Clayton Community Theatre was founded in 1998, after an invitation from Clayton School District to establish a resident theatre company for their community and students. The district had a theatre and a flux of students eager and willing for performance opportunities with actively-involved parents. And like that, Clayton Community Theatre materialized out of thin air with the overwhelming support of a school community.
The relationship was a rosy one. Parents and students lined up for auditions and volunteered happily to assist with strike and cast parties. Extra credit was offered for helping with productions. Set pieces and tools became intermingled, without bothering to label what belonged to who. Rent was never requested, nor exchanged. There was a real symbiosis between the two that made it hard to discern where the school community stopped and the theatre began.
Until 2005, when a decision was passed down that would shape and change the very fabric of Clayton Community Theatre forever. The school district would be going in a different direction next year, opting instead to partner with a professional theatre company, and abruptly displacing CCT for the following season.
“It’s not you, it’s me”
Their seven years of wedded bliss with Clayton School District had officially come to an end. The set pieces and tools were divided. The actively-involved parents with power tools and big pockets disappeared. Student participation dwindled, and suddenly the company had nowhere to go.
“It took awhile to find a place to go,” she shares. “We had to find a theatre; we went 8 months without doing a show!”
And then came the break the company so desperately needed. Concordia Seminary would rent their theatre space to them, allowing them to remain Clayton Community Theatre.
“Our slogan is “places for everyone,” but we’ve always felt that way.,” she speaks evenly, with matter-of-fact confidence.
“Places for everybody. And it started because of the school district. Any kids that wanted to be involved that had any kind of talent, we found out what they did best and used the talent. Let them learn and grow and work with other people who had been doing it for years.”
A noble goal indeed.
A Case for Community
“At one point, we had a long discussion,” Marilyn reveals, “‘Do we want to go professional?’ or ‘Do we want to do stay community?’ And we really liked being community. But we’re proud, and we do damn good shows. And they are professional quality and we intend to strive for the higher end of community theatre. Some people have this notion–ya know, there’s denotation and connotation–and some people have the notion that if it’s community theatre “oh, nobody knows their lines, they just crack up, everybody starts laughing–that is not at all what happens..”
“…There’s something to be said for community theatre, when people can just do what they love to do. So we made the decision not to go pro[fessional]. We stayed community. We are proud of the work we do.”
The Future of Clayton Community Theatre
Artistic director, Sam Hack adds, “[We always are mindful of ]” the dagger hanging over our head always that they might sell the place.”
But Clayton Community Theater always perseveres
“I would love for our twentieth year to be a breakout year,” Marilyn decrees,” To find a new audience. Let people know we’re here. Especially people here in Clayton who say, ‘Clayton Community Theatre? We have a theatre?!’
Interested in helping out? CCT is always looking for volunteers! Whether it’s ushering, strike, costumes, or acting on stage, Clayton Community Theatre would love to hear from you. No experience needed!