CCPA celebrated 40 years of continuous arts programming during the 2013-2014 season. The following brief history of the organization is taken from an article published in the Nevada Daily Mail.
The Community Council on the Performing Arts is preparing to start its 40th season with a schedule of productions meant for a broad range of audiences.
The organization’s come a long way since its humble beginnings 40 years ago, when a handful of local folks with an interest in theater, a willingness to work hard, and the determination to make the idea of community theater in Nevada a reality formed the Community Council on the Performing Arts. Some recollections vary in terms of time frame and specifics, but its members all agreed it’s been an undertaking worth the effort.
Charlie Johnson, who’s been involved in an estimated 50 performances since 1977, said he hopes the audiences have been entertained, and noted that being a part of the CCPA has enriched his life in many ways. He’s “honored to have shared the stage with some local greats: Ortrie Smith, Ron Gilliland, Russell Johnston Chris Stiles, Edi Gragg, Timora Grissom, Steve Reed, Lynn Ewing III, Gordon Dickenson, Linda Davidson, Darrel Alton and Kenny Jones, to name a few,” and he treasures many of those moments.
“The best thing to come from my time with the CCPA is the ‘life-long’ friendships I’ve made. It’s as if those characters I’ve met on and around the stage continue to develop my character. I said it at 20 years, I’ll say it again at 40; and hope to say it at 60 years. I think it is amazing that a volunteer-based arts organization has survived continuously in a community of this size,” Johnson said.
With a few dollars out of high school teacher Ron Seney’s own pocket, some sweat and shoveling and building and organizing, the first production held in a former sale barn at Hunter and Cedar streets in Nevada debuted.
The venue was dubbed the Nevada Cow Palace that first year, a nod to the famed San Francisco Cow Palace, a hub of live entertainment; and “Hello Dolly” was performed in the curtainless barn in June 1974, and opened to rave reviews, according to news accounts from the time.
That first year’s production schedule also included “Arsenic and Old Lace.” and “Oliver,” but the season ended on a less-than-high financial note. Undaunted, Seney and others stayed with it.
The theater was renamed Welty’s Cow Palace as a nod to property owner Col. Merlin Welty, who rented the structure to the CCPA almost literally for a song.
“It was perfect, really. There were two arches, one on each end and a third one in the center (at the rear of a platform that had been used by auctioneers). It had three built-in entrances,” lots of room for seating and other features that made it a good venue. At first, just the nearest livestock holding area was cleared out; over time “We just kept pushing the cow stuff back, farther and farther,” Seney said.
And the successes at that humble, curtainless barn with is circular stage and set changes that took place in the dark led the group to forge ahead, and to keep producing shows in any way they could.
Over the years there were many venue changes; actors, board members and crews came and went; but one thing stayed the same: There was a commitment by a core of people to provide opportunities for entertainers and to provide opportunities for the masses to be entertained — something the community wanted, needed and has continued to support over the years.
Al Fenske, who’s been involved with the CCPA since the mid-’70s as actor, director and board member, said a community betterment survey conducted in the early ’70s indicated that community members felt there was a great need for more arts and cultural events, and that entertainment and cultural activities were needed to attract business.
The community choir was first; then, the CCPA was incorporated and the community theater aspect was added.
There was some concern that the theater would overshadow the choir, but the choir’s performances continued as well.
The community was looking for entertainment, and that’s what they got, said Brent Mendenhall, who became involved with the CCPA in 2002.
CCPA board member Anne Bunton said that performers, especially those who performed as children, benefited in many ways. “There’s a whole generation of children who’ve had exposure to the arts,” through CCPA productions, and who learned discipline and confidence through their roles in plays and choir performances through the years.
Edi Gragg’s performed in more than 40 productions over the years, and said, “There’s no greater high than when you know you’ve given a really great performance.” After a performance of “Side by Side by Sond-heim,” at the Fox Play-house, “The audience swarmed us. It was just the most wonderful feeling,” Gragg said.
Johnson said, “My favorite character is Willie from ‘The Sunshine Boys.’ I based my character on my uncle Darwin, a loveable but cantankerous fellow. After the sponsor show performance, my cousin Carl busted through the main curtain to catch me on stage. ‘That was my dad’ he said in broken voice, with a tear trailing down his cheek. The ultimate compliment.”
Many of these memories and moments of entertaining and being entertained would not have been possible without the generous donations of supporters, including Mendenhall’s donation of winnings from his appearance on “The Weakest Link’ television show, Barbara and Jim Labitska, who donated funds that led to backstage amenities at the Fox Playhouse, which were dedicated in 2007, and a host of other benefactors, including those who supported the CCPA by attending or sponsoring performances or by volunteering in a myriad of ways.
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