Few people have the opportunity to live their dreams. I have the privilege of being one of those fortunate few, thanks to the literally thousands of people who have joined me over the past 25 years to fulfill the artistic mission of the Capital City Players. The dream turned to reality when I took my idea of providing professional quality dinner theatre to a wonderful man named Tom Simon, who was one of the owners of the Ramada Inn. He believed in my dream enough to persuade his partners to finance a production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” in 1991, and as they say, the rest is history—sold out performances and an extended run. For the next 14 years, CCP and the Ramada Inn produced a string of successful Broadway musicals and plays that ran the gambit from the social consciousness of “The Civil War” to the silliness of “Footloose.”
Along the way in 2001, the annual Shakespeare in the Park productions would not have continued if CCP had not picked up these productions in conjunction with Jefferson City Parks and Recreation. Those days bring memories of sweaty hard work, lugging things into the park but lots of terrific moments and happiness as well.
Then in 2005 I brought the idea of a summer stock theatre company to Branden and Stephanie Bise and Tom and Michelle Baker. We mustered the technical and artistic know-how to turn Tonanzio’s dining room in Guthrie, MO into a dinner theatre venue.
Never having had a home of our own and never able to do an entire season of shows, I started looking for a building we could call our own. The vacant Shikles Auditorium and the leadership of Bill Lockwood and his tremendously supportive Parks and Recreation Commission provided a partnership to move the project forward.
Branden and Stephanie Bise, Tom and Michelle Baker, Melle Richardson, and Joni Weinbaum were recruited to help pull the operation together. At this point CCP would no longer have existed if Bob Robuck of Central Bank and Rich and Janet Samson had not come forward with significant donations.
However, a large amount of additional money was necessary or the dream was over. I do not know too many wives who would let their husband take a second mortgage on their house to pay for theatre renovations. But my wife Chris, to whom I will forever be indebted, allowed me to put our house on the line to the tune of $40,000 to make my dream possible.
Barely able to get the theatre ready in time (boxes of equipment and rolls of carpet were still on the floor tech week), we opened our first theatre production, “The Full Monty,” in January 2007 in the midst of one of the most crippling series of ice storms in years. Yet in spite of cancelled performances and a great deal of angst, we were successful. Having our own home for the past ten years has been incredible.
This past year, the artistic genius of Nate Grey and the hard work of he, the Sankpill family, Paula Beach, and a raft of volunteers transformed our theatre into a showcase during the seven weeks I was incapacitated with back surgery.
I tell you all this because it is unbelievable to me how far we have come from that first production with a homemade stage that was so low, audience members in the back had to stand, lights made from tin cans, and rehearsals in the unheated viewing room of the old Dulle Funeral Home, donated by the marvelous M’Liss Saph.
We not only survived but thrived because of the passion of countless people—a list that would go on forever. But there are some who stand above the rest:
--Kip Neblett who has been by my side hauling stage equipment and building sets on every CCP production from the very beginning until his health no longer allowed him to do it. We would never have survived without Kip.
--Skip Shrock, Kim Carlstrom, David Gillespie, Scott Selner, Ann Harris, Greg Weiberg, and Michael Dodson…no better musical directors could be found.
--Stephanie Bise, Bebe Heil and LuAnn Madsen, three choreographers so gifted they could teach an elephant to dance.
--Mary Fischer, Lucy Cole, Judy Yoder, Jens Swenson, and Kathleen Lavery, whose technical and production help has been invaluable.
--Friendly and efficient box office managers Tom and Betty Benton, Stephanie Bise, Darlene Crocker, Sherrie Bailey, Pauline Kuntz, and Jens Swenson who have taken care of our guests’ needs.
--And finally Branden Bise, who has done magnificent acting since the Ramada days and great directing and technical work in Shikles as well as being my artistic collaborator and our Vice President for the past ten years.
So many people have played significant roles in taking my dream this far. I apologize in advance for the omissions.
We are now ready for the next chapter this dream will write. For those of you who know me and those who attend our productions, it could not escape your notice that I have suffered from health problems the past few years. I had back surgery this past year, have to have both knees replaced, and have heart issues. For the past couple of years, I have been unable to do any of the physical work of the theatre and have reached the point now where after my day job all day, I have little energy left and many times drag myself to rehearsal. The stress of juggling all the production work, finances, marketing, sometimes directing, and all the other aspects of CCP have quite frankly become too much for me, much as it pains me to admit it. The stress of knowing that if anything happened to me, $28,000 of that second mortgage would still be left for my wife and son to pay was weighing heavily on my mind. And the pain of knowing that if I were no longer here, no one would be able to carry on the work I started. With all of that looming, I could see no good choices in the years ahead.
Sunday, July 10, 2016, will forever live in my mind because that is the day it became clear that CCP not only has a future, but will grow bigger and better over time. Several of my friends stopped me after that day’s performance. They were blunt. They said my CCP dream was gradually killing me, and they loved me too much to see that happen. They informed me that they shared my dream for CCP and wanted to see it long after Rob Crouse had made his last long-winded announcement before a show.
Therefore, they were willing to form a new not-for-profit corporation, Capital City Productions, with the guidance of John Landwehr, their attorney. Furthermore, they will be taking over all those heavy business worries, which in turn allows me to focus my time volunteering as artistic consultant for as long as I wish; directing plays, selecting plays, and guiding and encouraging other directors; my passion. For those of you who know how emotional I am, I am sure you can picture the torrent of tears that followed.
These wonderful people who have literally saved my life and are willing to ensure my dream lives on long after me are:
--Ken Thompson, whom I call the glue that holds CCP together. Ken was in that very first production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and you will find him on any given day doing everything from brilliant directing and acting to setting up tables and chairs and setting stage lights.
--LuAnn Madsen, also with me from the beginning, who was in that first production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and is an expert in choreographing to make everyone look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
--Sarah Dent, who first caught our audience’s eye at the Ramada in 2006 in “Jekyll and Hyde” and has been dazzling our audiences ever since with star turns such as Patsy Cline.
--Brandon Sankpill, a truly extraordinarily talented musical director and performer whom audiences first saw on our stage as Corny Collins in “Hairspray” in 2010.
--Nate Grey, whom I call the “Renaissance Man” because of his unbelievable array of talents. He came into our lives with his impressive Broadway credentials this past year and his unbelievable hard work and vision have transformed our theatre, our sets, and our lives.
--Cindy Gorman, who first came into our CCP family in the 2008 production of, “All Shook Up”. She continued her CCP involvement both off stage and on, and in the spring of 2016 went on to star in The Little Theater’s production of “Nunsense: The Mega-Musical Version” as the light-hearted Mother Superior. She graces CCP with her compassionate heart and an endless willingness to fill-in wherever she is needed.
And I want to express my sincere gratitude to our support staff that will be continuing on with the new Capital City Productions – Catharine Jones and Glenda Ruffner who will continue their roles of costume mistress and props mistress respectively. And Paula Beach, who in addition to being our house manager for several years now, has taken on the added responsibility of being Capital City Productions new box office manager. Any of you who have dealt with Paula in the past already know that she will provide excellent customer service and exceed your needs.
I have been told if we are lucky enough to have one friend in life, we are blessed. I must be the luckiest man in the world.
Being the movie buff I am, during the past week I have thought often of George Bailey in one of my favorite movies, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Stressed to the point of emotional breakdown by a turn of events, George soon sees the entire town come forward to lift him up with love and support.
I have truly been able to live a wonderful life because of the love and support of countless friends, many of you who have come forward this week to tell me how happy they are that I am going to be able to concentrate on improving my health and see my dream continue with me as a stress-free part of it.
We have exciting times, new productions, and other remarkable events ahead with Capital City Productions. My dream is in good hands…the hands of members of the CCP family.
I particularly want to acknowledge my wife Chris and my son Courtney, whom I love more than life itself. They have sacrificed so much and have been committed to seeing that I could take and stay on the path of this artistic journey.
Thank you…thank you…thank you to all our talented CCP family and all our loyal patrons for their love, encouragement, and support.
A wise person once said: “Carve your name in hearts, not tombstones.” I could not possibly fathom how many hearts I have touched in some small way until this week occurred. Knowing that so many people are committed with such love to seeing my dream lives long after me is overwhelming. God bless you all.
- Rob Crouse
Capital City Players President & Founder
Capital City Productions exists to promote appreciation and enjoyment of the arts and theatre in Jefferson City, MO through live performances and educational programs.
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Rob Crouse, CCP Founder