In 2014, Quarterline Media highlighted the Portland Civic Players in their Main Street Series. This was done during our production of Bye Bye Birdie. A great overview of our organization and history.
How We Came To Be
In 1955, a group of 9 people asked the Lansing Civic Players if a town of 3,800 people could support community theater when only a few miles away there was a metropolitan area with three such groups. The answer was, “Try it and see.” So, in the summer of 1955 they did and The Portland Civic Players came to be.
PCP started with ‘0’ capital. During the first 16 years of our existence, we scattered our property in a maze of garages and attics around the community. For some time, we used a one-room country school house whose out-door plumbing caught fire. We tidied the basement of an unused funeral parlor and rehearsed “The Merry Widow” in its chapel. We used an old school house to store our flats.
We participated in Portland’s Centennial Week 1969, giving 9 performances of an old- fashioned medicine show, complete with horses and wagon, 10 acts, with old time trinkets. We have performed in the maximum-security prison in Ionia. We took “See How They Run” to the Ionia Elks Temple, upstairs, and had to discard half the set when we got there, dressing 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. We performed where ever we could, producing two plays a year on either the Public or St. Patrick’s school gymnasium stages.
In 1970, a committee was appointed to check into possible properties to purchase for the group to have a permanent home. Several properties were looked at including the old Hotel Divine (which has since been torn down) and the old Opera House. Some of the buildings would not pass fire inspection; some had only one entrance on the main floor, all needed extensive structural changes and additions that were beyond what we could handle to be suitable for our use.
On Christmas day of 1970 PCP was contacted by the John Kortes family concerning the Sun Theatre building. The Sun Theater movie house was built in 1948 and had been closed for some time. They wondered if we may be interested in purchasing it. On January 15, 1971 the committee gave its report to board and membership and it was decided to buy the Sun Theatre.
By then, we had built a group of loyal Players who were willing to step up and pitch in so their group could have a home. By selling $100.00-dollar notes, at 7% per annum, the down payment of $5,000 was secured. Many of these notes were donated back to PCP. The building was paid off in the early 80’s and we now own our own space. That is a unique place for a community theater group to be in. The building was bought for stage plays, but in order to help pay for it, movies were still shown every weekend, Mr. Kortes taught board members how to run the projectors and set up the movie. We continued to show movies until the early 2000s when the move to digital proved too costly and the group made a commitment to live theater full time.
The seating capacity of the theater at the time of purchase was 470. It is now 260. The former cry room with 8 seats is our light booth. The balcony with 30 seats was enclosed and the seats removed to provide space for our costume room. Over the years we have made many upgrades and fixes such as installing a pair of furnaces, partitioned off two dressing rooms and a makeup room in the basement, painted the interior of the theatre with fireproof paint, took out 186 seats and extended the stage a couple of times. The original seats have been replaced. We built on an addition to the side of theatre to store flats, have redesigned the projection room, trying to make good use of the space we have.
One of our points of pride is our Summer Theatre Youth Program. This is a six-week performance arts program for students going into the 4th grade up to 12 th and has been running in some form for over 45 years. Participants perform three full length shows at the end of the program.
To this date PCP has presented 86 plays, of these, 7 were written and directed by our local dentist and board member Dr. Roger Miller, 37 musicals, 8 Vaudeville shows, The Centennial Medicine Wagon, 11 variety shows and multiple concerts. We have seen the use of our theater by the community increase in recent years as we reach out and partner with other organizations in the community such as the Portland Orchestral
Society and Friends of the Red Mill.
We are proud of the space we have made and the theater family we have built. We hope to be part of the Portland Community for many years to come!