Clayton Community Theatre Celebrates 20 Years of Providing ‘Places for Everyone’

The Beginning

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.

Yes, it was the perfect union.

A Change

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.

Marilyn Albert-Hack was there for it all. She has invited me to Clayton Community Theatre’s home for the past 11 years, a former catholic boys’ high school located on Clayton Road, to hear CCT’s story. The company celebrates their 20th season this fall, marking a milestone for a theatre that was once dangerously close to peril.
“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.

She sits across with me with her husband and artistic director, Sam Hack, as well as board member, Nathan Schroeder, and local playwright, Jason Slavik. Marilyn speaks with kind eyes and gentle conviction, committing over a decade of service to a theater company with one noble goal: “places for everyone.”
“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.

Interviewing President of Clayton Community Theatre, Marilyn Albert-Hack; Photo by Craig Warnhoff.

A Case for Community

Of course, there are those that would question why Clayton Community Theatre hadn’t considered a professional re-branding long before being handed an eviction notice from the district. Perhaps they would still reside within the hallowed halls of Clayton School District to this day. And the answer? They did.
 “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..”
And the proof is in the pudding. Clayton Community Theatre will celebrate their 20th season this fall, proving once and for all that Saint Louis values an organization with open doors.
“…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.”
From left to right: Emily Johnson, Marilyn Albert-Hack, Nathan Schroeder, Jason Slavik, and Sam Hack; Photo by Craig Warnhoff

The Future of Clayton Community Theatre

CCT now leases their space from Washington University, allowing the company to remain in the former catholic boys’ high school on Clayton Road since 2006, despite the passing of ownership from their original landlord, Concordia Seminary. For a theatre once handed a gut-dropping eviction notice, it’s understanding that the company would fear another knock on the door.
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

The company opens their 20th season with August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, October 12-22 (with performances Thurs- Sun). Directed by fellow board member, Nadia Vaughn, this Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “dramatically highlights the changing attitudes toward race” during 1969 “from the perspective of urban blacks. This will be Nada Vaughn’s second August Wilson production for CCT, having previously directed The Piano Lesson in 2015.
“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?!’ 
Whether behind the scenes, in the audience, or under the spotlight, those involved in Clayton Community Theatre are blessed with the opportunity to grow and foster a local arts community. Consider supporting a production sponsored by the people, for the people this October.

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!

FEATURE IMAGE: From left to right: Marilyn Albert-Hack, Nathan Schroeder, Jason Slavik, and Sam Hack; Photo by Craig Warnhoff

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