Although I have attended several MCT shows over the years, I really did not know much about MCT history. How fortuitous it was that Sylvia Cagle recently learned that one of our Facebook friends was Bonnie Cook, the MCT founder. Sylvia and I had a lovely conversation with Bonnie, who now lives in Vermont but has many wonderful MCT memories.
How did you get first get involved with theater?
I am a graduate of the Pittsburgh Playhouse School of the Theater, At one time The Pittsburgh Playhouse was the premier amateur theater group in the city and now is part of the curriculum at Point Park College. Other graduates that I attended with were Shirley Jones (movie star of Oklahoma, Carousel, The Music Man), George Peppard (the A team) and Charles Grodin (the Beethoven movies).The Pittsburgh Playhouse also had a children’s theater where productions of classic children’s stories were performed to bring these favorites to life.
When did you start Meadville Community Theatre?
When we moved here, my first production was a children’s one. It needed an adult role, actually as a king. Jack Yoset, the Tribune Editor at the time, agreed to play this part and an adult program grew from there. Our first production was “Dark at The Top of the Stairs.”
How did MCT develop from there?
We performed at the Meadville high school and Allegheny auditoriums, the latter where musicals were held. We started slow, doing one production the first couple of years. After that, there were adult and kids shows and at least one musical every year. MCT became very family oriented with entire families working together building scenery, making costumes, and running crew. We even did dinner theater and had a touring production of Cinderella.
Any particularly memorable shows?
We did everything! Anything Goes in 1968 and South Pacific in ’69. Other musicals that followed included My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz, Oliver, Kiss Me Kate. Oklahoma, Hello Dolly and Cactus Flower. Peter Pan was special because we did the Mary Martin version with support from Peter Foy, who developed the flying system on Broadway. I worked with Judge Thomas to do Inherit the Wind in 1971, which was recently revived by MCT. My favorite musical was Fiddler on the Roof.
How did the MCT awards programs develop?
We had an annual dinner and called our Oscars “Tinneys,” because they were not gold like in Hollywood. The Pop Kear award was named after a very active gentleman from an acting family who did many odd jobs for productions. I do not know about the Bob Beck award; it originated after we left in 1982.
What was special about MCT for you?
It was very collaborative, and I got to do everything. I tried the theater here in Vermont and it just was not the same. I also loved seeing children get into theater and develop. R.A. Mihailoff started with me as Bill Sykes in Oliver, became a MCT regular and is now a professional actor. Todd Holland, an accomplished director, started as a youth with our theater doing backstage work. Jim Ruggiere went from playing in many of our productions to Nashville, was once part of Travis Tritts’ band and is now a country western singer.