Portland Civic Players
231 Maple Street
Portland, Michigan 48875
517 647 4041
History of the Portland Civic Players
The Portland Civic Players are 57 years old this year 2012.
In 1955 a group of 9 people asked the Lansing Civic Players if a town of 3800 people could support community theatre when but a few miles from a metropolitan area where there were already three such groups? The answer was: Try it and see.
Founded in summer of 1955
President – Tommy Thompson
Vice-President – Rex Bennett
Secretary – Jennie Weber
Treasurer – Winfield Hubbell
Publicity – Floyd Rice
Production Manager and Chairman of the Board – Dale Barnard
Ticket Chairman – Mrs. Herbert Miller
Costume Chairman – Mrs. Alvin Kelly
Founders were: Tommy Thompson, Rex Bennett, Jennie Weber, Winfield Hubbell, Floyd Rice, Dale Bernard, Herb & Verena Miller, Alvin & Katherine Kelly, Tom & Pauline Jordon, Tony & Katherine Snitgen, Don Martin, Dorothy Bailey, Joan Eddy, and Robert Eddy.
Started with ‘0’ capital
First Play was ‘My Three Angels’ performed at St. Patrick’s Gym Dec. 2 – 3 1955 at 8:00 p.m. Adults were .75 cents and Children were .35 cents. It was directed by Tom Thompson. First Musical was: ‘Golden River’
During our first 16 years of existence we scattered our property in a maze of garages and attics. For a while we used a one room country school house whose out-door plumbing caught on fire. We tidied the basement of an unused funeral parlor and rehearsed “The Merry Widow” in its chapel. We wired lights into the Portland Country Club barn and knocked bushels of bird guano out of its rafters, and then held a dance there; we used the old school house on Emery Road to store our flats.
Some of our experiences have been unique. During Centennial Week 1969 we gave 9 performances of an old-fashioned medicine show, complete with horses and wagon, 10 acts, sold Kickapoo Joy Juice and Magic Elixir (some of you may have a bottle). We took a play to the maximum security prison in Ionia where we had a captive audience, I remember going thru all of these steel doors and hearing them clang shut behind us, it was a rather scary experience, we also had to cut parts of the play because it might be suggestive to the inmates. We took “See How They Run” to Ionia (Elks Temple, upstairs), and had to discard half the set when we got there and had to dress on the fire escape. We went “on the road” to Grand Rapids to play for the Veteran’s Facility with “Man in the Dog Suit” and we out-numbered the audience because someone forgot to tell anyone we were coming.
For the first 16 years, two plays a year were produced on either the Public or St. Patrick’s school gymnasium stages.
A committee was appointed by then President Fran Huhn in October of 1970 to check into possible properties to purchase. Properties looked at were:
Nazarene Fellowship Hall
The Opera house
Some of these buildings would not pass fire inspection; some had only one entrance on the main floor, most all needed extensive structural changes and additions to be suitable for our use.
Then on Christmas day of 1970 Pauline Jordon was contacted by the John Kortes family concerning the Sun Theatre building. I might add that John Kortes was a very kind a gracious man.
The Sun Theatre had been closed for some time.
In January of 1971 a committee consisting of Pauline Jordan and Fran Huhn traveled to St. Louis to tour the Kensington Palace, home of the Gratiot County Players, formerly a movie theatre purchased from the Kortes family to see what they had done.
On January 15, 1971 the committee gave its report to board and membership and it was decided to buy the Sun Theatre for a purchase price of $20,000.00 dollars. The Kortes family held a land contract in amount of $15,000.00 at 7% interest per annum. With a down payment of $5,000.00.
There were no grants, or state or federal aide and no angels with money to give, but there were loyal Players who were willing to place themselves in voluntary bondage for the next dozen or so years so their group could have a home. By selling $100.00 dollar notes, at 7% per annum, the down payment was secured. Many of these notes were donated back to the players. We wanted desperately to purchase the old post office building that was adjacent to us, but that was not in our already over blown budget.
The building was bought for stage plays, but in order to pay for it, movies were shown every weekend, Mr. Kortes taught us how to run the projectors and set up the movie, etc.
The first play in our new home was ‘The Girls in 509’ in 1971 and our first musical was ‘On a Clear Day in 1972.
Our membership at the time of our purchase in 1971 was a little over 50 active members and 200 patron members. In 2004 it was 141 patrons and 26 active.
We used to hold two meetings one with the board of directors and then another for the general membership, we stopped doing that quite a few years ago as our membership no longer attended meetings because everyone was getting to busy with other things, we now meet the 4th. Monday of the month.
The Theatre is 40’ x 115’ and sets on a lot that is 45’ x 120’. The seating capacity at the time of purchase was 470 the seating capacity now is 284. There was a cry room with 8 seats and a balcony with 30 seats. The cry room is now our light booth and the balcony was enclosed and the seats removed and is now our costume room. Over the years we have installed a pair of furnaces, a new movie screen, partitioned off two dressing rooms and a makeup room in the basement, painted the interior of the theatre with fireproof paint, re-painted the outside, took out 186 seats and extended the stage a couple of times. We build on an addition to the theatre to house our properties and flats. In 2002 we had a new roof installed. Installed new breaker system to replace fuses in 2004. We have made numerous other changes.
At one of our board meetings we decided to no longer show movies at the theatre because it is getting difficult to find ‘G’ rated movies and we found out that our projectors will not be able to read the sound track of the new movies that are being released, so it was decided to use our theatre for it’s original intent and that was for live productions.
We have a great Summer Theatre program for the children. Children have to be going into the 4th grade up to 12th. In 2009 the cost was $75.00 per child. The program runs for 6 weeks and is directed by young adults that at one time were in the Summer Theatre program themselves.
We have had a float in every 4th of July Parade.
We have a scrap book for every play we have done.
We have a newsletter called ‘The Thespian’ which we publish periodically.
To this date we have presented 76 plays, of these, four were written and directed by Dr. Roger Miller, 27 musicals, eight Vaudeville shows, The Centennial Medicine Wagon, and eight variety shows. We have sponsored a concert pianist, Dixieland Band, Rock Concerts, Country Western Singers and bands, had special movies for schools and rented the theatre out to various groups.
We have a three year contract with St. Patrick’s for them to use our theatre for their plays.
We recently were one of the businesses picked for the façade program; we have painted the front of the theatre and had a contractor install letters on the front of our marquee.
We applied for a Portland Community Fund Grant in December of 2008 and this February 2009 we received $1000.00 which will be used for a new light board and towards new lights in the theatre.
We now function with a nine member board with consists of: President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, five trustees and Playhouse Manager.
We hope to be a part of this community for many years to come.