Read a History of the
BLOOMSBURG THEATRE ENSEMBLE
by Ensemble Member James Goode
Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble is a “shining example” of “commitment to place” (“How Theatre Saved America,” by Teresa Eyring, American Theatre Magazine, July/August 2008).
Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) was founded in 1978 by recent graduates of Northwestern University, who relocated to Bloomsburg for two years of master classes with legendary acting teacher Alvina Krause (1893-1981). Under Krause’s inspiration, we established a resident ensemble of actors, directors, writers, and teachers who are empowered to articulate the theatre’s mission and determine it’s artistic programming. Our goal was for a theatre that would, in Krause’s words, be “as important to its community as schools and churches”. Over the years there have been 37 members; of the current seven, three of us are from the founding years.
Plays in the early seasons were performed in the cafetorium of the Central Columbia Middle School or in Carver Hall (now Kenneth Gross Auditorium) at Bloomsburg University. Core programming such as the MainStage Season (a mix of re-invigorated classics, contemporary plays, and original company-created works), Theatre in the Classroom (TIC) and Summer Theatre School were initiated. Offices were located in Town Hall and rehearsals were held in church basements.
Within a few years, a professional staff for administration, production, and stage management was employed. Guest actors, directors, and designers from regional universities and metropolitan areas augment our resident company. Since 1990, an Acting Internship has brought young professionals to perform with us in MainsStage and TIC shows, and observe all levels of artistic administration. Three of the current seven ensemble members first worked with us as interns.
In 1980, BTE purchased the Columbia Movie Theatre in downtown Bloomsburg, built of the site of two previous “opera houses’ dating back to the Civil War. Renovated and reopened in 1983 as the Alvina Krause Theatre, this is our primary performing and office space. A second building, the Mitrani Production Center was donated in 1984 and is located two blocks away; previously a garment factory, this space houses our rehearsal room, costume shop and storage, and scenic studios.
During the past 35 seasons, hallmarks of our MainStage have been original, company created works on local and regional history: Hard Coal, Life in the Region (published by TCG in “Ensemble Works”), Flood Stories, Too; Letters to the Editor (published by Baker’s Plays), and Susquehanna. (the latter two were aired on WVIA-TV). All of the current members are playwrights, creating original works (The Landlover; Industrious Angels; The Deja-Vu Clinic; A Very Special Christmas Special) and adaptations (A Christmas Carol; Peter and Wendy; Daddy Tightwad; Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel; Merry Christmas, George Bailey, Human Hearts). All shows in the annual school tour TIC are original;Patchworks: Life and Legends of the Coal Towns was published “Anthracite! Plays of the Coal Region” by the University of Scranton Press.
Established playwrights look to our ensemble to help them develop and produce their work: Michael Hollinger’s Opus went on to be among the ten most-produced plays in the country after he fine-tuned the script during our rehearsals; Deborah Brevoort praises our production of her “The Women of Lockerbie as “the number-one, stand-out production of my play to date” after over 270 world-wide; in 2011, Jon Jory chose our ensemble to present the world premiere of his adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. As part of our Second Stage series. Anthony Clarvoe workshopped The Deer Hunter’s Bible, and he is currently collaborating with us on a new play about Joseph Priestley.
Classics plays round out our MainStage Seasons, with Shakespeare a frequent offering. We have received the prestigious Shakespeare in America grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for four times, including Hamlet which was a co-production with the Theatre Department of Bloomsburg University. Additional co-productions have included two other Mainstage shows (You Can’t Take It With You and Flood Stories, Too) and many summer shows.
Nationally, BTE is a leader in the ensemble theatremovement as a co-founder of the Network of Ensemble Theaters. Since 1995, NET has grown into an over 160-member organization to promote ensemble theatre practice, and generate interest in ensemble as a sustainable model for community-based work. Through NET, we toured Letters to the Editor to California in 1998. BTE member Laurie McCants is currently the Chair of NET’s Board of Trustees.
For a company based in a small town, BTE is surprisingly international. In 1991, the US State Department selected us to tour The Voice of the Prairie and Along the Susquehannato five African nations. Two years later, African actors and musicians collaborated with us on a TIC show Under African Skies. Another TIC show Our Shadows was created with Egyptian puppeteers from Cairos’s Wamda Theatre. And every summer since 1995, BTE has hosted the Noh Training Project, the only intensive training outside Japan in that culture’s traditional Noh performance. This program draws students from around the world and thrice has presented full Noh productions for free in Bloomsburg’s Town Park.
Since its founding in 1978, BTE has welcomed and nurtured many new influences to compliment the original dream. The successes we have yet to create and risks we have yet to dare are our sustenance.