Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble
Aug 19, 2014 02:47PM
● By Erica Shames
The Next Step
In 1980, BTE members, knowing they were home, but not home-free, purchased the old Columbia movie theatre just a block off Main Street in Bloomsburg. Debt suddenly skyrocketed to $760,000 and actors and supportive volunteers alike turned into demolition experts, carpenters, painters, upholsterers and carpetlayers. They all pitched in to do the dirty work of refurbishing the 1930s-era theatre.
On December 31, 1981, without seeing the completion of the theatre that bears her name, Alvina Krause closed the year, and her life, listening as her Ensemble, their eyes brimming with tears, sang carols for their dying mentor.
The Ensemble opened the curtain on You Can't Take It With You at The Alvina Krause Theatre in 1982. The stage was a temporary setup, and only thirty minutes before the audience began filing in for the performance, volunteers were still laying carpet in the aisles. McCants recalls that night as the night the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble really took flight. Alvina Krause was gone, but BTE was not.
Past, Present and Future
Today, the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble is a vital part of the community it serves. Nine full-time Ensemble members, an administrative staff of fourteen, two buildings and an annual budget of $600,000 let the community know that BTE is here to stay.
The Ensemble’s Mainstage Season features a wide range of theatrical experiences that reach from the contemporary to the classic. The season runs from October through June each year at the Alvina Krause Theatre. A SummerStage production, presented annually in July or August, helps to fill the summer void.
In addition, BTE sponsors Project Discovery, a program that reaches high school students in area counties. Started three years ago, this program has a simple but powerful purpose: to enrich the educational experience of every tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade student in the area. Students have enjoyed Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Moliere’s The School for Wives, and a special matinee performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest delighted young theatre-goers this past May.
Lively “Meet the Cast” sessions with the theatre’s artists and technicians increase the value of Project Discovery to area youth. The cost is underwritten by area businesses and corporations, and the program has been applauded by local educators.
BTE’s Theatre in the Classroom tours statewide and reaches more than 50,000 children in Pennsylvania’s elementary and middle schools. The shows are original, produced especially with a young audience in mind and usually based on the folk literature of a particular culture.
This past spring, the 1996 season’s, Ancient Thunder, featured tales based on the myths of Ancient Greece and transformed school cafeterias and gymnasiums for delighted students as BTE actors breathed life into mythology.
BTE’s educational outreach program also provides low-cost theatre classes year-round for community children and adults. Taught by Ensemble members, the curriculum includes acting, improvisation, movement, storytelling, and directing. High School Theatre Workshop Days draw young actors, who may develop into season interns, from local high schools and sets them on a steady course toward their goals. In July of each year, an Integrated Arts program incorporates music and visual arts with drama in this Theatre School.
TreeFest, BTE’s annual community celebration of the holidays, draws area artisans and craftspeople to the Caldwell Consistory. Musical entertainment adds to the festive spirit as individuals and volunteers from area businesses and nonprofit organization decorate Christmas trees donated by local growers. The trees are then donated to local social service agencies for families who might not otherwise be able to afford this Christmas tradition.
BTE also brings to its stage BTE Special Presentations, showcasing guest performers from the disciplines of music, theatre and dance. Ensemble members draw from their own consensus decision-making background and provide workshops and training to the corporate community in their TEAM Works programs.
In 1991, BTE was selected to tour five African nations for the United States Information Agency Arts America Program. BTE then brought back actors and storytellers from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to collaborate on Under African Skies, which reached 53,000 children in three states. The National Endowment For the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation helped to fund the program.
A. Elizabeth Dowd, a member of the Ensemble since 1978, studied for a time in Japan. Her efforts there brought about the 1995 Theatre in the Classroom tour of The Bonsai Thief and Other Japanese Comic Plays.
Backed by the Community
According to Steve Bevans, the company’s administrative director, season subscription sales hold steady at around 1,100 annually, and provide front money for the productions. Still, with the ever-growing costs of programs and the continuing burden of two mortgages, BTE discovered it had hit bottom, financially. In the spring of 1995, BTE initiated The Show Must Go On, a fund-raising campaign the company hopes will provide an additional $450,000 above operating expenses over a two-year period.
The campaign had reached nearly half its goal by the first week of March 1996, proof of the fondness that Bloomsburg and Central Pennsylvania have for Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble and proof that the town, and the outlying regions, can support a professional
theatre group within its bounds.
For more information about the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, to volunteer your time or expertise in any facet of the group’s wide-reaching programs, or to contribute to the Ensemble’s The Show Must Go On campaign, contact Steve Bevans at (717) 784-5530. For more information on Project Discovery or Theatre in the Classroom, contact BTE’s school programs director, Paula Henry, at (717) 458-4075.
A.M. Hummel is a freelance writer living, now, in the state of Wyoming.
Alvina Krause taught theatre at Chicago's Northwestern University for 34 years and while there designed the extensive four-year acting program that produced such actors as Charlton Heston, Richard Benjamin, Tony Roberts, Patricia Neal and Paula Prentiss.
Alvina Krause – Legendary Teacher
Alvina Krause. “Miss” Krause to her students. Feisty and determined, she taught theatre at Chicago’s Northwestern University for 34 years. While there she designed the extensive four-year acting program that produced such actors as Charlton Heston, Richard Benjamin, Robert Reed and Tony Roberts, and actresses Patricia Neal, Inga Swenson, and Paula Prentiss. Some of her students found a niche directing and Walter Kerr, famous drama critic, thanked Krause for her efforts.
She directed her own Eagles Mere Playhouse, located in Central Pennsylvania's quaint and scenic Eagles Mere, for 20 years, before retiring to Bloomsburg. The Playhouse served as training ground for many of Krause’s students who went on to distinguish themselves in the professional world of theatre and film.
Theatre was Krause’s life, and she was always saddened to see a student desert to the glitter of Hollywood and motion pictures. The story has been told that Charlton Heston, after being named “Best Actor” for one of his movies, arrived at her office at Northwestern shortly after accepting his “Oscar” and parked the statue on her desk. “See,” the anecdote claims he said, staring her down and grinning. Miss Krause is said to have responded, “You still can’t act.”
Krause came out of retirement in 1978, after working for two years with a group of students who had followed her to Bloomsburg, hoping to study Chekhov with her, and agreed to serve as artistic director of the budding Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.
BTE’s Alvina Krause Theatre, located at 226 Center Street in Bloomsburg, just a block off Main Street, is named for this legendary teacher of theatre.
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