed the back of the stage, leaving a playing area twelve feet deep in the front of the stage. A turntable was borrowed from Baton Rouge Little Theatre and was placed in the center of the upstage level. The three backgrounds on the turn-table represented the bathroom, the hospital, and a blank wall. Very few pieces of furniture were used on stage. (160)
Light Up the Sky by Moss Hart opened the 1970-71 season. The play was directed by Larry Bolich and seen early in November. Bolich had begun his theatre career in 1950, as a member of the Mummers theatre in Oklahoma City. In 1956, he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and acted with the Shreveport Little Theatre. He was business manager for Gifford’s Summer Theatre, and a founding member and director for Port Players of Shreveport. Bolich then moved to Lake Charles where he acted with Artist’s Civic Theatre and Studio before directing for Little Theatre. He was a professional public relations man and his connections with the Chamber of Commerce helped the have a full page article concerning the show published in the Greater Lake Charles Chamber of Commerce, a publication of that group. In December, Maxwell Anderson’s The Bad Seed was directed by Richard O’Neal.
White Sheep of the Family by L. du Garde Peach and Ian Hay was the third production of the season. Ronald Denniston-Pope directed this offering. Pope is an English citizen who had come to America in 1946. He had acted and directed English community theatre previous to immigrating. Pope thought the Little Theatre would only survive by a move back to presenting theatre aimed at the whole family and chose White Sheep accordingly. (161)
A special offering was played in June at the theatre. Jeffery Roy directed I Do! I Do! as his own project though it was sponsored by Little Theatre. While a student at LaGrange High School he had directed three plays there including on original musical. He had begun work at McNeese University as a music composition major. He had composed scores for McNeese’s production of Beckett and Long Day’s Journey into Night. He had also composed two ballets Ou Est La Fox and The Deaf mute which were performed at El Dorado, Texas, Little Theatre. Roy attended two summer sessions at the University of Southern Mississippi. Since leaving Lake Charles Roy has performed in several Broadway road show companies, studied music at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, and is now writing music professionally. His production of I Do! I Do! for the Little Theatre was done as a fantasy. The stage was completely hung in black and the furnishings were white and pastels. The feeling was that these pieces floated in the unreal atmosphere of the stage. (162) The same weekend that Roy opened his production Artist’s Civic Theatre and Studio opened that same show. Private comment by Pettaway to workers of the Little Theatre carried the idea that the two theatres were seen by Pettaway to be in direct competition, and he was trying to prove his group could command a larger audience than Little Theatre could. (163) The audience numbers proved Pettaway correct, but in the long run, public opinion had decided this to be an unworthy move on the part of ACTS. Though feeling of competition may still resist among some factions of both groups, there has been an effort not to repeat this sort of incident. The theatres have run on concurrent dates; however, not of the same plays.
In the summer of 1971, the audience saw a repeat production of The Great Big Doorstep, directed by Clara Gebsen. The dates of production and the manner of its presentation are not represented in any available material. Mrs. Gebsen had been working with the Lake Charles Little Theatre since 1935, and, though she had lived in Shreveport for many years, had continued her support of Little Theatre. She was a graduate of the Corinne Henderson School of Drama in Natchez, Mississippi, and had worked with the Shreveport Little Theatre during the time she lived in that city.
The 1971-72 season opened with Jean Kerr’s Jenny Kissed Me directed by Ronald Denniston-Pope. Mrs. Gebsen directed the second show Curious Savage by John Patrick. This play was seen by a small audience made up for the most part of older members of the Little Theatre. The lack of audience was again decried in the local newspaper. (164)
At this time the Little Theatre hired full-time director James Ayo to complete the season. He was to continue directing throughout the summer and the next year. Ayo was a senior at McNeese at this time and this was his first experience as a director of community theatre. He had directed children’s theatre for the American Repertory Theatre of New Orleans, had studied in New York under the French actor Pierre Oalfe, and acted in many McNeese productions. His first play for Little Theatre was Antigone by Jean Anouilh. Ayo is quoted in the American Press February 9, 1971, as saying that this production of Antigone "represents an attempt to bring local audiences contemporary theatre in a dramatically pleasing form while appealing to the French heritage of the area." In a later article Ayo stated that the plays he would choose to direct would lead to a rejuvenation of community theatre by presenting a balanced season of entertainment. (165)
Antigone played in February, followed by Lawrence Roman’s Under the Yum Yum Tree in May.
In the summer of 1972, Ayo opened a summer acting school for students between the ages of 8 and 21. Because of lack of enrollment, the idea of a school was abandoned. Instead, a summer production was mounted.
Telemachus Clay, adapted by Ayo to fit his vision of the production, was performed in July as a cabaret theatre piece. The audience was seated at long tables set on diagonal lines in the Rosa Hart Room. Interspersed throughout the tables were ten-foot wooden ladders to be used by the actors, and light trees to hold instruments that provided spot lighting. Ayo saw the show as "a collage of sounds and voices in two acts." (166) The audience was bewildered by the style of the production as much as it content. They were unused to seeing this type of work, especially as a part of the summer season. They had come expecting another peanut-throwing melodrama and many went away confused as to what they had seen. (167)
Ayo opened the 1972-73 season with Butterflies Are Free by Leonard Gershe. This play ran two week-ends, a calendar that continues to be the Little Theatre standard run. Ayo talked with a reporter from the American Press and gave his plan for the season: "this season’s offerings will attempt to bring the Lake Charles community closer to its oldest civic theatre undertaking with a diversified selection of old and new theatre all in a light-hearted vein." (168) In an article printed after Butterflies are Free opened, Ayo explained his conception of how a community theatre should work: "parts are not given, they are earned. If an actor is not enjoying himself, I prefer that he disengage himself. The enjoyment of the actor spills over the footlights promoting a contagion of sorts." (169)
The second offering of the season was Arsenic and Old Lace, a revival of the John Kesselring play seen by Little Theatre members in 1947. Garf MacDonald repeated his performance of the role of Jonathan. Lillian Reed designed and built the sets for this production as she had done for the first production, and Jerry Marchand collected the props as she had done previously. The show played to a larger audience than had attended Little Theatre productions for many years. (170)
Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams was presented in February. During the rehearsal period it was announced that Denver Kaufman would be the lighting director and Darril McFarlain would serve as technical director for the reminder of the season. (171) These two had been drama students at McNeese with Ayo. They both did technical work for the last two shows of the season, then pursued their careers elsewhere. The season closed with Natalie Needs a Nightie by Neil and Carol Schaffner. Ayo left Little Theatre and Lake Charles at the close of this production.
The theatre went into a period of confusion at this time. The Board seemed to have developed a policy of non-interference with those who actually did the production work. The workers were for the most part young people, many of whom left the Little Theatre when ACTS had been organized and had since returned. These younger workers had for the most part worked in the Little Theatre and ACTS for many years, and had, in addition to this practical experience, academic training in theatre. Some of the older members were still involved in production work, notably Maxine Ray, Garf MacDonald, Jerry Marchand, Mathilde Gano, and Harper Clark.
The theatre’s Board decided, on the strenuous recommendation of the younger workers, that a full-time director would not be hired again. The young people, having the experience and training they did, wanted to take over directorial duties themselves. The position of director then became a rotating chair. The technical duties were carried out by the workers as before. When a technical position was vacant because the head of that crew was doing his or her stint as director, a member of the crew was given the opportunity to fill that vacancy. In this manner a rotating group of technical people was also developed. From this point on, there were few seasons that did not see different personnel filling positions for each show.
In the beginning years of this experiment of having a rotating stable of directors, there were little restraints placed upon who would be allowed to direct. For the most part the participants were well known to each other, having worked together in the theatre and, in many cases, having attended college together. Later it was found that the theatre could not rely on a director telling the complete truth about his qualifications and the theatre attempted to establish some guidelines a prospective director should meet in order to be allowed to take over a production. This policy stated that a new director, especially if he were unknown to the theatre personnel, should assist a more experienced director for at least one show prior to his being allowed to direct his own production. This policy was not followed in all cases, and the theatre found itself in jeopardy more than once.
The 1973-74 season was directed by three members of the theatre staff. Phil Smathers, who had worked with Little Theatre for ten years and had a Batchelor’s degree in Speech, was the first. Smathers directed The Last of the Red Hot Lovers as the opening show. While production standards were high, the play was not attended by any but a small percentage of the theatre’s membership. There were many nights when the actors onstage outnumbered the audience. (172) The play lost money, the first production in many years to do so. The theatre drew on a Texas talent for the second offering. For two nights in February, Mrs. Weldon Lynch presented her popular Book Theatre, a lively dramatized review of the new book Upstairs at the White House. As one of the local women’s clubs had sponsored Mrs. Lynch earlier in the year at one of their meetings, the presentation had excellent word-of-mouth publicity in addition to the usual newspaper advertising. The Book Theatre proved popular with those attending. (173) This was the only time Little Theatre gave its membership any offering other than one of a theatrical nature. The very fact that the theatre did present a non-theatrical offering as part of its regular season is an indication of the confusion reigning at this time. Very little direction was being offered by the board and as the younger workers had no access to this body, they were foundering themselves. Soon leaders began to emerge among the production staff, Arthur Wannage was one of the first of the "Turks," as the younger workers styled themselves, to be elected the Board of Directors. Candidacy for a board position was understood to be decided by that group it self, with a proposed slate of new members presented for the membership’s vote as a fait accompli. Actually, there has never been an unexpected nomination from the floor at the general membership meeting. But Wannage’s election to the increasingly shadowy board was not until June, 1974.
The third presentation was directed by Arthur Wannage. Wannage had an academic background in theatre and had served the theatre in various capacities for three years. His production, I Never Sang For My Father by Robert Anderson was presented in April.
The final production this year was directed by Jeanne Bruno Wannage, a member of the technical community. Mrs. Wannage directed The Tender Trap by Max Shulman and Robert Paul Smith. This show ran only three nights. The theatre had scheduled the shorter run because of financial considerations. The membership had again dropped numerically, and single admissions were almost non-existent. The group thought that the shorter run would accommodate its members without necessitation the payment of another night’s royalties.
An effort was made to promote the theatre during this summer of 1974. The theatre reasoned that if an audience could be convinced to drive out to the abandoned air base for an evening of fun during the summer, they would be more likely to continue attending the productions offered during the season. Little Theatre was noted for its summer productions, though Telemachus Clay the preceding summer had disappointed many of those attending. This summer the theatre elected not to do a season of melodrama, perhaps not the best decision on consideration of the long-standing public support for the melodramas and the abysmal failure of the previous summer’s production. The melodrama had always brought money to the theatre and had been heavily attended by an audience that never attended regular shows. But the present group of people working with the theatre did not appreciate the melodramas and determined not to produce one. (174) They also felt that as they had just finished a full season of activity, they did not want to spend the summer in production also. The number of people who contributed to the work of the theatre’s regular season had shrunk greatly, with the same people doing the production work on every show. They all had outside jobs and families. This problem is reflected in many groups that rely on volunteer workers. Bill and Maxine Ray attribute many of the problems Little Theatre was having to the change in the American workforce. "In the past, women stayed home and men worked, we women could spend all day collecting props and making costumes. When the men came home we served supper, then the whole family went to the theatre. Now both the husband and wife are working, and no one has the time to give that we had." (175)
However, this may be reflected by America at large, this statement certainly was true of the Lake Charles Little Theatre at this time. The work pool was composed almost completely of young couples, highly educated, and both working. The decline of the summer offerings are symbolic of their wish for a respite from constant production work.
The group did not stage a show until August 23 and only one performance was scheduled. The evening was highly publicized by the American Press and dubbed "Theatre-Under-The-Stars" by its participants. Instead of a full production, the group chose to do scenes from currently popular works. The scenes were presented outside on the lawn of the theatre. Platforms were legged up eighteen inches to serve as a playing surface and stadium seating was rented for audience seating. Three scenes were presented: Dorothy Parker’s Here We Are, directed by Roger Miller; Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, directed by Brenda Kay; and Richard Armour’s humorous interpretation of Macbeth directed by Arthur Wannage.
The audience numbers were not high but those attending enjoyed the presentations. The City of Lake Charles had been prevailed upon to do an extra spraying of the area for that night. The lack of mosquitoes, a summer scourge in this area, almost forgave the heat in which the audience sweltered.
Little Theatre presented only three productions in the 1974-75 season; a season marked by tragedy. The first production was Generation, a William Goodhart comedy. This was directed by Roger Miller. Miller had appeared in productions at McNeese University and had a B.A in speech. The audience numbers were light, showing that he attempt to gain audience through the summer productions had not worked. The show was plagued by bad luck with cast members and poor production standards. (176) The show ran for three nights in October.
Brenda Kay directed the second production of this season. Her area of specialization in college had been speech and she taught speech and forensics in secondary school. Mrs. Kay directed Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. This show was immensely popular with audiences and enjoyed a two weekend run. The second weekend had been scheduled to fill the demand made for seating by local churches and schools. The set created for this show was a multilevel, multi-purpose set. Lights delineated acting areas and place was further defined by the addition of furniture for some scenes. (177)
Les Royal was credited with directing the last show of the season. The theatre was unfamiliar with Royal; he had only recently come to Lake Charles to take up a position with one of the banks. The theatre elected to allow Royal to direct on the strength of his resume only. This was the last time the theatre would accept a director on these grounds. The association was not the happiest. Royal, according to cast members, did not direct in any acceptable sense of the word. (178) The actors found themselves floundering for guidance and dissention grew among them. The scheduled show was to be the American premier of Robert Nathan’s Juliet in Mantua. This is a light piece that begins where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ends, excepting that young people no not die but go off to Mantua to live. The play had been produced in Europe, with no great success. The script was recommended by members of the play reading committee and accepted by the board without question. The script was not an easy one to play, especially as it is written in a forced imitation of Shakespeare’s verse style. The actors had great difficulty dealing with their parts. (179) The director did not attend many rehearsals.
The play limped to production day and managed to prepare for the first technical rehearsal. The night before this rehearsal the building caught fire, and, despite the efforts of the local fire department, burned to the ground. This second loss of their theatre left the group with some little more equipment than the 1953 ( 1958?)fire had left. In the morning while the firemen were still dousing the smoldering ruins, the theatre workers gathered to survey the damage and salvage what they could. Only the main theatre section had burned. The hallway, kitchen, and meeting hall remained. In the days that followed, the workers were to discover that they could save a number of lighting instruments from the burned equipment rooms, but little else. The library Little Theatre had been accumulating since its inception was lost, along with the entire stock of costumes and all set pieces. The theatre was also faced with an opening night deadline they were unprepared to meet technically as well as artistically.
The City of Lake Charles, through the mayor’s office offered the free use of the theatre facilities at the newly constructed Civic Center. The company decided that it would follow the example set for it after the burning of the Stable theatre and open the next production on time. As all set pieces had been destroyed and there was neither time or money to construct new platform and staircases, the theatre made use of folding step and platform units available at the Civic Center. Costumes were cobbled together from dresses and coats donated by theatre members.
An effort to publicize the production was made by the group. The one-night presentation of this "American premier" was reported by the American Press at length. A double page spread of pictures of the remains of the theatre accompanied a plea for funds to rebuild the theatre’s home. The American Bank of Commerce opened a special account for a building fund to enable citizens to contribute to the building fund. Very little money was raised in this manner, but the town did not ignore the production. The 2500 seat theatre was decently filled for the show. The opening was attended by many people who had never attended a Little Theatre production. Unfortunately, these numbers did not feel called upon to buy memberships for the next season.
The falling membership and loss of the building threw the theatre group into a stressful period. Within two weeks after the presentation of Juliet in Mantua a meeting of the Board of Directors was called. At that time the president of the Board, Edward Midlam resigned, followed by two other members of the Board. These people were some of the group that had worked with Rosa Hart and had remained active in the Little Theatre. They felt that this disaster was a perfect time for the Little Theatre to cease production without the embarrassment of public dissolution of the theatre’s assets.
The resolution of the older members to close the theatre was met with opposition from four production workers at the meeting. When the president resigned, before his term was expired, this group voiced their determination to continue the work of the Little Theatre. Nancy M. Key was voted in as interim president of the Board with instructions from the remaining board members to revamp the board and run the theatre.
The annual meeting of the membership was called for the second Monday in June. Preliminary groundwork for this meeting had been done in a series of smaller meetings over the intervening weeks. Mrs. Key requested the resignation of two Board members who had served for long periods of time, but did not work in production areas. She had determined to present a slate of new officers and Board members to the membership composed of active production personnel. The requested resignations were duly tendered and Mrs. Key proceeded with her proposals. At the June annual meeting the proposed slate of board members was elected. Following that open meeting a closed meeting was called and Mrs. Key’s position as president was confirmed by a vote of the newly organized Board.
The new Board was determined to take over the administration of the theatre. They would follow the pattern set by Rosa Hart’s Board in that they would continue to fill Board positions from active production workers of the theatre. This policy has been adhered to by succeeding boards even to a complete restructuring of the theatre’s governing body in the late 1970’s. Mrs. Key served for only one term demanding that the chair rotate annually there after. This rotation of the president’s chair wad adhered to until the early 1980’s when further deterioration of the work force made it obvious that neither the presidency nor any board position was greatly sought by new people. The current president had held the chair for four years.
The Homeless Years 1975-1982
Lake Charles Little Theatre spent the next seven years looking for a permanent home. The group had no funds to rebuild the Chennault facility and though it rehearsed in the Rosa Hart Room until 1979, it was unable to perform there. A new job responsibility developed, that of facilities coordinator. This position was held by Mathilde Gano and Maxine Ray by Thomas Munger until an efficient young legal secretary; Suzanne Cooper joined the group and took over the task.
The first site selected by the theatre was the small auditorium at LaGrange Middle School. The facility and arrangements were a far cry from the structure to which the group was habituated; nevertheless, the school personnel proved to be most accommodating through the years Lake Charles Little Theatre performed in their building. Indeed, the theatre used a number of public school sites over the next seven years and were always treated with great cooperation and consideration. In response, the theatre always remembered they were guests, and inconvenient ones at that, and returned to the school the same respect. (180)
LaGrange Middle School had been constructed in the mid-1920s. In the centre of the building was a small auditorium with a stage. The proscenium opening was eighteen feet wide and ten feet high. The stage had a depth of twelve feet, was eighteen inches from the house floor, and had no fly facility. The wings on left and right were each four feet wide, wide enough to accommodate a door and some space around it. These doors were at stage level. There was a three foot apron that extended beyond the curtain line. For performances LCLT added four by eight platforms across the entire front of the house. This facilitated the use of the wing doors as part of the stage proper. There was no crossover space behind the stage and often very little could be provided by moving the set downstage. This made for some interesting contortions by the actors when the set called for windows. There was a grand drape and grand tormentor, but no other masking was in the auditorium. Whatever was not masked by the set was curtained off by the theatre as necessary. Behind the grand tormentor the ceiling rose another three feet, allowing for the hanging of onstage lights and overhead masking. Lighting control boards were placed against the proscenium in stage right, this was the most convenient area as the fuse box for the auditorium was located there and the lighting technicians tapped directly into the electricity by rewiring this box. When the theatre was financially secure enough to allow for the purchase of new control equipment and additional cable, the lighting personnel moved into the balcony.
At the back of the stage left wing was a stairwell that led down into the under stage area. This was a large space that had been divided into two areas to serve as the home economics classroom. The room was perfect for the theatre group as it contained large tables, three four by six foot mirrors, sewing machines for quick costume repair, sinks and ovens for preparation of edible properties, access to the auditorium, back parking areas, and the main school building.
The house seated three hundred in old wooden chairs set in a curving pattern across the house with a central isle. Though there was a balcony that could have seated another one hundred people, it was never opened. This area was used by the school as storage for broken desks and it would have been a major undertaking to clean. Once the lighting crew moved upstairs it was determined that the balcony would never be open. In any case, the theatre had no call for such expanded seating as audiences remained small.
LCLT had hoped that a return to a more central area would see a return of larger audiences, but this hope was not to be materialized. The common plaint heard for the next seven years was, "but where are you this time?" No amount of carefully directed publicity seemed to keep the audience informed as to the location of the next show. The theatre did not often do two consecutive shows in any one facility until Central School auditorium became available in 1981.
The first production in LaGrange Middle School was John Murry and Allen Boretz’s comedy Room Service. This was directed by James Johnson, a McNeese graduate in Radio and Television. Johnson pulled together an excellent cast and though this was his first try at directing, proved himself to be a talented director. Johnson directed four other shows for LCLT, all were very well received.
During the fall of 1975, the theatre lent its support to the formation of an Explorer Scout troop. Post 25 was headed by Glenda Munger, an employee of the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Department. Mrs. Munger was involved with the scout troop sponsored by the Sheriff which devoted its time to the study of law enforcement and legal practices. She felt that there was also a place for a troop that would base its work on theatre. The theatre’s board approved the formation of the scout troop with the understanding that they would be directed by Mrs. Munger and not call upon the theater’s meager finances for help. The group was duly formed and maintained until 1977. Older members of the production crews hoped the scouts would be a reflection of the original junior group, or of the Little Theatre Little Group formed by Pettaway. This did not happen; the theatre did not find any new talent either for the stage of for the technical theatre. The youngsters staged a few productions during the summer seasons, but did not become involved in the regular season. Eventually the post was disbanded because of the lack of interest of the teenagers and the lack of willingness of any adult to continue the program.
The Explorers did sponsor a high school production night during 1976, designed to showcase the talents of high school drama classes throughout the parish. LaGrange High School made its auditorium available for this production in February. The high schools had by that date finished presenting their work at the McNeese Speech and Play Festival and were eager for the opportunity to display their work to their parents and friends. Five high schools participated, each presenting the short one-acts they had given at McNeese.
The only other production done as part of the regular season was an April showing of the musical Dracula, Baby by Bruce Ronald, John Jakes, and Claire Strauch. This was the first musical LCLT had produced since 1969, and not the most successful they had done. Nancy Key, the director of the piece, had worked with the theatre since 1964. She had a B.A. in Speech from McNeese University. Mrs. Key was the only person connected with the theatre who had any experience in directing musicals and she volunteered to take on the assignment. The board felt they could build audience if they went back to producing musicals.
The cast for the show was relatively untrained, and no musical director was hired to teach the music, an oversight to be lamented throughout production. The show required a number of different scenes, and some of the most creative designing in years went onto the stage for this show. On stage left was placed a oddly shaped turntable divided to show three scenes. Each had to have a door for entrance and exits as the turntable completely blocked any entrance from the wing. On the floor at the back of the stage were laid two pairs of troughs. Two pairs of double-sided flats were constructed to slide on and off in these troughs to provide background for four scenes. (181) The proscenium doors were put to constant use in this show to facilitate the movement of a chorus and individual actors. The set crew designed and built a wooden object affectionately known as the CYBIC. This three by six foot box had folding panels, legs that dropped down, and doors that opened. In its various incarnations it was a desk, a bar, a bed, a couch, and a scepulchur. The huge object never left the stage, which was just as well as it would have almost completely filled the reminding wing space on stage right. The show was well received by its audience and drew good reviews. The theatre simply thanked the muses that the show was supposed to be a farce and kept their collective mouths smiling through the falling scenery, flat notes. And odd thumps from backstage.
In 1976, Lake Charles Little Theatre joined the rest of the nation in planning a gala celebration of the bicentennial. The group participated in a week-end of special events sponsored by the City of Lake Charles with a two hour revue of scenes and songs chosen to represent various points in American history. The YMCA gave the use of a large room for rehearsal space, as the utilities had been turned off at the Chennalt property and no one could be expected to work in the summer heat. Almost every person on the board had a piece to rehearse that was a particular favorite of his. Individual actors performed monologues or teamed with others to do songs or dialogues. The Explorer Scout troop participated in many of the larger scenes and performed a number of their own. The revue was done on the afternoon of July 4th in the Civic Center Theatre. It competed against two rock bands, a free beer booth, clowns, a carnival midway, and various other functions that were scheduled outside on the grounds of the Civic Center. The modestly sized audience was as appreciative of the show as it was of the break from the 98 degree weather.
In August, Arthur Wannage directed the Explorers in Fanny, the Frivolous Flapper, a melodrama by Charles George. The scouts performed for two nights in August in the Rosa Hart Room at the Chennault facility. The utility companies had reconnected their services to the building after extensive work had been done to compensate for problems that had arisen because of the fire the year before. LCLT did not stage any production other than the bicentennial show that summer.
The 1976-77 season opened in October at LaGrange Middle School’s auditorium. James Johnson directed Emlyn Williams’ Night Must Fall. The show’s cast included two married couples and another couple split between the stage and the light board, these actors also happened to all be members of the board. Mrs. Key’s desire that the board’s composition reflect the working members of the theatre was fully realized. Board members now acted, directed, designed, collected properties, took up tickets, and built sets. The group was relatively harmonious, even given the strong personalities that were involved. David Kay, who had dominated the planning sessions the year before, was now president. The addition of three new members: Suzan Cooper, her husband Robert Cooper, and Adley Cormier proved most felicitous to the group. Each brought new expertise and outside influences the group had not felt in years. The theatre was further delighted with an influx of a large group of young adults; both trained and willing to learn. The mid to late 1970’s were marked by the addition of many talented people and a constant turnover of talent in all fields. By the early 1980’s however, stagnation again set in. This was a manifestation of the economic situation in the area. With unemployment numbers riding at 12 and 15 percent, it was understandable that people found it necessary to transfer to other areas in search of employment. During this period of upheaval LCLT lost a number of valuable, energetic workers.
In December, Jeannie Bruno Wannage directed The Solid Gold Cadillac, a Teichmann and Kaufman comedy. Directly after this production closed, the Explorer Scouts presented an original play written by Harvey Paul Honsinger and Kay Thompson. These two high school students were members of the troop and gifted members of the LaGrange High School Forensics Team. Both are now practicing civil law in Louisiana. In February, 1977, the Explorers again hosted a showcase for five local high schools to present their festival pieces.
LCLT received an invitation to present a dinner theatre piece in early March, 1977. The invitation came from the owner of King’s Restaurant on Broad Street. The board met to discuss the idea and decided that it did not want to accept the invitation. The group was preparing to open a large musical at the end of March that was occupying all its energy at the time and many of the board members did not approve of the location, as the establishment in question was viewed by the public as essentially a bar with a tainted reputation. It was decided finally that Arthur Wannage and Suzanne Cooper would take on the project. These two wanted to do the work and promised that, other than the name, LCLT would have to do nothing for the production. The Owl and the Pussycat was presented for six performances at the restaurant and the project was never repeated. There was no acrimony over the decision, it was simply decided that LCLT would rather devote its energy to producing main stage productions than diversify into activities such as dinner theatre. The decision my have been bolstered by the realization that the effort had produced little revenue either for the group or the restaurant owner, and taken a good deal of time to prepare.
The closing show of the season was Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Nancy Key again directed the musical, which was staged in Central School auditorium. This was the largest show that had been attempted since West Side Story in 1966. Because of its size the new site was used. Central School was built in 1912 and is now the oldest building in Lake Charles. It is a mammoth brick structure in the downtown area and the size of its auditorium reflects its past use as the city’s public gathering place. Since the opening of the school hundreds of elementary and junior high school children have trod the boards before adoring parent’s eyes. Many of those children attended Anything Goes as parents and grandparents. In 1977, the school was still in use as an elementary school. Mr. Parsons, the principal, welcomed the theatre group and provided keys, janitors, and co-operation for years. Later the school was closed and used as offices for various school board personnel and special education classes. That made the site very attractive to Little Theatre as it no longer had to worry about the safety of curious children exploring the material on stage. The stage had a proscenium opening thirty-two feet wide and fifteen feet high. The stage floor was twenty feet deep from curtain line to back wall, with an additional eight feet added by the apron. The stage is elevated four feet from the house floor. Over the stage the ceiling rises to twenty-four feet, not high enough to accommodate a fly system. Both wing areas are two feet deep. In the intervening years since its construction very few plays were presented on the stage and the wings were walled off and converted into book storage rooms. These wing rooms, however, had doors both upstage and downstage and were used by the cast to await entrance. Neither room extended to full ceiling height. The loft area formed by the ceiling of the rooms yielded old masking draperies and tormentors that were re-hung on the four pipes remaining over the stage. In the loft stage right the light crew set up their equipment. They stayed in the loft until more cable was purchased the next year and then moved to the balcony. It was also discovered that the main fuse box for the auditorium was located just outside the balcony doors and the crew again tapped directly into the system as they had done at LaGrange Middle School.
On each side of the stage were two doors at house level. These doors provided access to the house from the basement room below the stage and the stage itself. The basement room opened outside; this was fortunate because the room was full of old books and desks and did not easily hold large casts. It also provided a smoking area for the cast and backstage crew and some relief form the intense heat generated in the dressing room. Some cast members made costume changes outside in their cars until the local police requested they desist.
The auditorium itself was located on the second floor of the school. A wide, steep stairway lead up to the hallway and from there the audience entered the house through three sets of double doors. During spring and fall productions these doors were propped open for circulation as were the two exterior doors in the center on each side of the house. This helped move the air around the auditorium, but also allowed ingress to mosquitoes, and street noises. The streets noises were not usually a problem, but it did seem that at least once during the run of each show an ambulance careened its way in full scream directly beside the theatre. The house seated five hundred patrons. Rarely through the years that the Little Theatre occupied this site was there been need for such seating. There was a balcony available that could have added another two hundred seats, but it was never opened.
The set for Anything Goes was designed by Adley Cormier, and was the first of many very creative designs he was to execute for the theatre. It was a two level view of a ship’s deck, though that ship had never sailed the seas. The design had an Art Deco flavor and was painted in turquoise, pink, silver and white. An artist from a sign painting shop came in one night and outlined the whole set with inch wide double pinstripes. Cutouts of window ports were hung on the lower level with half ping-pong balls glued on to represent rivets. From under the upper center level a cage of white PVC pipe was pulled out to represent the hallway outside the cabin doors. Further scene areas on deck and below were delineated by lights. The audience enjoyed the set hugely and gave it its own ovation. One number, the song Anything Goes, was so popular that people who had seen the show previously often came back just for the end of the first act so that they might see the number again. The show was a great success financially and artistically for the Little Theatre, as had been Room Service earlier in the season. It was hoped that this season would re-establish Lake Charles Little Theatre’s reputation within the community and lead to a build up of members and single-admission audience. Unfortunately, that did not seem to happen. The audience, however, had been loyal and searched the papers for the next production site over the years.
The first summer production in 1977, year was presented by the Explored Post. Arthur Wannage directed two children’s pieces, Wizard of Oz and Stolen Prince. The latter is a Chinese play and by the director’s choice was done in an essentially Noh style. The nod to Noh mainly consisted of white make-up and elaborate posturing on the actor’s part. The plays were popular and drew large crowds of parents with young children though the July heat was tremendous even after the sun set. The pieces were presented in the Bord du Lac Park Amphitheatre on the grounds of the Civic Center.
The so-called amphitheatre is a large hill facing the lake and fronted by a flat grassy area. This area is backed by a wide concrete walkway crowned with a fountain. Public washrooms are easily accessible. Electricity is available from plugs mounted in the street lights fifty feet from the playing area. Neither band, dance companies, nor theatre companies have found the site suitable. Performing on the site continues because the electricity is free, there is no rent charged by the Parks Commission, and the event attracts notice by virtue of its location. That location is on the lake front and surrounded by wide avenues and parking areas favored by local teens for evening "cruising." Though their presence had to be monitored by police during performances, the event still gets enormous publicity by being on that site. The amphitheatre was installed as a sop by the city to put a stop to vociferous complaints by local art groups that they had been swindled in the building of the Civic Center. The promoters of the Civic Center had secured support for their project years earlier by promising various groups that two theatres would be included within the new building. One would be a large theatre seating 2,500 and a smaller one seating 500. Art groups had opposed construction of the Civic Center and had all been agitating that the city instead put a great deal of money into the rejuvenation of the dilapidated Arcade Theatre. City planners were opposed to spending funds in the Arcade and argued that the building of the Civic Center would provide convention facilities and large meeting rooms, all of which would bring money into the area. Once a small theatre was included in the plans for the building and local groups were promised use of the facility for a minimal rent or free of charge, local arts groups campaigned heavily for the new structure. In the intervening months between passage of the bond issue and actual construction of the building the small theatre was the first cut made in the design. Neither have any arts groups used the huge auditorium completely free of charge with the exception of the Little Theatre production of Juliet in Mantua the week its own theatre was destroyed by fire.
In August, Smith’s version of The Drunkard was presented for three nights in the park amphitheatre. The play was directed by Jorge LeRoy. LeRoy had come to the United States as an exchange student in 1964, and, because of his parents’ situation in Cuba, was unable to return home. LeRoy was teaching high school at the time of this production. He wanted Little Theatre to consider presenting some of the classic plays of Spain in future seasons and had asked to be allowed to direct them. As he had never directed before, the group deemed it sensible to allow him to demonstrate his abilities with a melodrama production for the summer season. The show was pleasing to the audience, but LeRoy never brought his project back to the group for its consideration. As there is virtually no Spanish population in the area, Little Theatre did not feel that presentation of classic Spanish plays would serve its audience in any particular way and has never pursued the project on its own.
The second week in September, Little Theatre finished its summer season with its first production of a Shakespearean play in many years. Robert Cooper, Ph. D., a member of the McNeese University English faculty, directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the park amphitheatre. This show was the first LCLT production to receive grants from Conoco, Olin, Southwest Louisiana Bankers Association, and private persons for production costs. Part of the funds paid the salary of Harvey Hysell of the New Orleans Ballet Company. Hysell chose to use the music of Mendelssohn to accompany fifteen area dancers he trained to present a pre-show ballet. It was part of the "Theatre-Under-the-Stars" series that has continued to receive grants each year. These are the only productions of the Bard’s plays to be presented in the area and continue to maintain that status today. Audience turnout is quite high on both week-ends of production. After the first year it was discovered that families were bringing picnic suppers out in the early evening so that the whole family might observe the group from stage set up through makeup. The intent had been to stimulate interest in Little Theatre’s season activities. It has never been demonstrated that the summer production have given any membership to the fall productions, however, audience loyalty to the Shakespeare plays is recognizable. One season the group determined to dress and makeup in another site and drive to the park. Parents were so disappointed that the actors returned to the practice of dressing in full view of curious youngsters with good humor.
The newly formed Calcasieu Arts Council this year received a grant that secured the services of Miss Katherine McGrath as an Affiliated Artist. Olin Corporation and the Louisiana State Arts Council provided equal money to pay Miss McGrath for her services. Little Theatre was able to use the artist for an Informance for their membership at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in November. Miss McGrath returned to Lake Charles in May for a production titled Katherine McGrath With a Little Help From Her Friends. That evening was held in the theatre in the Civic Center and consisted of scenes from current productions by the two community theatres and short monologues of various types by Miss McGrath.
The regular season was a great success for the Little Theatre this year. All three shows were very popular with the audiences and received excellent reviews. Brenda Kay dusted off the Spewack favorite My Three Angels in November. The production fit nicely onto the LaGrange Middle School stage and played to full houses both weekends.
In January, Adley Cormier directed Moliere’s The Miser at LaGrange Middle School. Cormier had secured a grant of state arts council funds to present the production in a lavish manner. The gist of the grant pointed out the preponderance of people of French descent in the area and the respected status of Moliere’s work. Moliere had never been presented in Lake Charles and the appeal won favor from the arts council. The council funds were to allow for the purchase of a backdrop, the construction of costumes, and duplication of scripts. The scrip was a new translation from the French by Cormier. Nancy Key did extensive research and with Cormier’s consent designed and constructed detailed costumes from 1670. The actors were not all intrigued with wearing lace and tights but accepted the costuming with general good grace. Cormier painted the background flats to represent a highly stylized interior. David Key, who had received critical praise for his acting in the past, as well as providing sets and lighting most of the most of the shows, played the title role. The local paper was ecstatic over the productions, rather to the surprise of Little Theatre which had not been sure the production was a good idea at all. Key received excellent personal publicity, as did the female lead, and the costumer. The group determined to continue such productions in other seasons, especially after local French teachers wrote a letter to the newspaper praising the production’s educational value. (182)
The last production of this season was Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls directed by Nancy Key. Production was in late March to provide time for the group to mount such a large show after the efforts of the Moliere productions. Once again the Central School Auditorium was used. This production was worrisome to the technical people as it required many different scenes and the group had, as usual, limited funds. The set designer, Adley Cormier, and the director had both been too occupied with the previous production to answer the pleas of the technical crews for ideas on the execution of this complicated piece. One early production meeting broke up acrimoniously with all concerned declaring they could not be mounted. Key then refused to speak to anyone; tensions ran high as the first week in March drew to a close. When Mrs. Key finally consented to meet with her production crews again she presented them with a completed design and demanded the set be constructed exactly as designated with no changes. The production crews were not used to being treated in so dictatorial a manner and took revenge by declaring that the design would never work anyway. The saving of the show might be attributed to certain personality traits of the director, she had always gotten what she wanted from the crews, saw no reason why that should change now, and refused to give an inch in her demands at the meeting. Again the meeting broke up. It is fortunate that the head of set construction happened to be married to Mrs. Key and the set designer to be a close personal friend of the couple. Mrs. Key was able by dent of sheer stubbornness to eventually talk the men over to her side. (183)
The set piece that caused such furor has since become known as the Chinese Box and delighted audiences throughout the run of the show. The Box was a box constructed on a four by eight platform equipped with wheels. The two eight foot sides were double and triple hung with flats that swung open, folded over each other, and generally delighted the audience with the representation of another scene each time a wall moved. Each change was done in dim lights but in view of the audience, who laughed and finally applauded as the full capacity of the box came to be demonstrated. Designers from the university theatre and ACTS came to see the show so that they could determine the truth of the much-discussed box.
The only other piece of scenery was a folded wall forming a background across the stage. The wall was constructed of fourteen foot tall sheets of sheetrock which were purchased with aluminum foil on one side. The tops of each sheet were cut in shapes reminiscent of a city sky line. Geometric shapes were painted on the shiny foil in red, blue, black, white, and yellow to suggest buildings. Tables and chairs were added onstage as needed. The set movers dressed as city construction workers and carpenters and moved pieces about with what they considered appropriate attitudes for civil servants. Their byplay with the cast was greatly enjoyed by audiences. One evening a local policeman appeared unexpectedly onstage at the beginning of a scene in the night club and was seen receiving his weekly "bribe" money from the club owner. (184) The show was aided for the first time in years by a small combo in the pit. Mr. Jerry Crews had trained the singers and conducted the combo. The piano was played by Joanne Turner, who had worked with Crews and Key for years in their productions with gifted children at McNeese. The percussionist and trombone players were both student of Mrs. Key’s at a local high school. Some members of the technical crew maintain that it was a good thing for the show to be assisted by "their" wonderful set as the quality of acting was not the best seen in a LCLT production. The director and musical director maintain a discreet silence on this subject.
The season closed, then, on a very successful note. A large number of new people had come to work with Little Theatre that season through the large casts. Many of these would stay with the theatre for the next years, eventually moving into position of responsibility in management. Audience numbers had been high all year, and the Treasurer was pleased with the end of year figures. Little Theatre felt that the last two seasons, as well as their summer work was beginning to pay off. There was no permanent home yet, a problem that plagued each production and rehearsal period. The group worried it would begin to lose its welcome in the various public facilities it was using and would again find itself with no affordable place to perform. It was to be another year before some relief from this problem was found, and that relief would not ever work as the group had planned.
Shakespeare-Under-the-Stars again filled the summer program. This year Dr. Cooper directed A Comedy of Errors in the Bord du Lac Park Amphitheatre in early September. This production was funded by a grant from Louisiana Department of the Arts State Arts Council. Mrs. Suzanne Cooper wrote a grant proposal that secured these funds from the state. Mrs. Cooper had, over the years, exhibited her ingenuity in getting rehearsal sites, performance spaces, strange properties, and diverse people to give Little Theatre various favors never before granted to any other body. When Mrs. Cooper left Lake Charles in the early 1980’s, the group lost a valued worker.
Little Theatre had done so well in the preceding two seasons that the group determined it could afford to offer four shows this season. Membership, while not meeting the numbers of years ago, had steadily grown in the past three seasons. Suzanne Cooper and Adley Cormier had been huddled over grant proposals the previous spring and secured an unprecedented three grants from the Louisiana State Arts Council for various projects. This was a feat unequalled by any other community group in the state in one season. (185)
The first granted show of the season was Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. The grant allowed the costumer Glenda Munger to research designs for the original production which had been executed by Edward Munch. Where Mrs. Munger could find the designs they were reproduced for those characters. Other characters were costumed through adaptations of Munch’s painting and sketches. (186) Other grant monies were expended to produce a slide show of Munch’s work which was shown in the lobby with appropriate explanatory material printed on pamphlets for the audience. The music of Greig was used to accompany the slide presentation and the play. Randy Hoffmeyer, a VISTA Volunteer and theatre graduate, directed the production. The show was done on the small stage at LaGrange Middle School by Hoffmeyer’s choice. He felt the old-fashioned auditorium and intimate atmosphere of the small house was suited to the production. (187) The draping covering the back wall of the stage was removed and that wall was allowed to show through the skeletal walls of the set. One set was used for the show with the addition of different furniture to denote the change of place. Actors appearing in the city meeting scene were seated among the audience the entire night. The audience was uneasy when those characters rose to speak their lines each night. The show played to generally full houses, but it was not a favorite with the city. At the time of its production the city was undergoing yet another upheaval concerning waste disposal and noxious emissions from the petrochemical plants across the lake. Feelings were running high over these matters and many felt the theatre had purposely done the show to play on public opinion. (188)
The second show was a greater popular success. Suzanne Cooper made her directing debut with Sherdan’s A School for Scandal. The Little Theatre had done so well the previous season there was money in the budget to allow for another costume extravaganza. Mrs. Key was again allowed to plan and construct period costumes. This time the cast was presented with Eighteenth Century costumes replete with over two hundred yards of ribbons and three hundred buttons.
Third production was Tom Stoppard’s Real Inspector Hound directed by Thomas Munger. This show was presented in Lake Charles High School Auditorium. The present building was erected in 1958 to house the largest student body in the city. The size of the auditorium reflects this and the fact that this facility replaced Central School as a public meeting place. The house seats fifteen hundred people, and three hundred more in the baloney. Acoustics are no better than to be expected from a meeting hall. The stage is raised five feet from the house floor and has a proscenium opening fifty-six wide and twenty feet tall. The stage floor is highly varnished hard oak. There is no fly space tall enough to fly full sized drops. Wings on both sides of the stage are eight feet deep. The left wing contains the lighting control equipment. Both wings have steps that lead to doors opening into hallways which run on both sides of the house to the front of the school. In the halls are restrooms which may be used as dressing rooms, as they are quite large and have full mirrors. There as a small room in the left hallway used as a female teachers’ room that serves as a green room. The audiences were small, however, and everyone found it depressing to work in a huge hall with a small audience that had extreme difficulty in hearing the actors. (189)
The group has used the site three times, when other facilities were unavailable, and has been grateful to school authorities for its use.
The closing show of the season was Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate performed at Central School and directed by Adley Cormier. Though Cormier had never directed a musical before, all were enthusiastic about the project. This was the second show to use grant funds this season. The State Arts Council would not supply these funds; because Mr. Davis was not a Louisiana artist. This support of native artists was an important factor in the granting of state funds for years to come. Instead the funds were procured from the Sheridan Hotel chain, A One Rent-A-Car, Conoco, and private persons. The grant enabled Little Theatre to hire the services of J.B. Davis to sing the role of Petruchio. Mr. Davis was a minor opera singer who pursued his profession by appearing as a guest artist with small companies all over the United States. He had come to the notice of Little Theatre the year before when he had filled in for the Affiliated Artist Katherine McGrath on one occasion. The Little Theatre had liked his sense of humor, style, and voice, and thought him to be the perfect Petruchio. Mr. Davis has shown interest in doing a guest artist’s role for Little Theatre the year before and had adjusted his fee to fit what was available from the state council. Davis joined the cast during the last week of rehearsal and was dismayed over what he found. He did not like the facility, which admittedly was no performer’s dream stage; he argued with the conductor, who had also been hired with grant money, he insulted the costume mistress, he antagonized the other actors, and his brand of humor antagonized the husbands’ of some of the actresses. (190) The audiences were unaware of any of these problems and the show enjoyed great success. Many of the current board members remembered the last few guest artists that Little Theatre had hired and the various sins of these professionals were aired in long meetings. Privately Little Theatre determined to stay with available local talent and not hire guest artists. (191)
The Mayor of Lake Charles issued a public proclamation in honor of the third summer of Theatre-Under-the-Stars and its production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Mayor Boyer announced "a fortnight of fun and frolic" for the two weekends the show was to be presented in Bord du Lac Park and congratulated the Little Theatre for bringing such a valuable cultural experience to the citizens of Lake Charles. (192) The production was again supported through a grant from the Louisiana State Arts Council.
In February, 1979, Little Theatre located an abandoned property in the downtown area to be considered as a possible home for the group. The CAPO Building, located at 935 Ryan Street, was in an excellent location for an arts group. The gentle lawns of the parish courthouse and city hall were directly across the street. The rear property line backed up to the Roman Catholic Cathedral. And the building was one block from the new Calcasieu Arts Council office. They would find themselves within the confines of the "business district": banks, attorneys, city buildings. All together a very respectable neighborhood. The building had originally been the first automobile dealership in town and was therefore seven thousand square feet of open space with thirty-foot ceilings. The purchase price was $67,500 with another $30,000 estimated necessary for remodeling. After years of negotiations Little Theatre had finally sold the property at Chennault for $27,000 and proposed to use part of that money for a down payment and the rest to begin the remodeling. A grant of $64,500 was obtained in federal funds that enabled the group to hire workers under the CETA Title IV program. Dr. Lehrue Stevens, who had worked with Little Theatre for many years, made a gift of a $5,000 bond issued by the Assumption Parish School Board to help with remodeling costs. An Architect donated his advice on possible remodeling schemes and gave advice on which pillars could be safely removed. It was during this exploratory phase that the group discovered extensive termite damage in areas previously certified to be undamaged. This blow was only the precursor of bad news the group received at every turn with this building. (193)
The CETA monies came in two separate grants. The initial $7,500 paid one worker to clear the rubble at Chennault and transport salvaged material to the CAPO Building. The second grant of $57,000 provided salaries and fringe benefits for a secretary and five workers for one year.
The entire grant was never utilized as Little Theatre could not find trustworthy men willing to do the work. A variety of floor plans were devised by Adley Cormier and presented to the board for consideration. Plans were never finalized for the renovation of the building as funds were never secured for any work. (194)
The building became an albatross to the group. The next years were spent scrambling to pay the mortgagee, fighting a losing battle to keep the roof from leaking, and finally trying to sell the property. From 1979, until the building was finally sold in 1986, the property was use for storage and rehearsal. Electricity and water were connected after a long struggle to convince the utilities companies that the wiring and pipes were sound. In fact, the pipes were not and a tremendous water bill finally led to extensive digging that located a burst pipe under the back of the building. No air conditioning was ever installed and rehearsing in the building eight months of the year was extremely uncomfortable. The other four months actors shivered in the damp cold of the huge concrete space. (195) The Little Theatre tried various fund-raising schemes over the years, none of which yielded more than a few hundred dollars at a time. Toward the end of their occupancy individual members of the board were under-writing loans to pay the mortgage; and the last year a patron underwrote the whole note himself. (196) None of them lost their money; the theatre was always able to eventually cull the money from seasonal activities to repay the notes. (197) But the building never did become the home Little Theatre had been seeking since the 1975 destruction of their Chennault facility.
Season 1979-80 opened with a repeat of Life With Father. Garf Macdonald, who had played Father in the first Little Theatre production, repeated his role. Arthur Wannage directed the show at Central School Auditorium. This production received audience approval as well as critical notice for the costuming and sets. The second show was the controversial The Runner Stumbles. The Little Theatre had had serious discussions at more than one board meeting as to whether they should do the show at all. The area is heavily Roman Catholic and older members of the board did not wish to give offense to the audience. Wannage won out, and the play was presented at LaGrange Middle School in November. There was no uproar from the Catholic community, the show passed relatively unnoticed by anyone but the small audiences that attended.
The Great Golden Radio Hour was the third production. Little Theatre had planned to fill this slot with "live" broadcasts of original radio scripts from the heyday of radio. Under consideration were scripts from such series as "The Shadow," "The Lone Ranger," "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," and other of that ilk. The plan had been to tie in with local radio stations and air the segments live with a "studio" audience watching the production as it went over the air. Everyone had been very enthusiastic about the project; and Nova 104FM radio station had expressed interest in carrying the broadcasts. (198) The Little Theatre’s publicity committee had consulted with some of the advertisers of this station and convinced these patrons of the airways to buy real advertising time on the broadcasts. The only problem lay with procuring rights to the pieces for broadcast. After eight months of work, it was ascertained that permission would not be granted to Little Theatre by the owners of the properties, where those owners could be located. One proprietor threatened an immediate lawsuit if the group persisted in the project. (199)
This left an empty slot in the season’s slate in late September. The group was very disappointed by the response it had received and decided that if it could not get permission to perform anyone else’s work, it would perform its own. To that end Adley Cormier, Suzanne Cooper, Joan Robinson, and Bill Broussard went to work to produce a radio show that would eventually include both singing and straight commercials, a cliff-hanger serial, orchestral numbers, wrap-around announcements, a barbershop quartette, and suitable sound effects to accompany all the work.
The resulting work could never have received critical acclaim for its content, but it was a hilariously silly production that charmed the audiences thoroughly. The young lady who tap danced across the stage singing a cigarette commercial while wearing a human-sized replica of the product received thunderous applause every performance. The characters occupying the stage were dredged from every "B" movie the writers had ever seen. There was a frenetic soundman, a drunken second male lead, a dizzy female lead, an chic second female lead, a harassed floor manager, a disinterested combo in the background, janitors, harried script writers, and appropriately enthusiastic commercial readers. The audience so busy looking for the next piece of foolishness it had not noticed the lack of content. (200) This script will be performed by The Ashville Actor’s Workshop in 1987.
The closing show of the season was funded through a grant from the Louisiana State Arts Council and combined the newly formed Masterworks Choral Foundation, Little Theatre, and a full orchestra conducted by the director of Masterworks, Lamar Robinson. Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan played in the Civic Center Theatre in May. This production was included as an official event of Contraband Days, a two-week local festival loosely justified by the historical presence of the pirate Jean LaFitte in the area. LCLT’s spring musicals have twice been official events and received free use of the Civic Center Theatre for the production. Because of the continued co-operation of the Contraband Days Board, Masterworks Choral Foundation, and Lake Charles Little Theatre, the project had been funded each time by grants from the state arts council. Nancy Key staged the piece, with Lamar Robinson providing the musical direction. The entire chorus was provided by Masterworks. Open auditions were held for all leading roles and some Masterworks personnel sang these parts. It was decided that because of the large cast and lack of time and funds to provide costumes, these would be rented from a Houston firm specializing in period costumes. When the clothing arrived the cast was delighted to be wearing such finished creations and declared that their clothes gave them the final boost to present a good show. Most of the members of Masterworks had been singing in church choirs for years, but no more than a few had ever appeared on stage in a musical production. The audiences did not fill the huge house of the Civic Center, but were of a respectable size on both nights.
When Little Theatre had purchased the CAPO Building it was determined that various fund-raising projects would have to be carried on during the production year. Numerous projects were proposed, all of which involved making use of the new site. Until the building could be brought to a state that would allow occupancy by non-production staff, all projects would have to be conducted elsewhere. Building codes were stringent in the area, and permission could not be obtained from the fire marshal, the city licensing division, or the insurance carrier until certain renovations were finished. Pete Calderra provided a letter guaranteeing parking spaces on his nearby property after business hours. This was only one of the requirements of the City Planning Commission that had to be met before any work could be done in the building. As the group did not have the funds to carry out these renovations, and wished to use the projects to procure such funds, it was at a loss. The project was titled Cinema-on-the-Side (COTS) and would be a film series presenting various classic American and foreign films. They gathered a large list of titles and presented them to the LCLT membership and members of other civic organizations in the form of a ballot. Voters were encouraged to return their membership fee to COTS when they returned their ballots. Memberships where ten dollars and seven dollars and fifty cents. The higher cost would allow the member to be listed as a patron on programs. Nine films were selected for that first season with screenings from September to January that year. The state arts council awarded a $1,500 media grant to fund the first season. Films were shown in the LaFitte Room at the Civic Center and in the Commons Room at Episcopal Day School. The facilities were too large and incapable of being darkened sufficiently. Both sites also cost more in rental than was reasonable. The project gained only thirty-five dollars in profits that first season. The second season was housed in Baker Auditorium at McNeese State University through the patronage of Nowell Daste of the MSU art department. Grant funds of $2,000 were awarded for this season. Originally the grants panel had denied the project any funds on the grounds that this type of project was to be funded only once.
Their decision was vetoed by the Department of Art Board of Directors. The veto was judged because the only other media grant before the panel had been from New Orleans and had been funded by the panel. Members of the board were chauvinistically opposed to giving great sums only to New Orleans and demanded the media grants also go to Lake Charles Little Theatre. The second season was a huge financial success. Because of the $2,000 grant and the lack of rental fees at McNeese, the project showed a profit of $2,000. The project was cancelled the third season because another free facility could not be located. The McNeese site was denied to the theatre because of the objections from the Student Union Board that LCLT was undercutting attendance and profits from their own film series. The fact that the two film lists did not contain the same type of material was dismissed. (201)
Little Theatre also continued their support of the Affiliated Artists program run by the local arts council. The guest artist this season was Randolyn Zinn, a modern dancer. Ms. Zinn presented a Green Room Informance for Little Theatre members at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church Parish Hall.
Once again Little Theatre obtained a grant to continue the summer Shakespeare offerings. The name of the festival was changed to Theatre-Under-the-Stars that summer. The change was made to allow for reapplication for state funds. In Louisiana no project may be granted more than three years in a row. Little Theatre changed the name and received the funds. The name has been changed once since for the same reason. In 1985, Governor Edwards declared the production to be the official Louisiana Summer Shakespeare Festival. This designation assure the group funding without the subterfuge of name changing every three years. This summer two productions were mounted, As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet.
Little Theatre expanded its 1980-81 season to offer members five shows. It was hoped that the added show would generate further memberships. It did not, but it did allow the group to expand its horizons and offer a highly varied menu. The offering were eclectic, to say the least. The opening show, directed by Suzzanne Cooper, was Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians presented in Central School Auditorium. This was followed by No Sex, Please, We’re British by Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot, then Judith Ross’s Almost Perfect Person, Moliere’s The Would-be Gentleman, and The Fantasticks. The shows were presented at Central School, Lake Charles High School, and Ralph Squires Rehearsal Hall at McNeese.
The season was well received by the membership with special critical notice going to the Moliere piece. (202) This show was funded by a grant from the Louisiana State Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. The director, Adley Cormier, also translated the script from French. It had been given a previous tryout by the Speech II classes at Lake Charles High School as their yearly production under the direction of Nancy Key. The tryout allowed Cormier to see the work in production and smooth out problems in the translation before presenting it with the Little Theatre. (203) The high school production was met with puzzlement from its audience, but theatre membership adored the show. The grant funding enabled the theatre to pay for reproducing scripts elaborate costuming, a signer for the hearing impaired, the design and presentation of an opening ballet by the Sarah Quinn Jones Dance Theatre Southwest, and a six piece string orchestra. The set was a backdrop painted in a highly stylized fashion and two antique chairs from a local dealer. Elaborate candelabra were borrowed from a florist and placed on either side of the stage. A scene from this production was entered in the annual Festival of American Community Theatres (FACT) in Shreveport, La. This was the first time Little Theatre had participated in an American Theatre Association event, though Mrs. Key had been an active member of Theaters of Louisiana, the state arm of that organization since her term as president. The group did not win any prizes, but was pleased with the contacts it made. The script and design for this show were used by the Children’s Theatre of Seattle, Washington. (204)
Cinema-on-the-Side continued this season with eight films being offered between February and April.
The much-awaited summer Shakespeare presentation was presented in July, 1981. This year the group restructured its governing body. The original charter was rewritten to accommodate needed changes in the functioning of the theatre. Specifically certain wording was needed that would satisfy federal requirements which would result in a tax-exempt non profit status for Little Theatre, important to secure grant funds and the use of school facilities Little Theatre had long been using its application for this status as the answer to inquiries from funding agencies for their tax-exempt number. With the rewording of certain areas in the charter the desired results were finally secured from the Internal Revenue Service.
The second reason for restructuring the charter was the necessity of dealing with major real estate problems and budgetary dilemmas. It was incumbent upon the working board to devise a way to handle the business problems in a more organized manner. To this end, the governing structure was revamped. Since its inception Little Theatre had a single board to cope with all the theatre’s business. The current board was not composed of people who had any particular knowledge of the business world, but could handle the production work with ease. Therefore, the original board became two separate bodies. The Board of Directors became the financial arm of the theatre. This body was to concern itself with capital expenditures, including property purchasing and rentals. It was also responsible for any problems that arose with the property: repairs, additions, taxes and insurance. (205)
The second group was now titled the Program Council. This group concerned itself with the seasonal operations of the theatre. It was responsible for choosing the season’s production, devising the yearly production budgets, finding directors, and locating technical personnel. The Program Council included all technical committees represented by their crew chiefs, and chairmen of the memberships, advertising, publicity, and grants committees.
The opening play of 1981-82 was DA directed by Arthur Wannage. The play was not a great success with either the audiences or the critics. It was also done in Lake Charles High School Auditorium, a poor choice for a piece that needs an intimate hall and good acoustics. (206)
Little Theatre returned to an earlier practice for the second show. For the first time since 1959, another theatre performed as part of the Little Theatre regular season. It was not another amateur group, however, but he Dallas Theatre Center’s touring company of Deathtrap. Little Theatre sponsored the show for one evening in the Civic Center Theatre. It was hoped that late memberships would be generated through the presentation of such a prestigious company doing a show everyone had heard about. Everyone had heard about the play through advertisements for the movie. Unfortunately, the movie had opened the weekend before and was considerably cheaper than the theatre tickets. The audience did not fill the 2300 seat house, but topped 1,000. The current audiences had never seen "thrillers" on stage and was properly impressed with the special effects. The show did not add to the membership roles, but did stir some interest in Little Theatre for the remainder of the season.
NOTE: Most exciting was the subpoenaing of Program Council members of Little Theatre to serve as expert witnesses in the obscenity trial of Oh, Calcutta. The trail elicited almost fervid adherents who enjoyed the whole exercise hugely. A road show company of this perennial nude production was scheduled to perform in Lake Charles. There had be no advanced publicity and the first hint townspeople had of the proposed offering was when the company’s managers hired a local law firm to represent them in any upcoming litigation. If word of this retainer had not leaked out into the community it is possible that no lawsuit would have ever been filed. That, however, is problematical. Once word went through the area that the show had retained lawyers, citizens began to wonder why. As the locals rarely, if ever, attended Broadway musicals or read New York papers they had no idea why this show should be expected to come under fire. It did not take long for the Baptist Church to discover their objections, contact the Coalition of Ministers and register their complaint about the show. Still, no one had seen the show including the lawyers for the defense. The company managers flew in a video tape of the production for the lawyers to view and the consensus was that the ministers had reason to be annoyed. In short order the ministers group hired attorneys and entered a stop order on grounds of obscenity. The law firm which had been hired to defend the production had connections with Little Theatre and asked David Key and Arthur Wannage to appear as expert witnesses. The trial was for some reason held in the after-closing hours at the courthouse, with a judge from a neighboring parish on the bench to render a decision based on local opinion and tastes. Great hilarity was engendered by various pieces of testimony. It seemed that Arthur Wannage was the only person who had ever seen the whole production in the flesh, so to speak. He did not have much use for the show and told the court that he thought it to be silly not obscene. David Key testified that he had seen the video and considered it bad theatre and there rested his objection to having the show done in Lake Charles. The attorneys for the plaintiff maintained that the show would not be viewed by any respectable person in the community and then had their star witness, the present president of the university; admit that he had seen a video of the show at a stag party. The supervisor of secondary language arts for the school board testified that such material was directly opposed to what the community wished their children to be taught. At the urging of Little Theatre witnesses the defense queried as to whether Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales were not taught in senior English. The supervisor declared this literature to be a simple sale of pilgrims journeying for religious purposes. The defense reluctantly turned down David Key’s generous offer to do a reading of certain of the tales. The entire proceedings were accompanied by high rhetoric fro both sides, the judgment went against the performance, was appealed, and overturned. The show had the publicity it wished without a great expenditure. It seems lawyers were cheaper than advertising in the local paper. The show did perform in Lake Charles a few weeks later. Sheriff’s deputies were on hand to arrest minors expected to attend. As the fates would have it, no minors attended and fewer than one hundred adults did, either.
Adley Cormier directed Herbert E. Swayne’s Caught in the Villian’s Web as the third show. This departure from usual Little Theatre season programming was another attempt to build audience. This show was very popular and played to large audiences throughout its run. Families were particularly fond of the show and returned on the second weekend, apparently to allow their children the pleasure of yelling and throwing things with impunity in a public place. It had been decided to present the melodrama with the usual trapping of popcorn and cokes. (Beer was forbidden by state law as their would be minors in the audience) The cast felt they would prefer popcorn to the often painful peanuts, but ultimately discovered they had made a poor choice. Children quickly discovered that popcorn did not carry as far as they wished and turned to pelting the actors with entire bags wadded shut to allow for further range. Some children simply took up residence directly at the foot of the stage and pelted the cast with whatever they could lay their hands on, even to the extent of retrieving bags from the edge of the stage for further ammunition. The management also discerned that the children were participating in the "hissing and booing" of the villain with rather inappropriate comments. Before the second weekend was over it was necessary for the house manager to make an announcement concerning expected behavior before the curtain went up and to instruct the ticket office not to admit unaccompanied minors. The theatre was rather disappointed in the raucous response their production had engendered. What they had expected to be an innocent evening of fun had instead seemed to underline the irresponsibility of parents, a lack of discipline from children, and had taught inappropriate theatre behavior. Though the production accounts were favorable, the group determined not to offer another production that would call for such audience participation within the structure of the regular season. (207)
Little Theatre procured a grant from the state arts council to present their fourth show, G.B. Shaw’s Candida. The $1,500 grant came under a provision for support of Louisiana artists and enabled Little Theatre to hire and house Randy Hoffmeyer as director. Hoffmeyer had previously directed An Enemy of the People for Little Theatre. He had since moved to Seattle, Washington, and become a resident actor with a semi-professional theatre there. The group was pleased to be able to secure his talents, which had developed considerably since his first efforts with them. While in Lake Charles, Hoffmeyer appeared on local television shows, was interviewed on radio and by the newspaper, and presented a full day’s lecture at Iowa High School concerning a recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream he had designed and acted in Seattle. The show was appreciated by the audiences and received warm critical notice. (208)
The closing show this season was another Gilbert and Sullivan piece, The Mikado. Again the operetta was presented in conjunction with Masterworks Choral Foundation. There was no grant money available for the production costs this year. The expenses were split between Little Theatre and Masterworks. Because of the lack of funds the show was presented in Ralph Squires Recital Hall at McNeese, a 250 seat fully equipped theatre with excellent acoustics. The smaller house allowed for much smaller cast, orchestra, and set budget. Adley Cormier staged the show with Lamar Robinson again providing the musical direction. It was enjoyed by the audience but received little notice from local news media. Pictures of the production show that it was done rather tongue-in-cheek by the director. Cormier chose to set fully made-up Japanese gentlemen in the Old West, an artistic choice considered hilarious by the audiences. Cormier has said that his only real disappointment with the show was the non-appearance of a promised live cow from the Iowa High School FFA which was to have provided the final atmospheric touch for the set. (209)
Here this history of Lake Charles Little Theatre ends. The theatre itself has continued to produce full seasons and summer seasons each year. Interviews with personnel directly involved with the productions and management of the theatre in the last ten years and up to the present (1986) have discovered no new programs or trends emerging from the group’s efforts. They have continued to present balanced seasons containing offering from contemporary theatre as well as "classic" pieces. The audience numbers have remained steady if one uses an average count over a season. But membership rolls decline. The group can offer no explanation for the decrease in numbers purchasing memberships over the past years, but feel that it does reflect a general trend in American little theatres. The movies were the first real threat to live theatre. Since then television, cable television service, and home video players have continued erode the base of theatre-goers everywhere. "Football seems to be the only general offering to draw a crowd anymore," states Tom Munger, current president. "The American public does not seem to be oriented to gathering in large groups to seek entertainment. People would rather sit in the air conditioned comfort of their own homes, in front of television screens, with access to their own refrigerators, then to go to the trouble of dressing up to go out for an evening of fun. Maybe if we offered drinks and disco we could draw a crowd. But I doubt it." (210)
The uncertainty of attendance levels and the fall in membership numbers could be a reflection of the economic torment the Lake Charles area has experienced since the late 1970’s. The area’s economy was almost completely dependent on the production of petroleum-based products. When the international slump in oil began there was not an immediate effect on the area, but as the decline in prices continued, it began to feel the same economic pinch the rest of the nation had been experiencing for years. The production facilities laid off hundreds of workers monthly for six months, then repeated the process six months later. Thousands were thrown out of work, as records of personal bankruptcy and mortgage repossessions show. (211) In such hard economic times entertainment that costs money is one of the first luxuries to be cut from the family budget. Even the receipts of local moving picture houses have shown a marked decline. With almost no other work available in the area, many people chose to move to more prosperous areas, such as the still-booming Houston, Texas, area. This flight removed a strong base of both theatre-goers and theatre workers. The Little Theatre had already shown a steady decline in attendance: now the drop in numbers was sharp. This area has not yet shown signs of the recovery being exhibited in the northern states; therefore, there has been no increase in memberships. Though the group has spent a great deal of effort in the last five years specifically aimed at building audience numbers, its efforts have not paid off. This economic situation, in addition to the uncomfortable quarters in which its show were often produced may have combined to cause a decline in the fortunes of the group.
Adley Cormier, who has been a dedicated worker with Little Theatre since 1976, suggested other reasons for the decline in memberships. Cormier stated that it has become more and more difficult to gauge what an audience wants to see. "If an individual production is timed right, is entertaining, and is convenient, the audience will attend in droves. But it must be absolutely convenient." (212) Cormier also pointed out that Lake Charles Little Theatre has always been a theatre of immigrants, the nature of the petroleum industry being that of constant transfers of personnel. There are almost no Lake Charles natives working with the group. The transient nature of the area’s population has always indicated a high turnover of theatre personnel. People have never really known if they would be in the area for a whole year, now more than ever. They do not wish to make a year-long commitment for the simple fact that they do no know if they will still be in the area six months later. Cormier further stated that the lack of membership numbers reflects the current attitude of the American people to eschew long-term commitment to anything. "People do not want to join things. There are more single admission in any receipt box than memberships. Americans no longer believe in long-term commitments. Time-heavy organizations are eschewed in preference to spur-of-the-moment activities." (213)
Long-time workers in the theatre have wistfully noted that over half of their new members and workers used to arrive at a rehearsal out of curiosity and find themselves staying for years. The fact that it has been difficult to find where production sites were has made such precious walk-in influence impossible. Coupled with this problem is the fact that rehearsal facilities often changed with each production and interested persons could not drop in to visit a rehearsal and be commandeered into a crew. Even audition numbers have been affected by the lack of a permanent location. Many would-be actors once heard of auditions from an acquaintance and wandered to watch the process. Since the destruction of the Chennault facility auditions have been held in various church halls, and meeting rooms around town making it difficult for any except the most determined auditioner to locate the auditions. The Little Theatre has designated large portions of each production budget to be spent on advertising. The outlay of these funds were a direct effort to counteract the difficulties experienced by actors and audiences as they tried to locate the theatre during each season. Unfortunately the local newspaper is viewed askance by a greater portion of the populace. Academic groups delight in reading each edition in search of errors rather than in search of news. Because of this, announcements and reviews were often ignored and the funds were spent for naught. In spite of its problems, Little Theatre has no intention to cease production. The difficulties faced by the group could be greatly ameliorated by the occupation of a single site with which the general public could identify the theatre. With the establishment of such a base the public response should be a steady return to working and attending productions. A permanent home would not erase the other problems, that of the current economic difficulties of the area and its effect on the theatre. But the oil industry is experiencing a leveling-off of difficulties at the time of this writing. New sources predict a steady increase in employment in the petroleum industries surrounding the city. (214) The city also begun to make a concentrated effort to lure other types of industries to the area. These efforts are beginning to see fruition, especially with the opening of a facility at Chennault Air Park which is reported to provide employment for 4,000 workers, including those needed in peripheral businesses. The re-establishment of a healthy economy in the area will greatly aid the continuing growth of this venerable amateur company. It should be noted that on September 26, 1986, the Lake Charles Little Theatre opened their season with Noises Off in their new wholly-owned and remodeled theatre. The two week-end production was completely sold out. It is hoped that this move will re-establish the Little Theatre as a leading cultural force in their city. The board feels that it has finally made a wise real estate decision with the purchase of an abandoned post office maintenance garage at 813 Enterprise Boulevard. The building is located across the street from the central offices of the City Police and under continuous observation by the desk sergeant. There have been only three attempts at vandalism in the last twenty-five years, and none since the police moved into the area. The property includes adequate parking space under the watchful eye of the police dispatcher. Another positive aspect of this location is its proximity to a popular night spot. Both Cormier and Munger have stated that Lake Charles citizens seem to want theatre to be an entire social evening that includes drinks with friends, a winding down period after work, and an entertaining show in an attractive place. The audience does not want the slightly more rigid atmosphere of a dinner theatre; it simply wants a relaxing, entertaining evening. "The combination of factors in the location of the new facility should prove phenomenally successful." (215)
There is, then, the imminent probability that Lake Charles Little Theatre will continue to serve its community in the capacity to which its founding members dedicated the organization: good amateur theatre while having fun.
Suggestions for Further Research
In preparing this dissertation the researcher has discovered some indications for further research in this field. There is a need for compilation of a nationally-based listing of productions successfully produced by community theatres. This list could serve as a reference tool for both established theatres and emerging theaters. Such a study may allow comparisons between Lake Charles Little Theatre and other community theaters as to patterns of production choices, production styles, costing, composition of casts, and perceived value of the production to the community the theatre serves. A review of Lake Charles Little Theatre activities as compared to a national cross-section of community theatres may be useful in determining the future of Lake Charles Little Theatre and community theatres nationally.
As grant funding has had a noticeable effect on the extent to which Lake Charles Little Theatre has been able to offer new programs and support local artists. A study that seeks to determine the influence of grants funding on community theatres in America might reveal patterns that would establish the significance of such funding in the community theatre sector. This study would seek to formalize data concerning patterns of grant fund distribution by state and region, general availability of grant funds, types and frequency of granted projects, and the significance of grant monies on production values as perceived by the theatre organization and the community it services. The effect of grant funding on budgetary considerations, administrative practices, and any changes in goals for the theatre or styles of productions should be studied.
A survey of Lake Charles Little Theatre personnel to determine if community theatre work was a significant factor in their lives may be of interest to determine what influence community theatre may have on inter-family relationships, especially spousal and parent-child relationships. Another aspect of such a study might seek to determine the influence of community theatre on socialization of adolescents within the workplace and the educational institution, and the effect of community theatre in encouraging the life-long habit of theatre attendance.
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Wise, Claude Merton. Dramatics for the School and Community. New York: Appleton and Co., 1923.
Kane, Harnett T. "They’re all characters in Lake Charles." Pageant. May, 1950.
Leatherbee, Mary. "Life guide: Community Theatre: The Great Big Doorstep." Life. 14 June, 1948.
Parmeter, Ross. "New Opera Debuts." New York Times. 20 April, 1952.
Pearson, Talbot. "Lake Charles." Players. December, 1951.
___________. "Pittsburg’s People in Community Play." Pittsburg People. Vol. 14, #5, May, 1953
___________. "Cross-Country Shakespeare." Seventeen. July, 1954.
___________. "Snow Queen New Opera Debuts in Lake Charles." "Dixi Roto" Times Picayune. 8, June, 1952.
___________. "US Opera Celebrates Anderson." The News of Denmark. 12 April, 1952.
___________. "Hart Delights Theatre Group." Opelousas Daily World. 25 August, 1950.
___________. "First Lady in Beaumont." Beaumont Journal. 8 March, 1938.
__________. "Leisure Life in the American South." Anepuka. Vol. 26, 1952.
The personal papers of Miss Hart as well as the records of Lake Charles Little Theatre are contained in the Rosa Hart Collection at McNeese State University Frasier (sic Frazar) Memorial Library, Lake Charles, Louisiana.
RECORD OF INTERVIEWS
Little Theatre Personnel
William Ray: Head Electrician 1948-1963; In Person: May 22, 1985
Maxine Ray: Member of Board of Directors, Member of Program Council, Co-chairman of properties committee, Publicity, Membership, Costumes, 1948-1981; In person: May 22, 1985
Thomas Munger: President of Program Council, President of Board of Directors, Actor, Carpenter, Director, Electrician, 1963-1987; In person: October 21, 1985, July 25, 1985, September 15, 1986
David Key: Member of Program Council, Actor, Electrician, Carpenter, 1973-1981; In person: August 28, 1985 (Los Angeles, California); Phone: August 30, 1985 (Los Angeles, California)
Gary Elam: Member of Program Council, Treasurer, Actor, 1976-1983; Phone: September 10, 1985 (Lafayette, Louisiana)
James Johnson: Member of Board of Directors, Member of Program Council, Actor, Director, Designer, Artist, 1975-1987; In person: September 9, 1985
Adley Cormier: Member of Board of Directors, Member of Program Council, Director, Actor, Designer, Publicity, Artist, Grants writer, Advertising, 1976-1987; In person: May 5, 1986, October 1, 1986
Suzanne Cooper: Member of Board of Directors, Member of Program Council, Director, Actress, Publicity, Grants writer, Advertising, Membership, 1974-1982; Phone: August 12, 1986 (Ashville, North Carolina)
Mathilde Gano: Life Member of LCLT, Secretary for Board of Directors, Secretary for Program Council, Historian, Membership, Carpenter, Actress 1948-1987; In person: August, 15, 1985
Phil Smathers: Director, Actor, 1975-1980; Phone: August 25, 1965 (Los Angeles, California) July 15, 1986 (Los Angeles, California)
Susan Reed: Director of Calcasieu Arts and Humanities Council; Phone: September 25, 1983
John Martin: Carpenter, Electrician, 1963-1975; In person: September 29, 1986
Rita Martin: Actress, Make-up Chairman, 1977-1979; In person: September 5, 1986
Harper Clark, Jr.: Member of Board of Directors, Real estate advisor, Actor, Carpenter, Membership, Publicity, 1941-1977; In person: May 13, 1986
Glenda Williams: Member of Board of Directors, Member of Program Council, Actress, Costume designer, Head of costume committee, 1966-1980; In person: October 19, 1984
David Kay: President of Board of Directors, Actor, Electrician, Carpenter, 1973-1979; In person: August 12, 1985
Brenda Kay: Member of Board of Directors, Actress, Director, 1973-1979; In person: November 13, 1984
Arthur Wannage: President of Program Council, Member of Board of Directors, Actor, Director, Publicity, 1970-1982; Phone: March 16, 1985 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
FORM 1-A - Directors
NAME: __________________________ DATE: __________________
1. When were you at LCLT?
2. What experiences led you to work with LCLT?
b) high school
d) community theatre
e) professional theater
3. Did you ever formally study theatre?
4. Did you ever formally study community theatre?
5. How did you come to work with LCLT?
f) referred by whom
g) had worked with other local theatres
h) have "come up through the ranks"
6. Do you work under a philosophy of theatre?
i) Is it related to theatre in general or to community theatre specifically?
j) Please state your philosophy.
7. What goals did you have for LCLT?
k) increased audience numbers
l) increased participation in all LCLT activities
m) development of new audiences
n) development of an educated audience
o) expansion of activities
p) productions of high artistic merit
q) increased funding
r) professionalism of LCLT
s) others (please state)
8. What are your goals for the participants?
t) provide a creative outlet
u) train them for community theatre
v) train them for professional theatre
w) improve their feeling of self-worth
x) develop them into an educated audience
y) educate them in good theatre properties
9. How do you judge your success in achieving your goals for the theatre and its participants?
10. What activities did you initiate?
11. What activities did you discontinue?
12. Describe the programming you directed in general.
13. List the productions you directed.
14. List any productions during your time with LCLT that you did not direct but were associated with.
15. In your association with other little theatres have you identified anything that was unique to LCLT during the period of your involvement?
16. As you look back over your time with LCLT what were some of the special moments? What would you like included in this dissertation?
17. Do you have any materials otherwise unavailable that you would make available to me?
18. If you were not a full-time director, list other types of involvement you had with LCLT.
FORM 1-B - PARTICIPANTS
1. In what years were you active with LCLT?
2. How many total years did you spend with LCLT?
3. Describe your activities or participation with LCLT. (actor: technician: costumes, properties, sets, lights, sound; publicity; front of the house; tickets; hospitality; displays; administration)
4. What productions were you involved with?
5. What non-production activities was LCLT doing while you were active?
6. During your time with LCLT what did you perceive to be the major goals of the theatre?
7. During your time with LCLT did you notice changes in any area?
b) interest in the theatre’s activities
d) funding or budgets
e) directors or administration
f) programming (types, numbers of shows)
g) other (please state)
8. If so, please explain what happened and your perceptions of the reasons for the changes.
9. Please check any specific areas in which you feel you might be especially helpful in documenting the activities of LCLT:
h) specific programming
j) trends in programming
k) development of new activities
10. Do you know the names and addresses or telephone numbers of other persons whom I may contact pertaining to this questionnaire?
11. Do you have any material otherwise unavailable which you would make available to me?
SEASON AND YEAR BREAKDOWN OF THEATRICAL ACTIVITY OF LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE
Proposed Budget for Kiss Me, Kate April, 1979
Lake Charles Little Theatre
|Expense Type||Amount Needed||Two-week Resid.|
|(b) Flight fare||$200.00|
|Amount Budgeted by Little Theatre||$4,000.00|
|Amount Required from Funding||$1,575.00|
SAMPLE EXPENSE ACCOUNTS FOR INDIVIDUAL PRODUCTIONS
|New Yorker "Marie Braun"||$360.00|
|Films Inc. "Harold and Maude"||$183.00|
|Films Inc. "Thin Man"||$123.00|
|Cinema 5 "Fireman’s Ball"||$158.00|
|J. Swank "Dr. Strangelove"||$159.50|
|Films Inc. "Days of Heaven"||$208.00|
|Films Inc. "Lacamb Lucien"||$208.00|
|Films Inc. "Amicord"||$233.00|
The Would-Be Gentleman
|Dance Theatre Southwest||$500.00|
Shakespeare Festival 1980
|Nowell Daste - Mask||$1,000.00|
|Nowell Daste - Mask||$800.00|
No Sex, Please, We’re British
Ten Little Indians
|Van rental deposit||$75.00|
Almost Perfect Person
|Gayle Parmalee Fee||$300.00|
SAMPLE EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS
July 1, 1982
Lake Charles Little Theatre
P. O. Box 3111
Lake Charles, LA 70602
To whom it may concern:
I agree to private professional services as Director of the Lake Charles Little Theatre’s Louisiana Shakespeare Festival production of Twelfth Night.
These services will be provided for a fee of $300.00; $225.00 to be paid at the time of the rendered service, and $75.00 to be paid after the grant period is over.
Nancy M. Key
628 Cleveland Street
Lake Charles, LA. 70601
LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE
P.O. BOX 3111
LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA 19602
836 Ryan @ Kirby
CONTRACT FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
The terms and conditions set forth herein are made between the Lake Charles Little Theatre, Inc. hereinafter known as the Theatre and Nancy M. Key, hereinafter known as the "Artist."
It is agreed that:
The Artist will research the Shakespeare comedies, make a selection for production with the approval of the Board of the Theatre, audition actors, and direct the play for the Louisiana Shakespeare Festival in Lake Charles, Louisiana to be presented July 30, through August 8, 1982.
The Theatre will provide actors and technicians in sufficient quantity for production.
The Theatre will arrange for rehearsal and performance space.
The Theatre will pay a fee of $300.00 in consideration for services rendered by the Artist: the manner of payment to be as follows: $255.00 upon completion of the first night’s performance of the play, and $75.00 upon completion of the project.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS are made contingent upon funding of the Festival by the State Arts Council, through the Division of the Arts.
Artist For the Theatre
February 24, 1982
Mr. Albert Head, Director
Division of the Arts
P. O. Box 44247
Baton Rough, LA. 70804
Re: "Louisiana Shakespeare Festival 1982" Submitted by LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE
Dear Mr. Head:
Please accept this as my letter of intent confirming my commitment to serve as Choreographer for the Lake Charles Little Theatre’s proposed grant project, "LOUISIANA SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL 1982" contained in the foregoing application. I agree, if funding is provided by the DOA, to serve as choreographer for this project; to audition and train the dancers selected in presentation of the project; to serve as Artist-in-Residence for a period of one week prior to production; and generally to supervise and design all elements of dance contained in the Festival. I have undertaken to provide these professional services for the fee of $1,500.00
I understand that, if sufficient funding is not available for this project, I have no further commitment to offer my services.
My professional resume is attached for your consideration.
New Orleans, LA.
LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE
P.O. BOX 3111
LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA 19602
836 Ryan @ Kirby
CONTRACT FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
The terms and conditions set forth herein are made between the Lake Charles Little Theatre, Inc. hereinafter known aa the Theatre and Gayle Parmalee, hereinafter known as the "Artist."
It is agreed that:
The Artist will research, select appropriate music, audition dancers, and choreograph a ballet segue for the production of Twelfth Night for the Louisiana Shakespeare Festival in Lake Charles, Louisiana, July 30 through August 8, 1982.
The Artist will make her own arrangements for transportation and housing during her stay in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
The Artist will confer with the Director of the play and the Manager of the theatre on matters of Production.
The Theatre will pay a fee of $1,200.00 in consideration for services rendered by the Artist; the manner of payment to be as follows: $300.00 upon arrival in Lake Charles and $900.00 upon completion of the project.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS are made contingent upon funding of the Festival by the State Arts Council, through the Division of the Arts.
Artist For the Theatre
BE IT KNOWN, that, on the dates set forth below, LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE (hereinafter referred to as " the Theatre"), represented herein by the President of its Board of Directors, AUTHUR WANNAGE, and J. B. DAVIS (hereinafter referred to as "the Artist"), did agree as follows:
The Theatre agrees to employ the Artist, and the Artist agrees to accept employment by the Theatre according to the terms, conditions and considerations set forth below.
Terms of Employment
The Artist agrees to render his services as a professional opera baritone by portraying the leading role of Petruchio/Fred Graham in the Theatre’s production of Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter at a location in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to be designated by the Theatre. The tentative date for the production is April 19-22, 1979, during which a maximum of five (5) performances will be presented. In the event that the date of the performances is changed, written notice by certified mail will be given the Artist at least thirty (30) days in advance of the old performance dates or of the new performance dates, whichever is earlier. This notice will be sent to the Artist’s address, Route 2, Box 600, Sussex, New Jersey. In addition to the above, the artist will begin residing in Lake Charles and will attend every rehearsal scheduled by the theatre during a period of eight (8) days preceding the first performance unless prevented from doing so by illness, said residency not to precede April 11, 1979. The Artist also agrees to attend and give reasonable number of "informance" workshops during his residency in Lake Charles at such dates as are selected by the Theatre, provided that said workshops do not interfere with rehearsals for the production. For purposes of determining the reasonableness of the Theatre’s requests that the Artist give "informance" workshops, it is agreed that the Artist will not be required to give more than two (2) such workshops on a given day, and no more than eight (8) such workshops during the residency in Lake Charles.
In consideration for the Artist’s rendition of professional service, the Theatre agrees to compensate him therefore in the sum of ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED AND NO/100 ($1,300.00) DOLLARS, plus ELEVEN AND NO/100 ($11.00) DOLLARS per diem for a period of not more than fourteen days. Further, the Theatre agrees to reimburse the Artist for reasonable air fare to Lake Charles at the commencement of his term of employment and from Lake Charles to his residence at the termination of his term of employment and expenses of reasonable accommodation in Lake Charles not to exceed $350.00 during the term of employment. The Artist will not be reimbursed for any other expenses without the express written approval of the President of the Board of Directors of the Theatre. All compensation is due and payable by the Theatre to the Artist within ten (10) days after the satisfactory completion of the Artist's residency in Lake Charles, providing that he artist provides the Theatre with receipt or other documentation of the expenses for which the Theatre agrees here it is responsible.
The artist agrees to hold the Theatre harmless and indemnify it for any and all damages that the Artist may suffer to person or property as a result of his employment under this agreement.
By their signatures below, the parties hereto agree that this Employment Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between them and that there are no promises or obligations on the part of either party other than those set forth in writing at this agreement.
THUS DONE AND SIGNED by the two parties and the witnesses whose signatures appear below on the dates and at the places shown.
LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana; the 14th day of September 1978.
WITNESSES LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE
_____________________ BY: ____________________________
_____________________ ARTHUR WANNAGE, President
Board of Directors
THUS DONE AND SIGNED at Sussex, New Jersey, on this 13th day of October, 1978.
___________________ J. R. Davis
LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
Moonshine By Amy Howard Wells Bullock
Suppressed Desires By Susan Glaspell
Overtone By Alice Gerstenberg
The Trystin’ Place By Booth Tarkington
Two Crooks and a Lady By Eugene Pillot
The Wonder Hat By Ben Hect
Rita By Amy Howard Wells Bullock
Ricky Runs Amok By Amy Howard Wells Bullock
Pierrot’s Penny By Amy Howard Wells Bullock
Will O’ the Wisp By Doris Halman
For Distinguished Service By Florence Clay Knox
The Valient By Hall and Middlemass
The Cajun By A. J. Carver
Joint Owners in Spain By A. Brown
The Pot Boiler By Alice Gerstenberg
Seventeen By Booth Tarkington
The Florist Shop By Winifred Hawkridge
El Cristo By N. Larkin
Bagatelle By Sam Gilmore
You and I By Phillip Barry
The Vanishing Princess Author unknown
The Mayor and the Manicure By George Ade
The Giant Staircase By William David Steele
The Eldest Author unknown
The Twelve Pound Look Author unknown
The Cup of Tea Author unknown
Three Cornered Moon By Gertrude Tonkonogy
The Trial of Mary Dugan By Bayard Veiller
The Ghost Train By Arnold Ridley
The Revealing Moment By Oscar Fiskin
The Rehearsal By Christopher Morley
Cook Robin By Elmer Rice and Phillip Barry
The Barker By Kenyon Nicholson
A Bill of Divorcement By Clarence Dane
Lightn’ By Winchell Smith and Frank Bacon
The Drunkard By A. Smith
First Lady By Katherine Dayton and George S. Kaufman
Kind Lady By Edward Chodorov
Ceiling Zero By Frank Wead
Stage Door By Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman
Night of January 16th By David McKay
Outward Bound By Sutton Vane
Personal Appearance By Lawrence Riley
Cradle Snatchers By Russell Medcroft and Norma Mitchell
You Can’t Take It With You By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Night Must Fall By Emyln Williams
Room Service By John Murray and Allen Boretz
The Bat By Mary Roberts Rhinehart and Avery Hopgood
Candle Light By S. Geyer translated by P. G. Wodehouse
The Women By Clare Booth
Elizabeth the Queen By Maxwell Anderson
Here Today By George Oppenheimer
The Man Who Came To Dinner By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
What A Life By Clifford Goldsmith
Reserve Two For Murder By John Randall
My Sister Eileen By Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov
Boy Meets Girl By Moss Hart
I Remember Mama By John Van Druten
Mary of Scotland By Maxwell Anderson
Biography By S. N. Behrman
Arsenic and Old Lace By John Kesselring
State of the Union By Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse
The Barretts of Wimpole Street By Rudolph Besier
Dear Ruth By Norman Krasna
Death Takes a Holiday By Alberto Casella rewritten by Walter Ferris
The Great Big Doorstep By Francis Goodricht and Albert Hacket
Life With Father By Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse
Seven Keys To Baldpate By George M. Cohan
Blithe Spirit By Noel Coward
Glass Menagerie By Tennessee Williams
Over 21 By Ruth Gordson
The Pursuit of Happiness By Lawrence Langner and Armie Marshall Langner
Little Foxes By Lillian Hellman
Two Blind Mice By Samuel Spewack
Light Up the Sky By Moss Hart
Peter Pan By Sir James M. Barrie
Medea By Robinson Jeffers
The Silver Whistle By Robert E. McEnroe
West From the Panhandle By Clem White
The Voice of the Turtle By John Van Druten
Rain By John Colton and Clemence Randolph
20th Century By Ben Hect and Charles MacArthur
Snow Queen By Sam Gaburo and Margery Wilson
Happy Time By Samuel Taylor
Darkness at Noon By Sidney Kingsley
Remains To Be Seen By Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse
Bell Book and Candle By John Van Druten
Mister Roberts By Thomas Heggan and Joshua Logan
Born Yesterday By Garson Kanin
Henry IV, Part I By William Shakespeare
The Hasty Heart By John Patrick
Out of the Frying Pan By Francis Swann
Detective Story By Sidney Kingsley
My Three Angels By Sam and Bella Spewack
Le Carnaval By Robert Schumann
Androcles and the Lion By George B. Shaw
Stalag 17 By Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzeicki
Quality Street By Sir James M. Barrie
The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker By Liam O’Brian
Solid Gold Cadillac By Howard D. Teichman and George S. Kaufman
The Lark By Jean Anouilh adapted by Lillian Hellman
Barefoot in Athens By Maxwell Anderson
Teahouse of the August Moon By John Patrick
Death of a Salesman By Arthur Miller
Sabrina Fair By Samuel Taylor
White Sheep of the Family By L du Garde Peach and Ian Hay
Inherit the Wind By Jerone Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
No Time for Sargeants By Ira Levin
Dial "M" for Murder By Fredrick Knott
The Rainmaker By N. Richard Nash
Tiger at the Gates By Jean Giradoux translated by Christopher Fry
Lo and Behold! By John Patrick
Charley’s Aunt By Brandon Thomas
Witness for the Prosecution By Agatha Christie
The Skin of Our Teeth By Thornton Wilder
The Boy Friend By Sandy Wilson
Mrs. McThing By Mary Chase
The Time of the Cuckoo By Arthur Laurents
Diary of Anne Frank By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Pajama Game By George Albert, Robert Bissel, Richard Adlet, Jerry Ross
Pleasure of His Company By Samuel Taylor and Cornelia Otis Skinner
The Crucible By Arthur Miller
The Deadly Game By James Yaffe
Nude With a Violin By Noel Coward
Perils of Pamona By S. J. Aronson
The Rebel’s Revenge By Moe Samuelson and S.J. Aronson
Love Lies A’Bleeding By S. J. Aronson
Carnival By Michael Stewart and Bob Merrill
Everybody Loves Opal By John Patrick
The Seven Year Itch By George Axelrod
Once Upon a Mattress By Jay Thompson, Marshall Baner, Dean Fuller, Mary Rogers
Dirty Work at the Crossroads By Bill Johnson
The Drunkard By A. Smith
Auntie Mame By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
A Far Country By Henry Denker
Kind Sir By Norman Krasna
Sound of Music By Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers
A Shot in the Dark By Harry Kurnitz and Marcel Achard
Mary, Mary By Jean Kerr
Dark at the Top of the Stairs By William Inge
The Importance of Being Ernest By Oscar Wilde
Cinderella By Marc Pettaway and Mary June Malus
Camelot By Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Lowe
Bell, Book and Candle By John Van Druten
Mary, Mary By Jean Kerr
Never Too Late By Arthur S. Long
West Side Story By Henry Laurents and Leonard Bernstein
You Can’t Take It With You By George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
A Streetcar Named Desire By Tennessee Williams
Any Wednesday By Murial Resnik
Riverwind By John Jennings
Rosie’s Richochet Romance By S. J. Aronson
Rebel’s Revenge By Moe Samuelson and S. J. Aronson
Odd Couple By Neil Simon
The Man Who Came To Dinner By George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Critic’s Choice By Ira Levin
The Winslow Box By Terrance Rattingan
Dirty Work at the Crossroads By Bill Johnson
Rosie’s Richochet Romance By S. J. Aronson
The Star Spangled Girl By Neil Simon
Come Blow Your Horn By Neil Simon
Caught in the Villain's Web By Herbert E. Swayne
LUV By Morris Shishgal
Glouster By Ramsey McLeod
Wait Until Dark By Fredrick Knott
Caretaker By Harold Pinter
The Women (1966 edition) By Clare Booth Luce
Light Up the Sky By Moss Hart
The Bad Seed By Maxwell Anderson
White Sheep of the Family By L. Du Garde Peach and Ian Hay
I Do! I Do! By Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
The Great Big Doorstep By Frances Goodricht and Albert Hackett
Jenny Kissed Me By Jean Kerr
Curious Savage By John Patrick
Antigone By Jean Anouilh
Under the Yum-Yum Tree By Lawrence Roman
Telemachus Clay By Lewis John Carlino
Butterflies Are Free By Leonard Gershe
Arsenic and Old Lace By Joseph Kesselring
Glass Menagerie By Tennessee Williams
Natalie Needs a Nightie By Neil and Caroline Schaffner
Last of the Red Hot Lovers By Neil Simon
I Never Sang For My Father By Robert Anderson
The Tender Trap By Max Schulman and Robert Paul Smith
Generation By William Goodhart
A Man For All Seasons By Robert Bolt
Juliet in Mantua By Robert Nathan
Under Gaslight By Augustine Daly
Room Service By John Murray and Allen Boretz
Dracula Baby By Claire Strauch, John Jakes, and Bruce Ronald
An American Odyssey No author
Fanny the Frivolous Flapper By Charles George
Night Must Fall By Emyln Williams
The Solid Gold Cadillac By Howard Teichmann and George S. Kaufman
Anything Goes By Cole Porter
The Drunkard By A. Smith
A Midsummer Night’s Dream By William Shakespeare
My Three Angels By Sam and Bella Spewack
The Miser By Moliere translated by Adley Cormier
Guys and Dolls By Frank Loesser
A Comedy of Errors By William Shakespeare
An Enemy of the People By Hendrick Ibsen
A School for Scandal By R. B. Sheridan
The Real Inspector Hound By Tom Stoppard
Kiss Me, Kate By Cole Porter
The Merry Wives of Windsor By William Shakespeare
The Runner Stumbles By Milan Stitt
Life With Father By Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse
The Great Golden Radio Hour By Adley Cormier, Suzanna Cooper, Joan Robinson and Bill Broussard
Pirates of Penzance By Gilbert and Sullivan
As You Like It By William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet By William Shakespeare
Ten Little Indians By Agatha Christie
No Sex, Please, We’re British By Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot
Almost Perfect Person By Judith Ross
The Would –Be Gentleman By Moliere translated by Adley Cormier
The Fantasticks By Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
DA By Hugh Leonard
Caught in the Villain's Web By Herbert E. Swayne
Candida By George B. Shaw
Mikado By Gilbert and Sullivan
LIST OF INVITED PLAYS
1929 The Ship by St. John Erwin, Beaumont Little Theatre
1947 Biography by S. N. Behrman, Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre
1948 Dear Ruth by Norman Krasna, Little Theatre of Shreveport
1949 Lovers and Madmen by Ralph Mead, Houston Little Theatre
1950 The Fatal Weakness by George Kelly, Memphis Little Theatre
1951 Goodbye, My Fancy by Kay Fanin, Tulsa Little Theatre
1952 Rain by John Colton and Clemence Randolph, University of Houston Players
1953 Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge, Tulane University with Le Petite du Vieux Carre
1954 Henry IV, Part I by Wm. Shakespeare, McNeese Bayou Players
1955 The Man by Mel Dinelli, San Antonio Little Theatre
1956 Happy Birthday by Anita Loos, Baton Rouge Little Theatre
1958 The Fifth Season by Sylvia Regan, Stage Inc., of Beaumont, Texas
1959 A Visit to a Small Planet by Gore Vidal, Port Arthur Little Theatre
1981 Death Trap by Ira Levin, Dallas Theatre Center
LIST OF GUEST ARTISTS
Jeffry Lynn - 1953 - Mister Roberts
Steve Cochran - 1954 - Detective Story
Hurd Hatfield - 1955 - Stalag 17
Edward Evertt Horton - 1958 - White Sheep of the Family
J. B. Davis - 1979 - Kiss Me, Kate
ORIGINAL PLAYS PRODUCED
1927 Moonshine, Rita, Ricky Runs Amok, Pierott’s Penny by Amy Howard Wells Bullock
1928 Bagatelle by Sam Gilmore
1951 West From the Panhandle by Clem White
1952 Snow Queen by Sam Gaburo and Margery Wilson
1966 Cinderella by Marc Pettaway and Mary Jean Malus
1969 Glouster by Ramsey McCloud
1980 The Great Golden Radio Hour by Adley Cormier, Suzanne Cooper, Joan Robinson, Bill Broussard
LIST OF REPEATED TITLES
The Drunkard - 1937, 1964, 1966, 1977
You Can’t Take It With You - 1939, 1966
Night Must Fall - 1939, 1976
Room Service - 1939, 1975
The Women - 1940, 1970
The Man Who Came To Dinner - 1941, 1967
Arsenic and Old Lace - 1946, 1972
The Great Big Doorstep - 1947, 1971
Life With Father - 1948, 1979
Glass Menagerie - 1949, 1973
Little Foxes - 1949, 1968
Bell, Book, and Candle - 1953, 1966
My Three Angels - 1954, 1977
Solid Gold Cadillac - 1958, 1976
White Sheep of the Family - 1958, 1971
LIST OF AUTHORS REPEATED
Maxwell Anderson - Winterset, Elizabeth the Queen, Mary of Scotland, Barefoot in Athens, The Bad Seed.
Sir James M Barrie - Quality Street, The Twelve Pound Look, The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, Peter Pan.
Amy Howard Wells Bullock - Moonshine, Rita, Ricky Runs Amok, Pierrot’s Penny.
Edward Chodorov - Kind Lady, My Sister Eileen with Joseph Fields.
Agatha Christie - Ten Little Indians, Witness for the Prosecution.
John van Druten - Bell, Book and Candle, The Voice of the Turtle, I Remember Mama.
Alice Gerstenberg - Overtones, The Pot Boiler
Moss Hart - You Can’t Take It with You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Boy Meets Girl, Light Up the Sky
Ben Hect - The Wonder Hat, 20th Century
William Inge - Bus Stop, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.
George S. Raufman - First Lady with Katharine Dayton, Stage Door with Edna Ferber, You Can’t Take it With You with Moss Hart, The Man Who Came to Dinner with Moss Hart, Solid Gold Cadillac with Howard Teichman
Jean Kerr - Jenny Kissed Me, Mary, Mary
Norman Krasna - Dear Ruth, Kind Sir
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Inherit the Wind, Auntie Mame
Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse - State of the Union, Life With Father, Remain To Be Seen
Arthur Miller - Death of a Salesman, The Crucible
John Patrick - Lo and Behold, The Hasty Heart, Everybody Loves Opal, Teahouse of the August Moon, Curious Savage
Cole Porter - Anything Goes, Kiss Me, Kate
George B. Shaw - Androcles and the Lion, Misalliance
Neil Simon - The Odd Couple, The Star Spangled Girl, Come Blow Your Horn, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Samuel Spewack - Two Blind Mice, My Three Angels with Bella Spewack
Booth Tarkington - The Trystin’ Place, Seventeen, Mr. Antonio
Tennessee Williams - A Streetcar Named Desire, Glass Menagerie
DIRECTORS OF LCLT
J. G. Ayers
Amy Howard Wells Bullock
I. R. Ferguson
Edwin E. Causey
Lady Leah LeFargue Hathaway
Karl von Lewen
Ronald Dennison Pope
Jeannie Bruno Wannage
Jeannie Bruno Wannage
Thomas W. Munger
Gerry Chester & Adley Cormier
Thomas W. Munger
ROSA HART, FOUNDING DIRECTOR
1. Albert McLeery and Carl Glick, Curtains Going Up. (New York: Pitman Publishing Company, 1939), p. 5.
2. Jean Carter and Jess Ogden, Everyman’s Drama: A Study of the Non-commercial Theatre in the United States. (New York: George Grady Press, 1938), vii.
3. Ibid., vi.
4. Kenneth Macgowan, Footlights Across America, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1969), p. 47.
5. Ibid., p. 46.
6. Ibid., p. 47.
7. Claude Merton Wise. Dramatics for the School and Community. (New York: Appleton and Company, 1923), p.17.
8. Ibid., p. 18.
9. Ibid., p. 19.
10. Sheldon Cheney, The Theatre: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting and Stagecraft. (1929; rpt. New York: David McKay Company, 1972). p. 541-2
11. Wise, p.23.
12. Norris Houghton, Advance from Broadway: 19,000 Miles of American Theatre. (1941; rpt. Freeport: Books for Libraries, 1971), p. 76
13. Wise, p. 24.
14. Ibid., p. 25.
15. Sheldon Cheney, The Art Theatre, (New York: Knopf, 1917), p.546.
16. Statement made by Dr. Geraldine Bowen, past President of Theatres of Louisiana, 1981.
17. McCleery and Glick, p. 337.
18. Macgowan, p. 97.
19. Statement made by Mrs. Susan Reid, Director of the Calcasieu Arts and Humanities Council, 1983.
20. Information on the theatrical history of Lake Charles is gathered from back issues of the Lake Charles American Press and the archives of the Lake Charles Little Theatre housed at McNeese State University 1920, housing such luminaries as the great Houdini.
21. In 1959, Lake Charles Little Theatre moved into the Arcade after their own building was destroyed by fire. The played there until 1965. The Arcade had been condemned as unsafe for public occupancy for many years prior to 1965, but that year the Fire marshal finally completely closed the building. The Arcade was locally famous for the ornate Italian plaster-work above the proscenium boxes and its elaborate plaster-work proscenium arch. When the building was closed a movement was mounted to save it from demolition, the fate of many old buildings in Lake Chares. In the 1970’s the Arcade was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. On November 22, 1985, the Arcade was destroyed in a fire set by vagrants.
22. This was a lesser number than the previous decades; from 1900 to 1920, the community had received and average of one or two road shows a week.
23. Five of the eight founding board members of Little Theatre Guild later appeared as founders of Lake Charles Little Theatre. They were: Mrs. T. F. Porter, R. Cisco, Sam Quilty, Mrs. Williamson, and Rosa Hart. The first lecturer was Amy Howard Wells Bullock, who spoke on theatre history and the development of drama. Mrs. Bullock later authored four of the one-act plays presented in the first two evenings of theatre of theatre done by LCLT, and was a founding board member of that theatre.
24. Class prophet is a student who writes possible futures for individual classmates. This office is usually held by a popular male student.
25. In a letter to Mary Leatherbee, of Life magazine she recounts a meeting with a dean of Tulane who emphatically reminder her that she must resume wearing her corsets while cheerleading.
26. Letter to Carol Hart from Rosa Hart for an article in Tulanian, 1952.
28. Rosa Hart was Jewish.
29. Rosa Hart’s notes for "Assert the Stage". McNeese Review, 1948.
30. Lake Charles American Press, 29 September, 1947.
31. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 16 May, 1962.
32. Talbot Pearson, "Lake Charles", Players, December, 1951, p.57.33. These views are expressed also in the 1951 Players article and a later "Jambalaya" reprint of that article in the Lake Charles American Press.
34. Rosa Hart notes for "Assert the Stage", McNeese Review, 1948.
35. "Hart Delights Theatre Group", Opelousas Daily World, 25, Aug. 1950.
36. Rosa Hart notes for "Assert the Stage", McNeese Review, 1948.
37. According to the Lake Charles American Press, 9 Dec. 1926, the first group included: Rosa Hart, president, Annabelle Dees, vice-president; and Mrs. Paul Barbe, secretary. The following committees were formed: play-reading, Mrs. Amy Howard Wells Bullock, chairman; ways and means, Mrs. T. F. Porter, chairman; casting ,Sam Quilty, R. Cisco and Miss Zena Thompson; costumes, Mrs. Homer Abbie, chairman; and publicity, Miss Georgia Williams and Phil Rielly.
38. Lake Charles American Press, 6 June, 1927.
39. Letter to Brooks Atkinson from Rosa Hart, 19 March, 1952.
40. Rosa Hart’s notes for "Assert the Stage," McNeese Review, 1948.
41. Both these workers became adept at actor retrieval as the steps at each edge of the stage often gave a catapult effect to actor’s exits.
42. Rosa Hart’s notes for "Assert the Stage", McNeese Review, 1948.
43. In May 1930, when LCLT went into its Depression hiatus, the absence of Boyd Cruse was among the reasons listed for Little Theatre’s ceasing production. Mr. Cruse had secured an art scholarship with the help of some Little Theatre members and gone off to art school in New Orleans.
44. Freda Scoggins, Iona Ferguson, and Nancy Thornton were three mentioned as directors at later dates.
45. Rosa Hart’s notes for "Assert the Stage", McNeese Review, 1948.
46. Lake Charles American Press, 1928.
47. Rosa Hart’s notes for "Assert the Stage", McNeese Review, 1948.
48. The play also required two sets and four scenery shifts. "But they were saved by the fact that the roof had never been finished…that is never sealed over and there was room to hang a set." (Ibid.)
49. Program notes, Seventeen, 19 April, 1928
50. During the LCLT performance of this play, Florence Kushner became well aware of the lack of wing space. She stood outside in the rain, inadequately covered by an umbrella, to play "Ave Marie" on her violin.
51. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 17 May, 1948.
53. Letter to Carol Hart from Rosa Hart for article in Tulanian, 1942.
54. Program notes Stable Talk, Issue 1, 1939.
55. Rosa Hart’s notes for "Assert the Stage", McNeese Review, 1948.
56. Lake Charles American Press, 18 February, 1936.
57. Mr. Snyder, who began working in the Masonic Temple in 1940, does not remember LCLT’s performances there. However, he is aware of what the facilities had to offer at this time through their records. He says there was never a cyclorama curtain in the theatre. All backstage crossovers would have been concealed by set pieces.
58. The first year LCLT built sets and acted in the Masonic Temple. In 1937, Loree Briggs, then president of the theatre, offered a second floor space over the Charleston Hotel parking garage as a workshop space. From 1937 to 1939, Little Theatre built sets and rehearsed in the workshop and performed in the Masonic Temple. Rosa Hart says in a letter to Carol Hart of the Tulanian, "The Masons were happy to have the smell of horse glue dismissed from their hall." At that time the theatre used granulated glue made from ground horse hoofs to glue muslin to frames for flats. This glue had to be melted in water and kept hot in buckets on electric hot plates. The stench of this gooey concoction is well suited to its name.
59. The Enterprise Club is a group of Lake Charles citizens interested in beautifying their city through horticulture. They are responsible for the planning and initial planting of many major thorough fares and parks in the city. Proceeds from such ventures as this play financed their activities.
60. Beaumont Journal, 8 March, 1938.
61. It is interesting to note that LCLT did this play at the Majestic Hotel in 1964, prior to the demolition of this venerable old hotel to make way for a parking lot.
62. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 17 May, 1948.
63. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 15 May, 1948.
64. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
65. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 15 May, 1948
66. Lake Charles American Press, 24 June, 1939.
67. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 17 May, 1948.
68. Program notes, Night Must Fall, 4 Dec., 1939.
69. Interview with Harry Bollock, Nachadoges, Texas, 17 April, 1975.
70. Program notes, Over Twenty-One, 10 Oct., 1949.
71. Program notes, Arsenic and Old Lace, 21 April, 1947.
72. Lake Charles American Press, 12 Dec., 1940.
73. Program notes, Here Today, 9 June, 1941.
74. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
75. Interview with Maxine Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May 1985.
76. The show calls for a song to be sung by one of the characters. And, as no song accompanied the script, Lee Hyatt wrote "There’s Pain in My Heart and My Heart’s on My Sleeve."
77. Program notes, I Remember Mama, 9 Dec., 1946.
78. Lake Charles American Press, 29 Dec., 1946.
79. Program notes, State of the Union, 13 Oct., 1947.
81. Program notes, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, 15 December, 1947.
82. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
83. Program notes, Death Takes a Holiday, 15 March, 1948.
84. Lake Charles American Press, 7 May, 1948, p.2.
85. Mary Leatherbee, "Life guide: Community Theatre: The Great Big Doorstep." Life, 14 June, 1943, p.146.
86. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 15 May, 1948.
87. Letter to the editors of Life from Rosa Hart, 27 March, 1948.
88. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 15 May, 1948
90. Program notes, Life With Father, 20 Oct., 1948.
91. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
92. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 15 May, 1948.
93. Lake Charles American Press, 13 December, 1950.
94. The note is an apology for unspecified remarks and a promise to help backstage with the play. It also reiterates the perceived slight in not being cast as Birdie.
95. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 13 May, 1948.
96. Pageant magazine, May 1950.
97. Program notes, Boy Meets Girl, 14 October, 1946.
98. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
99. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 15 May, 1948.
100. Program notes, Peter Pan, 15 January, 1951.
101. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
102. Program notes, Peter Pan, 15 Jan. 1951.
103. Program notes, West From the Panhandle, 31 Aug., 1951.
104. Program notes, Twentieth Century, 18 February, 1952.
105. Program notes, Twentieth Century, 18 Feb. 1951.
106. Program notes, The Snow Queen, 5 May, 1952.
107. Uncredited photographs Lake Charles Little Theatre Archives, McNeese State University Library.
108. Interview with Maxine Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
109. Program notes, The Snow Queen, 5 May, 1952.
110. New Orleans Times Picayune, 8 May, 1952.
111. Program notes, Bell, Book and Candle, 4 May, 1953.
112. Pittsburg People, Vol. 14, #5, May, 1953.
113. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
114. Lake Charles American Press, 18 Oct., 1953.
115. Program notes, Henry IV, Part I, 19 Feb., 1954.
116. Lake Charles American Press, 23 March, 1954.
117. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
118. Uncredited photographs, Lake Charles Little Theatre Archives, McNeese University Library.
119. Photographs by Stanley Studios.
120. Program notes, Quality Street, 12 Dec., 1955.
121. Program notes, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, 14 May, 1956.
122. Program notes, The Lark, 24 February, 1957.
123. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
124. Photographs by Lake Charles American Press.
125. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
126. Interview with Mathilde Gano, Lake Charles, LA. 15 August, 1985.
127. Interview with Maxine Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
128. In 1964, Rosa Hart funded a pair of awards at the McNeese High School Speech Festival. The award was a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare and was given to the most promising actor and actress at the festival each year. The actress who won the first award was active in LCLT and Miss Hart refused to inscribe her copy as she had done the actors copy. She delivered the award to the girl with little grace.
129. Interview with Maxine Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
130. Rosa Hart’s notes for McNeese Review article "Assert the Stage", 1948.
131. Letter to Mary Leatherbee from Rosa Hart, 17 May, 1948.
133. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 21 May, 1985.
134. Interview with Maxine Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 22 May, 1985.
135. Program notes Inherit the Wind, 14 Dec., 1958.
136. Lake Charles American Press, 19 Dec., 1958.
137. Program notes No Time for Sargents, 1 April, 1959.
138. Interview with William Ray, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 22 May, 1985.
139. Lake Charles American Press, 29 October, 1959.
140. Program notes, Tiger at the Gates, 25 Feb., 1960.
141. Program notes, Lo and Behold, 19 April, 1960.
142. A "full-time" director did not have an outside or day time job. Daughtery and Dowty had kept their regular positions and had worked for LCLT only at night.
143. Lake Charles American Press, 19 April, 1960.
144. Lake Charles American Press, 28 April, 1961.
145. Lake Charles American Press, 6 May, 1962.
146. Uncredited photographs, LCLT Archives.
148. Program notes The Rebel’s Revenge, 16 May, 1963.
149. In 1984 Little Theatre celebrated the old building with an original production titled Over at Miss Emma’s. The show was a series of vignettes portraying the local people who had worked with Little Theatre for years and some of the famous and near-famous who had stayed at the Majestic Hotel. The Miss Emma of the title was Miss Emma Mickie who had run the Majestic Hotel and had been part of the Little Theatre in various capacities for many years.
150. Interview with Tom Munger, Lake Charles, LA. 21 October, 1985.
151. Program notes Camelot, 27 April, 1966.
152. Interview with Thomas Munger, Lake Charles, LA. 26 July, 1985.
153. Interview with Thomas Munger, Lake Charles, LA. 21 October, 1985.
154. Lake Charles American Press, 1 October, 1967
155. Interview with Thomas Munger, Lake Charles, LA. 21 October, 1985.
156. Lake Charles American Press, 5 December, 1969.
157. Lake Charles American Press, 8 Feb., 1970.
158. Lake Charles American Press, 12 April, 1970.
159. Lake Charles American Press, 29 May, 1970.
160. Uncredited photographs, Lake Charles Little Theatre Archives.
161. Lake Charles American Press, 9 March, 1970.
162. Lake Charles American Press, 9 June, 1971.
163. Interview with Thomas Munger, Lake Charles, LA. 21 October, 1985.
164. Lake Charles American Press, 12 December, 1970.
165. Lake Charles American Press, 8 May, 1972.
166. Program notes Telemachus Clay, 7 July, 1972.
167. Lake Charles American Press, 9 July, 1972.
168. Lake Charles American Press, 11 October, 1972.
169. Lake Charles American Press, 14 October, 1972.
170. Lake Charles American Press, 17 December, 1972.
171. Lake Charles American Press, 14 February, 1973.
172. Interview with Phillip Smathers, Los Angeles, California, 25 August, 1985.
173. Lake Charles American Press, 9 February, 1974.
174. Interview with David Kay, Lake Charles, LA. August 12, 1985.
175. Interview with Maxine Ray, Lake Charles, LA. 28 July, 1985.
176. Interview with David Key, Los Angeles, CA. 30, August, 1985.
177. Photographs by David Kay, Lake Charles Little Theatre Archives, McNeese State Library.
178. Interview with David Key, Los Angeles, CA. 30 August, 1985.
179. Interview with David Key, Los Angeles, CA. 28 August, 1985.
180. It cannot be said that some site personnel were unhappy to see the group close a show and vacate their facility. Theatrical productions necessitate inclusion of material that is of great interest to juveniles. The greatest uproar occurred at Lake Charles High School when maintenance workers discovered a cache of whiskey bottles backstage. The men mistook the liquid in the bottles to be real alcohol and the theatre’s president had to leave his office to soothe the outraged feelings of the principal. However interesting the material might have been nothing was ever destroyed or stolen from the group. A feat to be recorded given the light-hearted respect most adolescents pay the idea of private property.
181. The stage was hardly large enough to allow for turning over the flats and the audience was treated to interesting billows in the curtain while the changes were in progress. The flats were not the most stable pieces of scenery, during one song one of the flats floated gently down and draped itself over the actor’s head. He completed the song holding up the flat and vainly trying to replace it into the trough. The audience thought it was part of the show and applauded vigorously the shenanigans of the actor.
182. Lake Charles American Press, 23 January, 1978.
183. Mrs. Key maintains that good food and excellent wine will solve many problems and if those bribes will not work, she is more than willing to revert to tears. This may be inaccurate, but no denial has been offered by the other parties. Interview with David Key, Los Angeles, California, 30 August, 1985.
184. It might have been enjoyed by the audience, who thought it was part of the show, but it was not appreciated by the Chief of Police who was in the audience, recognized the officer, and was currently dealing with accusations of an unfavorable nature made by citizens to the Mayor’s office.
185. Interview with Susan Reed, Calcasieu Arts Council, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 25 September, 1983.
186. Interview with Glenda Williams, Lake Charles, LA. 19 October, 1984.
187. Lake Charles American Press, 19 October, 1978.
188. During an interview on an early morning local talk show the director was taxed with such phrases as "bandwagoning," "stirring up trouble," "outside agitators." The director mildly allowed for the universality of classic theatre pieces and steered the discussion into King Lear and treatment of the aged in America. The interviewer retired in confusion.
189. Telephone interview with Phillip Smathers, Los Angeles, California, 15 July, 1986.
190. Interview with John Martin, Lake Charles, LA. 29 September, 1986.
191. Telephone interview with Gary Elam, Lafayette, LA. 10 September, 1985.
192. Proclamation of the City of Lake Charles, 24 July, 1979.
193. Interview with Adley Cormier, Lake Charles, LA. 5 May, 1986.
194. Interview with Adley Cormier, Lake Charles, LA. 1 October, 1986.
195. Interview with James Johnson, Lake Charles, LA. 9 September, 1985.
196. Interview with Harper Clark, Jr., Lake Charles, LA. 13 May, 1986.
197. In 1985, a portion of the ceiling collapsed after a heavy rain and rendered the building thoroughly useless. Some storage area was still used, but rehearsals had to be moved to other facilities. The building was eventually sold for the same amount as Little Theatre paid for it, a surprise considering the condition of the building. Little Theatre then purchased an unused Post Office Parking Garage and remodeled that building with funds realized from the sale of the CAPO building. What had begun as a realization of the dream to have a permanent home had devolved into a struggle to simply pay the mortgage on an unusable property. The current property seems to be more promising.
198. Memo from Suzanne Cooper to publicity file, 10 September, 1979.
199. Telephone interview with Suzanne Cooper, Ashville, North Carolina, 12 August, 1986.
200. Interview with Adley Cormier, Lake Charles, LA. 5 May, 1986.
201. Telephone interview with Suzanne Cooper, Ashville, North Carolina, 12 August, 1986.
202. Lake Charles American Press, 6 April, 1981.
203. Interview with Adley Cormier, Lake Charles, LA. 1 October, 1986.
205. NOTE: The original Board of directors included: C.A. King, Carolyn Smallwood, Robert Michael, Mathilde Gano, and John Fogleman. Adley Cormier represented the Program Council and Thomas Munger, as President of the Program Council, chaired both groups. The directors were generally chosen for their knowledge of, and contacts with, the business world, as well as for their interest in Little Theatre. John Fogleman was a banker and served on the Board as the chief financial advisor. His presence was valued because of his ability to work with banks that held various liens against the theatre and to secure extensions when needed. When the Chennault property and later the CAPO Building were disposed of, Fogleman withdrew feeling that his greatest usefulness was fulfilled. For the same reason Thomas Munger left his liaison position and appointed John Crochet to fill that position.
206. Telephone interview with Arthur Wannage, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 30 August, 1986.
207. Telephone interview with Gary Elam, Lafayette, LA. 10 September, 1985.
208. Lake Charles American Press, 8 April, 1982.
209. Interview with Adley Cormier, Lake Charles, LA. 1 October, 1986.
210. Interview with Thomas Munger, Lake Charles, LA. 15 September, 1986.
211. Interview with Rita Martin, Lake Charles, LA. 5, September, 1986.
212. Interview with Adley Cormier, Lake Charles, LA. 1 October, 1986.
214. Public announcement The Office of the Mayor, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 21 September, 1986.
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