Clague Playhouse celebrates 90 seasons, 50 in the barn

Clague Playhouse's 90/50 Planning Committee: Marie Smith, Pam Kilpatrick, Mary Kay Blantz, Bernice Bolek, Richie Lynch, Dottie Palazzo, Jan Nagy and Dianne Tocarchick. Not pictured: George Theis. Photo by Kelly Berkheimer

On entering Wagner’s of Westlake on Saturday, Aug. 19, I was greeted by Russ Kilpatrick, Clague Playhouse board member, in his kilt playing his bagpipes. That was the first sign that something special was about to begin. The second sign was the huge banner on the door to the Grand Ballroom.

Gathering at Wagner's were 163 people in celebration of the the Playhouse's 90th season, and 50th season in the Clague family barn. The tables were set with unique centerpieces, each chair held a small maroon swag bag and two walls were covered with photos gathered from Clague Playhouse archives, each labeled to identify the play, the date and the actors. A loop of congratulatory messages was playing and a table of colorfully wrapped door prizes was nearby. The room was full of smiling people meeting and greeting old friends. Indeed a special event.

Board President Richie Lynch welcomed everyone and introduced the first speaker, Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough. After a few comments about the value of Clague Playhouse to the community, Mayor Clough read a proclamation declaring Aug. 19, 2017, as Clague Playhouse Day. The invocation was offered by Lou Will, a retired Presbyterian minister who has frequently performed on the stage of Clague Playhouse.

After dinner the first speaker was retired Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar. She directed the first play in the barn, "Sunday in New York," which opened on Nov. 16, 1967. She spoke about being asked to direct a play in a barn, but that she didn’t expect chickens to still be in the barn, or for it to be surrounded by mud. But most significantly she spoke about working with John Michael Tebelak, who helped design the barn and built the set pieces for that play. Tebelak went on to write and direct the musical "Godspell."

Char Crews spoke about her experience in 1986 when she opened the theater door to broken pipes and water flooding the theater. She also spoke about Richie’s early days at the theater when they named him their mascot and congratulated him on his assent to the presidency of the board. A four-member group called Just Friends Jazz with vocalist Stephanie Kramer provided lovely music for dancing.

Bernice Bolek dug into the archives for photos that would demonstrate the variety of productions done over 90 years and we were thrilled at the beauty and detail she found. As a tribute to our celebration of nine decades, we searched our costume inventory for dresses that would reflect the styles of the past. Candace Lipton matched size and period to 10 models: Sally Smith, Jan Nagy, Eloise Elikofer, Marie Albano, Ellyn Kilpatrick, Judy Appleton, Charlotte Willoughby, Heather Smith, Carole Bartko and Margy Haas.

When the planning committee began considering centerpieces for 20 tables, Bernice Bolek said, “We are a theater. We need something unique to represent our art and talents. Why don’t we use hats from our costume collection?” So we did. Candace Lipton and Bernice took on that challenge. Then they took it one step further and wrote a short legend for each hat, most of which might be considered “alternative facts.”

We thank Bernice Bolek, Gig Giauque and Candace Lipton for their tireless efforts in these projects – especially Bernice who spent so much time on the photos and hats that we began to think she had moved into the theater.

The 90/50 Planning Committee consists of Mary Kay Blantz, Bernice Bolek, Pam Kilpatrick, Richie Lynch, Jan Nagy, Dottie Palazzo, Marie Smith, George Theis and Dianne Tocarchick. These nine people met faithfully once a week for three months.

As one attendee said: “Bravo! I am so proud and happy to be a member of Clague Playhouse.”  Me too!

Dottie Palazzo

by Dottie Palazzo, Vice President, Clague Playhouse Board of Directors

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Volume 9, Issue 18, Posted 10:12 AM, 09.19.2017