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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cherokee Community Theatre to celebrate 50 years on April 25

Friday, April 10, 2009

The cast of "You Can't Take It With You" is pictured above. This was the first play performed at the Cherokee Community Theatre in 1959. Photo contributed
Special dinner, guests, and memories mark the occasion

In September 1958, Janet Koser and Edith Meloy of Cherokee attended a meeting of the Iowa Community Theater Association in Des Moines for the express purpose of receiving guidance in starting a community theater in Cherokee. Interest in starting a community theater in Cherokee had come about after Cherokee High School speech teacher Earl Sherman taught an Adult Education class entitled "Theater" in Cherokee.

Sherry Held (left) and Ruth Hayes have been looking through old Cherokee Community Theater programs and photos, in preparation for the big 50th Anniversary celebration on April 25. Photo by Dan Whitney
At the meeting in Des Moines, University of Iowa professor Ronald Gee promised to come to Cherokee and help launch a community theater. On January 25, 1959, approximately 50 interested area residents met at the Sanford Museum, as Professor Gee discussed the organization and operation of a community theater. A week later, another meeting was held, with Janet Koser having been selected as Chair Person. A play-reading committee was selected at that second meeting, as well as chairmen of other committees.

Try-outs were held in mid-February for the Cherokee Community Theatre's first production, George S. Kauffman's classic comedy, "You Can't Take It With You." and the play was produced and presented within three months of that first organizational meeting.

This was truly remarkable, as many community theaters spend a year or more in preliminary planning before presenting their first play.

Cherokee, on the other hand, showed great organization in getting the "show on the road," and that proved to be a portent of things to come. Attorney Jim McDonald, one of the original members of the Cherokee Community Theatre, drew up a Constitution for the non-profit organization, which became known as Cherokee Community Theater, Inc. Janet Koser was the first president of the organization, with Dick Brown serving as Vice President, Kenneth Wilson as Treasurer, and Norma Vetter as Secretary. Two types of membership were established , Active and Patron, and monthly meetings were scheduled for the second Monday of each month at the City Youth Center.

The Cherokee Community Theatre has been self-supporting throughout its 50-year existence, receiving money from ticket sales, membership dues, advertising in programs, and patron memberships. The only exception was the grand sum of $29.43 which was given to the Theatre by the tax-supported Recreation Commission to purchase their first play-books and supplies.

The Cherokee Community Theatre produced two plays a year beginning in the fall of 1959, including Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," which was the first play presented in arena style. In the fall of 1962, it was decided that a third play would be added to the CCT season. Presented in mid-winter, the third play would be a departure from the comedies, mysteries, and dramas that had been produced to that point. That season opened with "Uncle Tom's Cabin," presented as a musical play. "Endgame," an experimental play, was the winter offering that year.

The CCT has no professional staff. Consequently, the plays have been directed by a variety of volunteer directors. In recent years, these directors have included, among others, Sherry Held, Jackie Courtright, Mollie Loughlin, and Andrew Linn.

Virginia Herrick was responsible for construction of flats and set design for the first three years of the CCT's existence, until Jim Bruce joined the group and worked in the technical department, designing and constructing a light control board and adding to the lighting and sound equipment, with the aid of Dick Flenniken. Wayne Morris does an excellent job of handling the lighting and sound for CCT productions these days. More than 100 people in the first six years worked in some capacity to put on plays in Cherokee.

Costumes galore can be found at the CCT Building. Photo by Dan Whitney
Janet Koser was a prime force in the establishment and continuation of the Cherokee Community Theatre, literally going to community members' doors to talk them into acting, or otherwise participating in, CCT productions. It is largely due to her early work that the Cherokee Community Theatre has continued to grow and prosper to become the established community icon it is today, and the group's annual acting awards were named the "Janneys" after her.

Early CCT plays were produced on stages at Washington High School, Immaculate Conception High School, and the Eagles' Hall, before the Cherokee Community Center was built in 1965, and it is at that site that the CCT continues to present its productions.

Storage facilities for costumes and sets have been provided at various times by the VFW, the County Fair Board, the former Wolff's store, the former Dunn Chevrolet garage, Rapson's Garage, the Eagle's Hall, and various private homes.

A building at the corner of West Elm and South 3rd Streets now serves that function. Gifts of costumes and furniture have been donated by area citizens, and they, in turn, have been loaned to schools and civic organizations upon request. The Cherokee Community Theatre belongs to the Iowa Community Theater Association. Current members of the Cherokee Board are Wayne Morris, Noelle Puffett, Ryan Brown, Jackie Courtright, Andy Linn, Mollie Loughlin, Penny Pingrey, Dave Zelle, Rick Angell, Gene Galvin, Sherry Held, Tony Puffett, and Jomi Anderson.

The 50th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, April 25 will start with a Social Hour from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. A dinner, catered by Family Table Catering, will be served from 6:30 - 7:30 p.m., and this will be followed by a show at 7:30. The show will feature scenes from past CCT productions, including "Nunsense," performed by the original Cherokee cast.

John Koser, the son of Theatre founders and patrons Dr. Don and Janet Koser, will be speaking about his late parents and their love of and involvement in the Cherokee Community Theatre, and other guests will also reminisce about the 50 years of the Cherokee Community Theatre.

All of the activities will take place at the Cherokee Community Center, and there is a $15 charge for the dinner and show. Reservations, with payment, need to be made by April 17, and can be sent to P.O. Box 702 in Cherokee.

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