Afford the residents of the Greater Utica Area the
opportunity to enjoy, study, and actively
participate in live amateur theatre.
To stimulate interest and foster the development of
an appreciation of the dramatic arts.
To promote the social and intellectual well being of
the community by encouragement of the study and
improvement of the arts as they relate to the
Players shall not discriminate against any person
who seeks to engage in or attend the activities
because of race, creed, color, or national origin
and will ensure that all persons are afforded equal
theatrical opportunities without such
Any person interested in the Mission of Players of
Utica shall become a member upon payments of the
annual membership fee and will be registered on the
Players of Utica has a genuinely rich and robust
history from its beginning as a small social &
amusement club (1910 – 1912) to presenting hundreds of
dramas, musicals, comedies, and original plays (1913 -
present) to more than one million residents of Central
Players of Utica is one of the oldest, continually
producing community theatres in the United States and
the oldest in New York State.
This is a designation we can all be proud of!
Players of Utica has always strived to provide
entertainment that is unmatched in quality and value
in Central NY.
With each new season, we bring a mix of
performances that range from timeless classics to the
bold and inspiring – some never before or since seen
in Central NY.
At 1:30 am on the morning of May 5, 1999, a passerby
observed thirty-foot flames shooting up from the
building. The fire department could do nothing but
protect the neighboring buildings. All that remained
was blackened timbers and, ironically, the shell of
the steeple we had planned to remove because it was
structurally unsound. Everything was lost - furniture,
china, flats, costumes, props, piano, stove, computer,
and memorabilia – the Players home.
That fire remains the largest unsolved arson
fire in Oneida County.
Our History was compiled from old records by G.
Clayton Farrall and updated in 1999 by Matt Richter
and Carol Sours. For more information, visit our
The history of Players is divided
into fairly distinct periods or eras:
The amusement club organized for
an evening of more or less extemporaneous
performances, non-professional, and intended only
for casual pleasure.
(1910 – 1913)
The period of serious effort to
present the dramatic arts as professionally as
possible, ending in financial tragedy.
(1913 – 1948)
The establishment of a community
theater, culminating in the second financial and
(1948 – 1962)
A new beginning at 19 Oxford Rd,
New Hartford, ending when our theater burned to the
ground. (1962 –
Yet somehow we have survived to
present hundreds of dramas, musicals, and original
plays to mostly appreciative audiences. In the process
we have become one of the oldest community theaters in
(1910 – 1913)
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Players started out in 1910 as The
Amusement Club, and kept that title until 1913. It was
exactly what the name implies, a little social
organization, which met in one or another of the big
old Utica homes. Miss Julia H. Cummins, the club’s
second president, stated at one time that the
performances were very casual. She recalled a musical
playlet entitled Miss Matilda’s School which
was an excuse for singing popular songs in juvenile
dress. There was a Floradora Sextet of older men, and
a chorus of pretty debutantes who were advised
(because they couldn’t sing) to move their lips
silently while the more matronly ladies in the wings
attempted to swell the volume of song.
It was difficult to persuade the
cast to do any serious rehearsing. In fact, one
scholar protested that it would be much funnier if
they made things up as they went along.
However, in 1914, the Players
produced an evening of plays at the New Century Club
on the corner of Genesee and Hopper Streets. One,
The Workhouse Ward, was seen by a member of the
Schubert management, who was sufficiently impressed to
invite the cast to a week’s run in New York City.
After that, a deepening interest in stagecraft began
to emerge. Internationally known lecturers were
invited to appear at Players. Granville Barker, an
English playwright, chose as his subject The Ideas
of the Theater. Also appearing was Lady Gregory of
the Abbey Theater, the author of Players’ first hit,
The Workhouse Ward.
Other guests were the Comedy Club
from New York City and George Pierce Baker of Harvard,
who brought his "47 Workshop". Walter Hampden was
brought in a double bill, Romeo and Juliet and
Hamlet. Gradually Players began to produce an
ambitious schedule of four plays a year. A few of the
titles in those days were Her Ladyship’s Jewels,
Op’o’me Thumb, and
A Little Fowl Play. In 1916, Frank Stirling
became Players first professional director, and
Players moved into its next phase.
(1913 – 1948)
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Frank Stirling, after a varied
military and dramatic career in Europe, Africa, Asia,
Australia, and America, had come to Utica to act with
the Shubert Stock Company. He decided to remain in
Utica, and, with Walter Rowe, started the Utica School
of Dramatic Art. His first connection with Players was
to direct Green Stockings. After that, he
became the director-manager and directed almost every
Players production from 1916 to 1931.
In 1917, America entered World War
I, and no one was in the mood for amusement. The
staging and property committees were devoting much
time to war work. An Allied Fiesta was given at the
Tennis Club, which raised a sizable amount of money
for the Allied cause. Players bought and supplied an
ambulance, which was attached to a French evacuation
During the years of 1919-1929,
Players found itself emerging from a small social
group into a citywide organization. Plays such as
If I Were King, and Seven Keys to Baldpate
were being presented in the New Century Club, the
Hotel Utica, the Gaiety Theater, the Lake Placid Club,
and, for many years, at the Utica Country Day School.
The names of casts and crews are familiar in the area
today: Weaver, Worden, Kellogg, Matt, Knower, Kernan,
Munson, Morehead, and Bagg all appear on the old
In 1923, Players assumed
responsibility for a home of its own. It was a small
barn on Mandeville Street to be known as the Workshop
(now Kelly O'Neill's Tavern). A stage was built, a new
heating plant installed, and Players found themselves
with a complete little theater seating about two
hundred, which had both charm and atmosphere.
By 1929, however Players had
outgrown this small home. Major productions were given
at the Country Day School, and the casts were obliged,
after weeks of rehearsal on the small Workshop stage,
to accustom themselves in one dress rehearsal to a
much larger stage. Under the leadership of George
Sicard, active members gave funds to form a holding
company. The New Hartford Movie Theater was purchased
and remodeled into a little theatre with 500 seats, an
orchestra pit, a giant switchboard, and a fly gallery
30 feet high which enabled rapid and efficient set
This enterprise was carried out in
the nick of time. Players’ first production in their
new home, Monsieur Beaucaire, coincided with a
melodrama on Wall Street, known as "The Crash of
1929". During the first depression years, Players
managed to hang on to their theater. The early
thirties saw major productions like Holiday and
Seventh Heaven with new director Phil
Sheffield, who was appointed permanent director in
1939 and served for the next twenty years. This was
the time when Players had its own orchestra, under the
direction of Dr. Philip L. Turner. Sweethearts,
The Red Mill, and Naughty Marietta all
featured as many as twenty-four instrumentalists.
The years of World War II were
incredibly difficult. Despite the heroic efforts of a
dwindling group, the Players lost their home in 1943.
They had built lavish sets at great expense. That, and
the costs of maintaining a large theatre, proved too
much to handle. The classic theatrical villain—the
local banker—foreclosed on the New Hartford theatre.
Players carted away to a warehouse
in North Utica everything that wasn’t nailed down (and
some things that were). The group took over cramped
quarters in a rented store on Park Avenue, to act as a
workshop and rehearsal hall. It was a struggle to
extricate scenery from the warehouse, move it to the
studio to recondition it, and finally to erect it at
St. Francis de Sales for productions. The Players
survived a flood in which almost half the scenery,
props, costumes and equipment in storage were ruined.
In 1948, Players was able to rent
the theater they had once owned. Since it was again
being used as a movie theater, it was only available
for three days for each production. Casts rehearsed at
the Y.M.C.A., sets were built in barns and garages,
and at midnight on Wednesday, the stage crew moved in
and worked all night and most of the following day to
set up so that the cast could have one rehearsal on
stage. After the show on Friday, Players had to strike
the set and make the theater ready for Saturday’s
movie. Through all this, Players maintained a record
of uninterrupted productions. Finally this dogged
devotion was rewarded. In 1950 the Paris Cinema once
again became available, and Players was able to rent
it with option to buy.
(1948 – 1962)
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Thus began a new era for Players. We
incorporated as a non-profit organization, and the
whole community was invited to participate in play
viewing, acting, or back stage work. It was during
this period that Players produced outstanding
productions such as Stalag 17, Showboat,
South Pacific, Oklahoma, Detective
Story, and Death of a Salesman. Also active
were the Junior Players, who did two plays a year, and
the Strolling Players, who traveled to meetings of
community organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis. The
Experimental Theater presented serious drama,
classics, and original plays.
Not to become too complacent, the
group suffered a nasty blow when the heating plant
gave out in mid-winter. We had rented the theatre at a
cost of $250 a month and agreed to do the care and
maintenance of the building. Pleas for assistance were
made at each performance, and members made candy to be
sold along with soft drinks in the aisles during
intermissions. These efforts, coupled with
contributions made by many loyal members, enabled
Players to pass this crisis.
Next, the roof leaked, and half the
theatre had to be closed because rain poured down on
the seats. The place was becoming dingy and we could
not afford to pay the cost of repairs. Membership and
participation started to shrink.
Philip Sheffield retired in 1959 and
a new director-manager was hired at a much larger
salary. Richard Miller was a great director who for a
couple of years was able to keep Players on its feet.
At this point, the owner of the theater decided to
sell it. We knew we could not afford to make the
needed repairs and improvements, so once again we
retreated and left our home. We lost the services of
Dick Miller and were about $18,000 in debt. Membership
had shrunk to under a hundred, and something great had
to be done, or Players would be no more.
(1962 – 1999)
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George Harrer, Tony Farrall and
other dedicated members decided that something
sensational had to happen if Players were to survive.
With benefit activities, financial drives, and door to
door solicitations, they managed to raise enough money
to get started again. In 1962, Players made their
move. They rented, with option to buy, the venerable
Methodist church at 19 Oxford Road, New Hartford.
There had been a church on this site
since 1840. The first small church had been converted
to a dwelling. In 1879, a charming larger church was
built, and in 1918, a rambling addition was added to
provide Sunday school classrooms. At last Players had
adequate space for performance, rehearsal, storage of
flats, costumes, and props, a workshop, a kitchen,
dining room, restrooms, and dressing rooms.
Now came tasks like building the
stage, putting in a new boiler, repairing the roof,
and adding electrical work for stage lights. This was
a heavy outlay for a nearly bankrupt organization, so
much of the work was done by the Players themselves.
One group traveled to the site of the World’s Fair to
pick up used lighting equipment. Another took a
trailer to Brooklyn to retrieve second-hand seats.
Pelnik’s also was a source of comfortable seats, which
accounts for the fact that some seats were blue and
some were red. The Avon and Utica theaters gave
rigging for the curtain, pulleys, and ropes. A capital
improvement committee was established to continue work
on the old building.
Good plays were
essential to survival. In the absence of a
professional director-manager, volunteer directors
stepped into the breach. Some of the plays presented
during this period were Kiss Me Kate,
Separate Tables, Camelot, The Odd
The Lion in Winter. With good reviews, the
loyal support of the playgoers, hard work, and careful
financial management, Players began to climb out of
At last, in 1975, a
grand mortgage-burning ceremony was held. Jonas Kover
wrote in the Daily Press of a "merry event", adding:
"Following the cheers and whistles, someone asked if
marshmallows were brought along for the occasion. It
wasn’t marshmallows, but memories that surrounded the
event. The walls were covered with photographs from
more than 60 years."
A guest director
commented, "These people may marvel at the
professional who acts for a living, while the
professionals were astounded that people would work an
eight-hour day, then devote time to putting on a
Why DO they do it?
Some of the reasons are the joy of artistic
creativity; the friendships formed; the teamwork,
similar to an athletic team who train hard for a
sports event that will test their mettle. And surely
some of the fun arises from the silly mishaps that can
occur on stage and cause hysterical laughter for years
thereafter. (Though stark panic at the time they
Tables, an actor skipped eight pages of dialog,
leaving his fellow actors trying to fit in the
necessary information that had been omitted.
In Dial M for
Murder, Jacque Frazier opened a door to exit, and
found the doorknob coming off in her hand. She merely
handed it to Ralph Allinger, the other actor, said
airily, "Goodbye!" and left him holding it. Her
reasoning was that he would need the knob to make his
own exit later.
In Teahouse of
the August Moon, an actor missed his cue, leaving
veteran actors Richard Miller and Jane Metzger onstage
with nothing to say. Their characters spoke only
Japanese. They repeated their lines, louder. Then, in
desperation, they made up some pidgin-Japanese. This
play must have been star-crossed. The cast included
two live goats who apparently suffered from stage
fright. Every time they came onstage, they relieved
themselves, to the growing amusement of the audience.
In Madwoman of
Chaillot, a delicate fantasy set in Paris, the
audience applauded an especially fine speech. Suddenly
they were startled to see an unidentified man in a red
flannel shirt run on stage. He was a stagehand who
mistook the applause for the end of the scene.
In Who’s Afraid
of Virginia Woolf, Win Haslam stood up and her
skirt slithered down around her ankles. With perfect
aplomb, she stepped behind the couch, gathered up her
skirt, and while holding it on with one hand, played
the rest of the scene. The audience loved it.
Ah, the excitement
of live theater. You just don’t get that on TV. And
when, as usually happens, all goes well and the
audience believes and is attuned to what’s happening
on stage, electricity oscillates between audience and
The years at 19
Oxford Road were good ones. The plays ranged from dark
tragedies to sophisticated comedies, from thoughtful
drama to musicals, and from controversial plays to
children’s theater. Some of the plays produced during
this era were Ann of a Thousand Days,
The Glass Menagerie, Laura, Sly Fox,
and Blood Brothers. Opening night
dinners were put on to increase attendance, and to
provide an entire evening of fun for subscribers. Meet
the cast parties rounded out the occasion.
Scrooge became an
annual tradition and has been Directed by Peter Loftus
every year since. With a chorus of children, a
beautiful set, whole families becoming involved,
Scrooge became an incubator of new talent for Players.
The cast grew to 165, and Scrooge moved to the Stanley
Theater, with an occasional performance at the Capitol
Theater in Rome.
Another incubator of
talent was youth theater, taught by several Players at
different times. The board established awards for
especially dedicated young performers. A drama contest
for high school students, named in memory of Harrison
Cline, was held each year. A junior member was invited
to serve on the board each year.
In 1973, a second,
smaller stage was built downstairs. The purpose of
this Pub was to provide another venue for experimental
theater, children’s shows, and musicals like Star
Treatment, written by Dan Fusillo. This space was
named the Glenn Flagg Pub, in memory of Glenn and
Carolyn Flagg who had worked on every aspect of the
theatre, from acting to taking out the trash.
In 1998, Players
undertook a major renewal of the theatre. They
installed a handicap accessible bathroom just off the
Pub, and built a covered ramp with new wide doors
leading into the theatre. This meant that the Pub, at
least, was accessible to everyone. A team from a
nearby state prison was brought in to spruce up the
outside of the theatre with cream paint, trimmed in
dark green. Patrons coming in for the first show of
the season pronounced the new look "beautiful". The
president’s office was improved with new (second hand)
furniture and a computer. Plans were under way to
build a ramp inside so the dining room would be
accessible. The colors were selected for painting the
kitchen and dining room.
But it was not to
be. At 1:30 in the morning of May 5, 1999, a passerby
observed thirty-foot flames shooting up from the
building. The fire department could do nothing but
protect the adjoining buildings. The siding on the
funeral parlor next door was deformed and melted from
the heat. All that remained was blackened timbers and,
ironically, the shell of the steeple we had planned to
remove because it was structurally unsound. Everything
was lost—furniture, china, flats, costumes, props,
piano, stove, computer, memorabilia—our home.
No, not everything.
This was sad, but not a tragedy. There was no one in
the building, and the Players still had each other.
The community rallied to our support. The show which
was supposed to open next day was hastily
reconstituted with costumes loaned by the Ilion Little
Theatre, and performing space made available by Spring
Farm Cares. Moon Over Buffalo was a funny show
that received standing ovations, partly in recognition
of Players’ spirit which still remains.
On October 31, 2003,
Players of Utica held a much anticipated
ground-breaking ceremony on the site of our new
theatre complex located on the corner of State and
Mandeville Streets in Utica. We have raised more
than $800.000.00 towards our goal of $1.6M to complete
the theatre. Fundraising events and capitol
campaigns continue until the theatre in complete.
The new 200 seat theatre will also house a "black box"
experimental theatre, dressing rooms, workshop,
storage space and a spacious lobby.
The project enjoys the enthusiastic support of the
US Dept of Housing and Urban Development (Congressman
Sherwood Boehlert), the City of Utica, New York State
Assembly (Roanne Destito) , GroWest, The Community
Foundation, M-W-P-A-I, CNYCAC, The Broadway Theater
League, Spring Farm Cares,
Freidel-Williams-Coriale-Edmunds Funeral Home, ECR
International/Utica Boilers, Ilion Little Theatre,
DeIorio's Frozen Dough Co., Utica National, Gannett
Foundation, UFCW Local 1,
The Bank of Utica and the many private donors
that have provided more than $800,000.00 toward our
ultimate goal of meeting the $1.6M construction costs.
As a result of the fire that
destroyed our theater, your support and tax deductible
donation to the Players of Utica Building Fund is