The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 27, 2012

Quality, sustainability board's main focuses


— Board members of Cresson Lake Playhouse love theater and want to preserve the amateur theatrical experience for future generations.

“We all love theater,” said board president Earl Cooper of Vinco.

“It’s why we’re here.”

Cooper has been on the board for four to five years and took over the reins as president last year.

Retired in 2007

He said officers are voted in once a year and a term should last no more than four years.

“I started right before I retired,” Cooper said.

“It was something I wanted to do. I’ve always loved theater.”

Cooper retired from the Johnstown post office as maintenance manager  in 2007.

His daughter has performed in shows in high school and church camp as well as at Cresson Lake.

“I enjoy theater and want to make sure we keep it,” Cooper said of the barn theater.

“It’s amazing the amount of talent we have in the area, and I want to give them a venue.”

Choosing shows

One of the board’s duties is to choose the playhouse shows.

“We have a committee that brings recommendations and the board votes on them,” Cooper said.

“We’re always looking at shows. We just got done figuring out the 2013 season.”

That might seem a bit far in the future to those outside the theater, but Cooper knows a lot needs to happen before the choice of a show is released to the public.

“You learn from your mistakes,” he said.

“It took longer before, and I wanted it done by our last meeting in May. It’s much easier to have the schedule done earlier, then Elaine (Mastalski, executive director) can get the directors lined up.”

Even after careful consideration, Cooper said a season can change, so backup shows must be waiting in the wings.

Sometimes, a backup can carry over into the next year when it is chosen as part of the new season’s lineup.

Cooper said two reasons for not choosing a show are material offensive to the audience and needing more space than the barn theater’s presidium stage can provide.

“The question is, can we do it in the space we have to work with?” Cooper said.

The theater’s stage surrounds the actors with the audience rather than having a larger stage up front.

Everyone has the option to input an idea for a show, including board members and the audience.

“We have a survey we give to the audience so they can mark their favorites and tell us what they would like for next year,” Cooper said.

“We have a list from the public, and when we want to know about a show before a meeting, we have a chance to research it.”

The main focus of the board is to keep a quality theater going and sustainable over the years.

“We look at the overall theater for the long term, making sure we have the finances to do what we need,” Cooper said.

“We’re into all phases of the physical plant and the operation of it. We have an overall say in what goes on.”

Recently, the board approved work on the building.

Support columns that needed bolstering have been strengthened.

Cooper said in the future, the board hopes to expand the playhouse, both in its capability to have more activities and physically.

“Now we rent a rehearsal hall in town, and we’d like to have one there at the theater,” he said.

The board meets every three months, every month if there’s ongoing business.

Cooper said attendance can vary with the 17-member board because most are active in their careers and communities.

“Everyone can’t always attend because of their work,” he said. “We have teachers, professors and businessmen. We come from all walks of life, and most of us have been on the stage at Cresson Lake at some point.”

Some board members acted when they were younger and direct or act as stage manager now.

As a young man, Cooper, who is now 60, never thought he would be on stage, but he has been in the spotlight quite a few times since retiring in 2007.

“I did four plays that year,” Cooper said. “I got carried away. It gets in your blood. It’s nice when they applaud when they’re supposed to, but scary when they don’t.”

He also has done some Christmas shows and still performs in plays here and there, he said.

“It’s hard work to memorize those lines,” Cooper said. “You don’t realize what the actors go through. I remember being like a deer in the headlights, but a good cast will carry you through and get you out of the headlights.”

“For older board members, there aren’t as many options. I back off if a younger person wants the role.”

Board member James Dugan of Altoona first acted at Cresson Lake in 1985, his senior year of high school, and estimates he has acted in 30 or more shows since.

He was elected as a board member in 1996 and has been on the board ever since.

After serving for several years, he was elected president of the board for a few seasons.

Before serving on the board, Dugan reported to board members with committee work.

“It’s interesting to have been on the board of directors through several transitions at the playhouse,” Dugan said. “As with most businesses, there have been staffing issues, membership issues, facilities issues, financial issues, restructuring and reorganization. Board members have come and gone.”

Despite problems, there has always been a drive to keep the playhouse moving forward.  

No matter what the issue, the community and the board have stepped up to support the playhouse into its next phase.  

“Most theater arts organizations such as ours find it hard to carry on for this many years without being forced to close their doors,” Dugan said. “We have come close to that in the past. It’s difficult and takes a lot of work from many people.”  

“I think all concerned realize that Cresson Lake Playhouse is great for the community, great for business and great for youth. Once you’re a part of it, onstage or behind the scenes, it’s like you have taken part ownership of CLP.”

Board of directors

Officers and members of the board of directors of Cresson Lake Playhouse are:

President: Earl Cooper, Johnstown.

Vice president: David Moses, Hollidaysburg.

Treasurer: Candy Long, Ebensburg.

Secretary: Holly Smith, Cresson.

Executive director: Elaine Mastalski. (Voting member)

Nancy Cassisi, Lilly.

James Dugan, Altoona.

Marianne Houser, Ebensburg.

Marina Johnson, Altoona.

Edward Lansberry, Altoona.

John Onderko, Portage.

Bruce Schettig, Lilly.

Marie Simmers, Ebensburg.

Ryan Skiles, Ebensburg.

Tom Stewart, Windber.

Rachel Wagner, Cresson.

Sam Wagner, Cresson.

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