'Becky's New Car' closes curtain on Players' 50th year
Tucked away on the eastern side of Hoover Reservoir sits a 175-year-old church.
Hidden inside that church is what some consider to be one of Westerville's cultural gems: Curtain Players, a community acting troupe that will close its 50th season with a production of Becky's New Car, to be performed the first four weekends in May.
"Because it's across the reservoir, it's amazing how many people you run into that don't know that there's this wonderful theater out there. People know about it that are in theater circles," Curtain Players board President Michael Fusco said. "It is a community theater that offers, I would say, a high-quality of stage productions that appeal to a wide range of audience members."
Formed by an open call for members at the Westerville Public Library in 1962, Curtain Players has a history that goes back more than 70 years, said group archivist Betty Peters.
The Worthington Players Club formed in 1943, opening with a one-night-only performance of George & Margaret.
The group grew to produce four shows per season at the old Worthington High School, Peters said, but by 1962, it had fewer than 20 members.
"A few die-hards were determined to keep the organization viable," Peters said. "A nucleus of people from Players Club and the then-defunct Westerville Community Theater, as well as interested residents in the northern Franklin County area, held a public meeting at the Westerville library.
"Within a month, Curtain Players Inc. was formed."
The group performed in the Westerville National Guard Armory, spending as many as eight hours before each performance rigging equipment to serve as a stage, Peters said.
The old church at 5691 Harlem Road was purchased in 1981.
"Its last usage before Curtain Players bought it was as a car body shop," Peters said. "It had a garage door, a furnace that did not work, lots of trash and a roof that leaked. The group spent several months clearing brush and junk, tearing down a paint shell and a metal rusted ceiling."
After some hard work, the group was able to open its 1982 season in the old church and has been there ever since, expanding and improving the space.
The space remains small, seating only 78 theater patrons, but Fusco said the setup is something that sets the Curtain Players experience apart from other local theater opportunities.
"You can see everything, even if you're in the back row," Fusco said. "You get a very different kind of feel in a small space. You get this very intimate and very personal (feel) and tiny nuances of things you can't see when you're 65 or 70 feet away, or more, in a big theater."
Fusco's favorite detail about the theater, however, is that there is, in fact, no curtain.
"That's one of my favorite things about Curtain Players is sort of the irony in the name," Fusco said.
Despite the small size of its theater, Curtain Players puts on a full-scale season each year, from the fall through the spring.
With only two employees, Curtain Players does almost everything -- from play selection through production -- with a large group of dedicated volunteers, Fusco said.
"Our directors are actors, our crew ... these are all volunteers, many of whom participate in several production over the years," Fusco said. "There's a lot of new people in and out who come out and try and they come back."
What has made Curtain Players successful for so many years -- it's one of the two oldest community theatre groups in Ohio -- is the support central Ohio gives to its arts community, Fusco said, and Curtain Players want to let more people know what they add to the theater scene.
"Columbus is just an incredibly fertile theater community on all levels," Fusco said. "I want (people) to know that it's here."
For more information on Curtain Players, or its upcoming production of Becky's New Car, visit curtainplayers.org.