pythina-hall-1956
Pythian Hall 1956. A 2 1/2 story bulding, its windows boarded, was at the southwest corner of 1st Ave and Broadway in Nyack NY. It was the first home of Rockland Foundation, now Rockland Center for the Arts. The building was razed in 1957. It was once home of General James H. Blauvelt. It was long a parking lot, now Victoria Mews. That makes this building the birthplace of what is now Elmwood Playhouse.

Our Theatre

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.

Our Mission

Elmwood Community Playhouse provides a local, intimate setting for live theatre– a place to share the stories that connect our lives.

Our Core Values

Quality | Diversity | Community

Our Vision

We believe that live theatre is a unique and essential component of society.We seek to provide opportunities for creative expression, to reflect the diverse voices of our community, to collaborate with other local organizations, and to engage our audience members now and into the future.

Spring Awakenings

Our History

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. By the end of our current season, we will have staged  381 main stage productions, including 85 musicals, 1 opera, and 4 original world-premiere shows. Over the years we have offered performing arts classes for children and tutored many through our technical production mentoring program. We also stage workshops and readings monthly.

In 1972, the idea of Life Membership was initiated to honor those members who served above and beyond their regular expectations. As of 2020, we have honored only 38 Life Members.

Since 1948, we have had over 2356 people volunteer at Elmwood. 1832 of those members and more have appeared onstage, 102 members have directed plays, and we have entertained over 275,000 audience members in our history. And those numbers continue to grow with each production we put on our stage!

By Mike Gnazzo, Elmwood Historian

1892

The German Lutheran Mission bought a parcel of land on Park Street, Nyack.

1897

St Paul’s Lutheran Church was built on it for a TOTAL price of $1,300

pre 1947

We were evolving under different names: The Curtain Callers, Camp Shanks Players, Nyack Players.

1947

We started meeting at the Rockland Foundation building, formerly located at 150 North Broadway, Nyack. Our band of players has a name, but no permanent home.

1948

Mr. A. Paulson was elected our first honorary member for his translations of Strindberg plays.

1948

Our first public performance: ‘The Boor’, ‘The Workhouse Ward’ & ‘The Dark Lady of the Sonnets’ performed at Liberty Street School, Nyack. Tickets were 74 cents each.

1948

Drafted our first Constitution and By-Laws. Our name officially was the ‘Rockland Community Theatre, a unit of the Rockland Foundation, Inc.’

1949

The Rockland Foundation moved to their new home in West Nyack.

1951-52

We tried performing 3 shows, instead of 2. The next season we went back to 2.

1951

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.

1952

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.

1953-1954

We tried performing 5 shows that year. Also started selling ‘season tickets’ at 3 pairs for $7.50, with students at 50 cents.

1953

First female Director – Margaret Manning. Performed at Shanks Village Community Center, Orangeburg, NY

1954

We were the first non-professional group in the Country to do Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’. Directed by David Manning.

1954

’Where’s Charley?’ directed by Bob Coyman was our very first ever musical. It was performed at Singers Hotel, Spring Valley.

1955

Our first show done ‘in-the-round’. ‘Hello Out There’ by William Saroyan, directed by Lorna Priest.

1956-57

Sue Nickerson and Jon Kastner become the only 2 actors in our history to act in every show in any one season.

1958

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!

1958

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.

1959

’The Happy Time’ was our first show that ran for 4 weekends. It was directed by TV actor Harry Bellaver.

1959

Our logo with the two actors in the line-drawn Elmwood building appeared for ‘Janus’.

1960

’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.

1960

1st Annual Ball at Singers Hotel. Used as a fund-raiser and social, admission was $5 per couple and $3 a single.

1961

‘Separate Tables’ 1st show with new comfortable individual seating instead of church pews.

1961

Performed our first original show, the musical ’Exurbia ’61’ written by Tally Messer and Murray Masarky. Directed by Tally Messer.

1962-63

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.

1963

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.

1968

First show done twice, ’Arsenic and Old Lace’ in ’51 and again in ‘68.

1969

First play writing contest winner, ‘Gabriel’ performed. Written by Clifford Mason and directed by Stan Lachow.

1970

’Oh Dad, Poor Dad…’ had the 1st double-cast, including Elmwoodians Tom Cardullo, Ed Thom, and Dolores Hodesblatt.

1971-72

Two musicals in one season. ’71 ‘Straight Ahead’ (our 2nd original musical), directed by Albert Messer, and ’72, ‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’ directed by Mark Rinis.

1972-73

Marked our 25th season as a group.

1972

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 Adaire Downing McKean.

1974

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.

1975

Frank Nixon appeared in his last of a record 31 different shows from 1954, ‘The Lady’s Not For Burning’ to ‘The Country Wife’.

1976

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.

1976

‘Fiorello’, a 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.

1978

’Two Gentlemen of Verona’ was the last of a record of 30 plays directed for our group by Albert ‘Tally’ Messer.

1986

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.

1989

‘Pack of Lies’ marked Scenic Designer Bob Olson’s 100th set designed for us. Directed by James Loranger.

1990

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

1995

We purchased and installed our computerized lighting control system. Moving forward into the 21st century

1996

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.

1996

Mortgage burning party at Elmwood. Paid off the ‘new building’ bought in 1976. Elmwood’s President was once again Elaine Vogel.

1997

’The Fantasticks’ directed by Denise Beckerle, became our first experience at ‘sequenced’ computerized keyboard music.

1999

‘Tim’ written by Nick Meglin and Neil Berg, directed by Jane Hunt, became the 3rd original musical produced here.

2000

Started One-Act-Play performances with 4 original one-act plays, directed by Denise Beckerle, Rob Ward, and Bobbi Schevitz

2001

‘Jekyll and Hyde’, directed by Elaine Vogel, received corporate sponsorship from Charles Schwab.

2008

New padded seats replace old worn-out seating for our audience.

2009

Bob Olson passes away, our longtime scenic designer since 1965 with over 200 sets designed for our beloved theatre.

2010

Elmwood proudly partners with the Israel Horovitz 70/70 project, exclusive production of ‘Man in Snow’. Paul Russo brought that project to the theater and produced it with Bernie Garzia directing. Our successful 2nd stage series, Sundays at 7 is now headed by Margaret Young as a fundraising showcase for area talents.

2011

Larry Beckerle, Larry Wilbur, Tim Reid and Ralph Felice unveil the Elmwood Playhouse expansion and renovation model.

2012

Renovations to our 100+ year old building begin by cleaning and sorting in preparation for the big renovation.

2013

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.

January 2015

T-Coil Loop hearing-impaired assist system installed and premiered for our production of ‘Harvey’. We’re the first community theatre to install one north of NYC.

August 2015

Phase II Construction begins. New Lighting booth and more audience leg room!

September 2015

Phase 2 of our renovation completed with the theatre front expanded to give more legroom inside, a facelift to the front outside, and an improved stage lighting system.

Sept 2015

New website launched with Members Only section and other advanced features.

April 2016

Elmwood partners with ARC in a performance on our stage, giving people with special needs of Rockland County an opportunity to sing, dance, and act with us.

June 2017

Elmwood holds its first fund-raising GALA, which has become an annual event.

January 2018

Elmwood was nominated and awarded a $125,000 Capital Improvement Grant by NY State Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee

July 2018

Tiffany M. Card initiates the ‘Cold Reading’ series at Elmwood. It’s a gathering of people with scripts, and parts assigned for an impromptu reading of a play. Well received and continues…

September 2019

Mike Gnazzo attains 100 shows as Lighting Designer with ‘Our Town’, directed by Lisa Spielman. This is an Elmwood record, and he continues on with lighting our shows.

March 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Monday evening March 30 2020 the Elmwood Playhouse Board of Directors voted unanimously to cancel the rest of the Elmwood 2019-20 season. The affected shows were: Born Yesterday, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Calendar Girls.