With the help of our volunteers, Board of Directors, committees, and cultural partners along with the many awards we have received, the goal of the Elmwood Playhouse is to present to the community plays of cultural value. Our community theatre lives to further the individual abilities of the members through play reading, discussion of plays, stage craft and stage performances. We work in a spirit of cheerful willingness and cooperation for the establishment of a community playhouse.
The Elmwood Playhouse theater complex consists of 4 buildings that include a 99-seat performing space, lobby and hospitality center, 3 rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, green room, multi function rooms, a large scenic shop and storage rooms for sets, lighting, costumes and props.
Before 1947 we were evolving from many groups with names like the Curtain Callers, the ‘Nyack Players’ and the ‘Camp Shanks Players’. We became The Rockland Community Theater and met in the old Rockland Foundation Building in Nyack, NY. The next few years saw us performing as ‘The Rockland Foundation Theatre Group’, ‘Rockland Foundation Players’, and ‘The Nyack Theatre Group’. We moved to Old Greenbush Road in 1950, but the space was inadequate for us to perform. We held weekly meetings on Thursdays and sometimes had an attendance of 25-plus members! Robert Daker was our first President, Charles Weaver – Vice President, Muriel Lee Porter – Secretary, and William Woods, our Treasurer.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
An opportunity came up to buy the old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Park Street in Nyack. They had recently changed their name to St. Thomas and moved to a much larger building in Central Nyack. The old building had housed their Congregation since February 27, 1898. The land was purchased in 1893 for $750.00 and the chapel cost $900 to build. To finance the building fund, the land was mortgaged for $700, and carried until 1910 when the Ladies’ Aid paid the final installment on the loan. Their investment was $1650.00, the amount spent today on set construction and painting for just one show. In 1957, there was an offer by Jackson Fire Engine Co. No. 3, the fire company across the street, to buy the building from the Lutheran group. The story goes that all papers were drawn up, but a member of the firehouse who was co-signer on a $5,000 loan got annoyed about something, and backed out of the deal. This opened the property for sale again and our group jumped. We bought the property and building for only $8,000. We had a home at last! Our name was quickly changed to ‘Elmwood Community Playhouse’ and a sign hung proudly in front of the building above the church doors.
Some speculate the name change was due to no particular reason other than our new telephone prefix was now ‘ELmwood 8…’ We cleaned and customized to make the space our own and used the church pews for our first audiences. Our first production in the new Elmwood Playhouse was ‘Bus Stop’, which opened on December 5, 1958, directed by Albert ‘Tally” Messer.
Throughout his 25 year association, from 1954 (‘Summer and Smoke’) to 1978 (‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’), Tally still holds the distinction of directing the most shows for our group, (30). Our first musical at Elmwood was ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ in October 1960, directed by Tally Messer. It included performers Jane Hunt, Mary Minichiello, Beth Lynch, and Florence Newman, some of whom are active and contributing members of Elmwood today. The years from 1958 to 1976 saw us perform many dramas, comedies, musicals, theatre for children, mental health plays, acting classes, and traveling shows. With a growing membership and audience base, we needed yet more space and grabbed the opportunity to purchase adjoining properties. The buildings consisted of an old taxi office, a hairdresser, furniture storage, car repair shop, a beer distributorship, and a small parking lot. We purchased the entire package, which gave us the entire corner of Park Street and New Street, Nyack, for the sum of $35,000. We have since transformed these spaces into 2 multi-purpose rehearsal studios, a scenery workshop, a furniture storage area, a costume shop, a prop room, and other areas for stage lighting, special effects, and assorted storage.
Past, Present and Future
Through of all these phases of Elmwood’s history, we have been able to provide to our 99-seat audience a wealth of entertainment. We have staged over 373 main stage productions, including 78 musicals, 1 opera, and 4 original world-premiere shows. We run a performing arts class for children, stage workshops every month, and have a mentoring program for many production staff positions.
Since 1948, we have had over 2131 people volunteer at Elmwood. 1540 of those members have appeared onstage, 201 members have directed plays, and we have entertained over 250,000 audience members and counting in our history.
By Mike Gnazzo, Elmwood Historian