Legacy of support, history of fun: Friends of Chautauqua Theater celebrate 25th anniversary season

This summer spells a momentous occasion for the theater community at Chautauqua.

As Chautauqua Theater Company celebrates the successful conclusion of its season and the accomplishment of pulling off their “biggest show ever” in One Man, Two Guvnors, the Friends of Chautauqua Theater mark its 25th anniversary of supporting the art form at the Institution.

For a quarter of a century, FCT has worked to  support CTC and create a stronger Chautauqua theater community in the process. FCT President Irene Cramer said she’s thrilled to have the connection between the two groups flourish.

Friends of Chautauqua Theater

“The relationship we have with them is just wonderful,” Cramer said. “We’re glad to have maintained such a strong connection of support and appreciation for as long as we have.”   

To mark the occasion, FCT has held several porch parties throughout the season, in addition to continuing the work they do to support CTC. Alongside celebrating this season, FCT helped bolster CTC’s funds through hosting events like “Hello, Chautauqua,” and their play reading this weekend, titled “A Carnival of Shorts.”

“We love to see that they’re able to use those funds for special projects, to grow the New Play Workshops, to bring in guest artists and so many other things,” Cramer said.

In addition to providing funding for the theater company, FCT also offers lunches to CTC casts and crews during productions and participates in the tradition of “adopting” CTC conservatory members and giving them a window into the Chautauqua community.

But they don’t stop there. FCT Member-at-Large Marsha Butler said FCT takes its support outside the gates of Chautauqua whenever possible.

“We bring our support beyond the grounds, too,” Butler said. “Whether it’s seeing a production by a CTC alum in California, or supporting our adoptees well after they’ve left Chautauqua, we’re of a mind with (Institution President) Michael Hill in taking Chautauqua beyond Chautauqua.”

Aside from all they contribute to the theater scene at the Institution, Butler said she simply enjoys the community FCT provides.

“It’s just fun,” Butler said. “A lot of theater lovers are such hams or actor-wannabes, and whatever we do or whenever we get together, it’s always a lot of fun.”

Amidst the flurry of activities, fundraisers, porch parties and gatherings, Cramer said supporting theater at Chautauqua is vital. As the company and conservatory continue to grow and expand their reputations, she said it’s FCT’s job to ensure that growth continues unabated.

“Theater at Chautauqua fosters the kinds of conversations and thought-provoking moments that Chautauqua is all about,” Cramer said. “It has that ability to make people think, talk, learn and grow. So we’re always enthusiastic to support it and see it grow in turn.”

In their programs for this season, CTC included a tribute to FCT thanking the group for its support over the years. According to the tribute, without FCT, prospective theater-goers wouldn’t have the space at Bratton Theater to enjoy. If not for the support of FCT, shows would still take place in Normal Hall, a facility without air conditioning or adequate space to host large-scale productions like One Man, Two Guvnors.

Looking back on the season, CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba expressed his gratitude and reverence for FCT.

“They are our historians,” Borba said. “Many of them have been here longer than we have. They’ve seen this theater change and develop. I always feel like we just get to carry the torch for a little while, but we’re just momentary stewards; they carry that torch long after we’re gone.”

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The author Duard Headley

Duard Headley is from tiny Yellow Springs, Ohio, and studies journalism and American studies at Miami University in Ohio. Coming hot off the heels of performing in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer, he is excited to cover theater at Chautauqua, merging his love for writing and theater into one experience. In his free time, he enjoys acting, reading, and staring wistfully into the distance as though he were deep in thought (He usually isn’t).