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 379 main stage productions, including 79 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 2341 people volunteer at Elmwood. 1818 of those members have appeared onstage, 202 members have directed plays, and we have entertained over 275,000 audience members and counting in our history.
By Mike Gnazzo, Elmwood Historian
The German Lutheran Mission bought a parcel of land on Park Street, Nyack.
St Paul’s Lutheran Church was built on it for a TOTAL price of $1,300
We were evolving under different names: The Curtain Callers, Camp Shanks Players, Nyack Players.
We started meeting at the Rockland Foundation building, formally located at 150 North Broadway, Nyack. Our band of players has a name, but no permanent home.
Mr. A. Paulson was elected our first honorary member for his translations of Strindberg plays.
Our first public performance: ‘The Boor’, ‘The Work-house Ward’ & ‘The Dark Lady of the Sonnet’ performed at Liberty Street School, Nyack. Tickets were 74 cents each.
Drafted our first Constitution and By-Laws. Our name officially was the ‘Rockland Community Theatre, a unit of the Rockland Foundation, Inc.’
The Rockland Foundation moved to their new home in West Nyack.
We tried performing 3 shows, instead of 2. The next season we went back to 2.
Our first benefit performance, ‘The Curious Savage’ directed by Robert Bacon at Congers HS. Tickets of $1 to benefit Rockland County Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol.
Voted to pay the director of each play $100. Amended on 3/24/52 to be $200. This did not last into the 1953/54 season.
We tried performing 5 shows that year. Also started selling ‘season tickets’ at 3 pairs for $7.50, with students at 50 cents.
First female Director – Margaret Manning. Performed at Shanks Village Community Center, Orangeburg, NY
We were the first non-professional group in the Country to do Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’. Directed by David Manning.
’Where’s Charley?’ directed by Bob Coyman was our very first ever musical. It was performed at Singers Hotel, Spring Valley.
Our first show done ‘in-the-round’. ‘Hello Out There’ by William Saroyan, directed by Lorna Priest.
Sue Nickerson and Jon Kastner become the only 2 actors in our history to act in every show in any one season.
We bought the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church property and building for $8,000. Located on Park Street, Nyack. We had a home at last!
New Name, New Home! ‘Bus Stop’,directed by Tally Messer, becomes the 1st production by the newly named Elmwood Community Players in our own building.
’The Happy Time’ was our first show that ran for 4 weekends. It was directed by TV actor Harry Bellaver.
Our logo with the two actors in the line-drawn Elmwood building appeared for ‘Janus’.
’Finian’s Rainbow’ was our 1st Musical in the ‘Elmwood’ Building. Directed by Albert Messer. It included performers Jane Hunt, Mary MInichiello, Beth Lynch, and Florence Newman, all of whom were active and contributing members of Elmwood for decades.
1st Annual Ball at Singers Hotel. Used as a fund-raiser and social, admission was $5 per couple and $3 a single.
‘Separate Tables’ 1st show with new comfortable individual seating instead of church pews.
Performed our first original show, the musical ’Exurbia ’61’ written by Tally Messer and Murray Masarky. Directed by Tally Messer.
Experimented with performing 7 shows each having a shorter run of 1, 2, or 3 weekends. It was a success but a lot of work.
We elected our first female President of the Board of Directors… Stella Levine…remained very active for decades, directing, and again as President and Vice-President of Elmwood.
First show done twice, ’Arsenic and Old Lace’ in ’51 and again in ‘68.
First play writing contest winner, ‘Gabriel’ performed. Written by Clifford Mason and directed by Stan Lachow.
’Oh Dad, Poor Dad…’ had the 1st double-cast, including present Elmwoodians Tom Cardullo, Ed Thom, and Dolores Hodesblatt.
Two musicals in one season. ’71 ‘Straight Ahead’ (our 2nd original musical), directed Albert Messer, and ’72, ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’ directed by Mark Rinis.
Marked our 25th season as a group.
The idea of Life Membership was initiated to honor those members who served above and beyond their regular expectations. First member so honored was Charter Member Adair Downing McKean. As of 2013 we have honored only 32 Life Members.
David and Elaine Vogel become the only married couple elected to the Board of Directors. They served together through 1977. Val Hendrickson became our youngest director ever of a mainstage show. At 20 years old he directed ‘Nourish The Beast’. He still holds that record at Elmwood.
Frank Nixon appeared in his last of a record 31 different shows from 1954, ‘The Lady’s Not For Burning’ to ‘The Country Wife’.
We purchased the buildings next door, giving us the entire corner of Park Street & New Street in Nyack for $25,000. They become our workshop, storage, and rehearsal studios. President was Elaine Vogel.
‘Fiorello’, an fund-raiser for our newly bought building, had our largest cast ever – 55 people. It ran 2 weeks at South Orangetown Jr. High, a much larger stage and house.
’Two Gentlemen of Verona’ was the last of a record of 30 plays directed for our group by Albert ‘Tally’ Messer.
Elmwood installs Air Conditioning! ‘Uncle Vanya’ is cool! Directed by Barbara Sandek. Prior to this, we didn’t do any scheduled summer shows because of the heat.
‘Pack of Lies’ marked Scenic Designer Bob Olson’s 100th set designed for us. Directed by James Loranger.
The only time that an Elmwood director directed the same show twice was veteran Carl Spatz with ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ in both 1974 and 1990
We purchased and installed our computerized lighting control system. Moving forward into the 21st century
Golden Elm Leaf Award created by Jennie Marino to honor members who perform arduous and often thankless jobs. First recipient was the award’s inspiration, Debbi Fleckenstein.
Mortgage burning party at Elmwood. Paid off the ‘new building’ bought in 1976. Elmwood’s President was once again Elaine Vogel.
’The Fantasticks’ directed by Denise Beckerle, became our first experience at ‘sequenced’ computerized keyboard music.
‘Tim’ written by Nick Meglin and Neil Berg, directed by Jane Hunt, became the 3rd original musical produced here.
Started ongoing One-Act-Play performances with 4 original one-act plays, directed by Denise Beckerle, Rob Ward, and Bobbi Schevitz
‘Jekyll and Hyde’, directed by Elaine Vogel, received corporate sponsorship from Charles Schwab.
New padded seats replace old worn-out seating for our audience.
Bob Olson passes away, our longtime scenic designer since 1965 with over 200 sets designed for our beloved theatre.
Elmwood proudly partners with the Israel Horovitz 70/70 project, exclusive production of ‘Man in Snow’. Our successful 2nd stage series, Sundays at 7 is developed by Margaret Young as a fundraising showcase for area talents.
Larry Beckerle, Larry Wilbur, Tim Reid and Ralph Felice unveil the Elmwood Playhouse expansion and renovation model.
Renovations to our 100+ year old building begin by cleaning and sorting in preparation for the big renovation.
We are finally under construction! Lobby renovations are beyond beautiful! 1st production of the season (Amadeus) faced the brunt of the renovation challenges, but Director Alison Costello, her cast and crew endure and prosper. Sold out shows…reviews through the roof…all in our newly renovated theatre.
Jan 6, 2014
David Vogel attains 100 shows as Technical Director with ‘Les Misérables’. This is an Elmwood record and he was appropriately awarded his second Golden Elm Leaf award.
Apr 7, 2014
Our new studio was named ‘The Tarson Studio’ for the Tarson family’s generous contributions and longtime family involvement. This studio space was created through the prior renovation in an area that was partly storage and workshop.
Phase II Construction begins. New Lighting booth and more leg room!
New website launched with Members Only section and other advanced features.