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Cedar Springs Community Players celebrate 50th anniversary

by Sue Harrison, CSCP charter member

Annie Get your Gun in 1973, with Barb Clark Waller as Annie, and Rev. David Doyle, of Pioneer Christian Church, as Frank Butler. (He was Pastor of the Pioneer Christian Church in 1973)

The Cedar Springs Community Players are celebrating their 50th Anniversary in 2021.

It was started 50 years ago in the summer of 1971 by Craig Slaight, who later became the Executive Director of the Youth Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, California. 

In 1971, Craig was a 19-year-old college sophomore, home from Central Michigan University, who had an idea that Cedar Springs needed a community theatre. He contacted friends, got the blessing of Kent Theatre owners, John and Charlotte Rogalewski, borrowed $75 from his parents, Richard and Nora Slaight, and with a script he adapted from Edgar Lee Masters poetry collection, “Spoon River Anthology,” Craig directed the first stage show at the Kent Theatre since the 1920’s. 

On August 17 and 18, 1971, Craig directed a cast including Sue Harrison, Ardena Roberts, Glenn Stout, and LaVern Jones, in a Reader’s Theatre production called An Evening With The People of Spoon River. Dick and Nora Slaight, Terri Riggle and nine others did the tech for the show. They performed on the apron, in front of the theater screen, with minimal handmade props, a couple of benches borrowed from Probst Furniture, “can” lights, and found or made costumes. They even took Spoon River on the road to Edmore, where they performed for a hospital guild.

Early in 1972, this core group of theatre buffs met at the Kent Theatre and chose the name Cedar Springs Community Players and drew up the first Constitution. Craig Slaight was the first president and was one of the many directors the Players have had over the 50 years.

Some of those directors include Sue Harrison, Terri Riggle, Herbert Welch, Nancy Zufelt, Linda

Hunt, David Horvath, Brad Slaight, Katie Zank, Kristian Phillippy, David Schmuker, and Charlene Sommer. The Cedar Springs Community Players have presented 90 productions in their 50-year history.

Early shows by the Players were presented on a very small “apron” of stage in front of the movie screen at the Kent Theatre. The “dressing room” was the coal bin on stage right and a small area behind the furnace up-stage of the movie screen. Lighting was established with “can lights” run from a piece of “board” (literally) on the wall stage right on which were mounted a number of round home-lights dimmer switches. Two people with impeccable timing were needed for a smooth complete dimming of a scene. Because there was no room at the Kent to build sets, Dick Slaight and Marv Emery built the set pieces in Dick’s garage and basement and assembled them at the Kent. The train scenes from Annie Get Your Gun were constructed in the Hugh Grannis barn, painted by Sal Grayvold, and assembled at the Kent. That process of building sets away from the Kent continued to some extent, when Gary Moore, Tom Noreen, and others, built sets in later years.

Cedar Springs had its own WORLD PREMIER in October of 1974, during Red Flannel Day. Nora Slaight, city council member and mother of Players founder Craig, wrote an original musical called The Red Flannel Revival. It was the story of the Clipper Girls, Nina Babcock and Grace Hamilton, who owned the local Clipper newspaper, and how they started Red Flannel Day in the late 1930s. William Lowry, from North Carolina, composed the music.

On opening night, October 10, 1974, during Red Flannel Weekend, a giant searchlight lit up the sky of Cedar Springs, as celebrities arrived at the Kent Theatre in vintage 1930s automobiles for the premier of The Red Flannel Revival. Nora, William, and Craig Slaight, who directed the show, arrived first, followed by other dignitaries, including the Red Flannel Queen and her Court and others. The last car to arrive carried Nina Babcock, the surviving Clipper Girl, along with Ardena Roberts, who played Nina, and Sue Harrison, who played Grace, in the show.

Each group was ushered to a waiting microphone manned by Master of Ceremonies, Robin Williams (the Cedar Springs Robin Williams who later became a disc jockey in Grand Rapids).

Ardena Roberts read to the assembled crowd a telegram of congratulations that Nina Babcock had received that day from the President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford. President Ford congratulated Nora on her play and sent his regrets to friend, Nina, that he could not attend the premier, and wished everyone well. Nina and Grace were personal friends of Gerald Ford and as editors of the Cedar Springs Clipper, were instrumental in 1948 in helping Congressman Gerald Ford carry northern Kent County in his quest for U.S. Congress.

In 1975, Dick Slaight and others extended the Kent Theatre Stage 10 feet into the audience to accommodate the breakfast scene and other scenes for the production of The Miracle Worker, directed by Sue Harrison.

Nunsense in 2014, with Nuns (L to R): Katie Zank, Anna Johnson, Erica Czerski, Lauren Forman, and Laura Johnson.

The Cedar Springs Community Players was incorporated as a non-profit group in 1976.

At that time, Players membership had grown to more than 40-plus and the Players were producing three to four shows a season. In the late 1970’s the Players joined the Community Theatre Association of Michigan and even hosted a comedy workshop at the Community Building conducted by James Carver of the Kalamazoo Civic Players.

Like most community theaters, The C.S. Community Players shows were shut down recently because of the Covid epidemic. However, the Players youth theater show, Into The Woods, Jr., will be presented on August 6, 7, 8 and August 13, 14, and 15 at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. Sunday, in the Heart of Cedar Springs amphitheater. 

This summer show will be the 90th show for the Cedar Springs Community Players. The Players will be presenting the comedy, Harvey, at the Kent Theatre on September 17, 18, 19, 2021. Community Theatre is alive and continues to bring live theatre opportunities to Cedar Springs.

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