Born in a basement
Community Players was born in the basement of the Beatrice City Auditorium in 1975 with the support of the City Parks and Recreations Department. People interested in forming a community theatre gathered there to share ideas. Fortunately, it was a mixture of performers and organizers, all of whom had the love of live theatre in common.
It was agreed by all that in order to become an independent and viable organization, funds must be raised. The local high school drama coach was solicited to hold auditions and stage a dinner theatre to raise enough capital to begin Community Players. The comedy “Gown For His Mistress” was staged in the dining room of the Beatrice Inn, and enough funds were raised to form a small treasury.
From the original group of interested people, officers and a nine member board of directors were elected and by-laws were drawn up to form what is now a non-profit arts organization. Terry Terhune, a local barber and performer, was the first president of the board.
From the beginning, Community Players felt it was important to have a full time professional artistic director. To afford such a luxury, those with organizational talent began the “First Night Patron” concept. It began by asking five couples to offer their homes to 20 or 30 people for dinner, and to donate $100 to the new theatre. These five then solicited 20 hosts to provide the food for the dinner and to donate $100 each. Now these 25 people invited over 100 others to attend this dinner before the premier performance of the Theatre Season and of course, to donate $100 to the theatre. All of these people purchased Season Tickets also.
The first season’s rehearsals and productions were held in the lodge room of the old Elks building. We were grateful for any space at the time, but had to remove sets in progress for each lodge meeting, rehearse around lodge functions, patrons had to climb a long flight of steep stair to attend performances and the backstage area was so inadequate that actors sat on a wooden stool under a single light bulb for make-up application. In spite of the difficulties, a successful season was presented, and Community Players was a viable arts organization.
For the next three and a half years the theatre was allowed to use a building at Southeast Community College. With many hours of volunteer labor, the Players made that building their first permanent home, providing three full seasons of entertainment, three dinner theaters, a children’s summer production and a Nebraska Theatre Caravan performance.
It could have been worse
Following the first production of the fifth season, “The Stingiest Man in Town,” a musical rendition of “A Christmas Carol”, the theatre building was attacked by fire bomb. Even though it was a terrible set back to lose the facility mid-season, luck was with us because just a few hours before the fire, immediately following the last performance, rented costumes worth many thousands of dollars had been boxed and bused back to the rental company. The organization was spared the additional financial loss.
The second production of that Season was held at the Beatrice High School Little Theatre and the third at the 4-H building on the Gage County Fairgrounds. During that year, the board of directors appointed a building search committee and through the talent of Larry Olsen, the artistic director at the time, the current building was rented and a renovation plan designed and implemented. The building had been an old auto and motorcycle garage, and a great deal of work was needed to get it into shape. Thanks to the vision of Olsen, a black box theatre was designed.
Many fund-raising projects were held in the next few years to allow necessary building renovation. Insurance money began the project but a radio-thon was held, a Fashion Show, and three “Broadway Showcases” -- musical variety shows with large casts (providing lots of cast relatives to buy tickets) -- were held.
It keeps getting better
The building has continued to be improved through the years. The main level includes the lobby, auditorium seating just over 200 patrons, scene shop, greenroom, dressing rooms and office space. The lower level of the building is used for storage of costumes, props, flats, platforms and other stage pieces.
The building was originally rented from American Charter. That company was going through many changes and the board was afraid of losing their lease. Everette Jones, a past president of the board of directors and a long time theatre supporter, purchased the building from American Charter and leased it to the theatre and eventually arranged a purchase plan. The Players now own the building completely.
In 2000 a Capital Improvement Campaign was started to fund several upgrades to the facility. Thanks to this drive, and a partnership with the Nebraska Lied Main Street Program, the theatre’s façade was renovated and won best renovation in the state (over $10,000). Other drive projects were the installation of new lighting and sound equipment, completion of backstage/dressing room work, new backdoors to the building and several other projects.
CP received the Governor's Arts Award for Organizational Achievement from the Nebraska Arts Council in 2006.
In 2008 new seats were installed in the auditorium, replacing the padded folding chairs the organization had used for over 20 years. Funds for this project were raised surprisingly quickly; what had been envisioned as a year or more drive was completed in less than six months. The heating and air conditioning units in the auditorium were replaced in 2009 without having to conduct a new fundraising drive thanks to funds remaining from past drives.
During the 2010-2011 Season the theatre once again expanded its season. The current season now includes five regular season productions plus a Holiday show, making six full-length shows per season.
During all this time Community Players has continued to produce the highest quality theatre possible. This has been achieved thanks to the countless members of our community who have volunteered their time and energy since 1975.