Red River screens ConcordTV film ‘The Players’ on Oct. 6

  • Jim Webber, Clara Brogan, and Esther Crowley at the Walker Lecture Series premiere of The Players. Courtesy photo. Courtesy—

  • Jim Webber and ensemble backstage in Cabaret in 1980. Courtesy photo. Courtesy—

  • Jim Webber (writer), Mike O'Meara (film editor), Josh Hardy (ConcordTV executive director), Betty Lent (Players wardrobe chair) and Wallace Pineault (project advisor) at the Walker Lecture Series premiere of The Players. Courtesy photo. Courtesy—

  • Bob Stuart worked on over 140 productions for the Players from 1948 to 2008. He was a stage director, group president, mentor, and historian for 35 years with his wife Phyllis Stuart. Courtesy photo. Courtesy—

  • Harriet Strong directed a decade of large-scale musicals for the Players from 1956 to 1966. Courtesy photo. Courtesy—

  • Directors Sharon Paquette and Clara Brogan share memories of creating Players productions over the past fifty years. Sharon directed Into the Woods, among other shows. Clara directed A Man For All Seasons in 1968. Courtesy

  • A poster for the new ConcordTV documentary, “The Players – the 95-Year History of the Community Players of Concord, N.H.” Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 9/27/2022 6:20:52 PM

For a year and a half, the Community Players of Concord’s sets for the May 2020 production of Barefoot in the Park lay dormant, gathering dust in the company’s studio due to the show’s cancelation at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It wasn’t ideal – nothing about the pandemic was ideal – but the Players had also fared worse, including a Depression, World War II, and a decades-long battle for a permanent home.

ConcordTV’s new documentary – The Players: The 95-Year History of the Community Players of Concord, N.H. – tells of the company’s return to the stage last October and chronicles the Players’ centennial history of continuing onward in the face of adversity. It screens at Red River Theatres Thursday, Oct. 6.

Jim Webber of ConcordTV dreamed up the film over a year ago. The Players were approaching their 100th anniversary, and he thought a film highlighting the group would be of interest to the community.

For Webber, it was also of personal significance; a member since 1977, Webber has directed six plays and designed 30 shows for the group. “I’ve always loved backstage stories about theater and movies, so this was right up my alley,” Webber said.

Webber spent weeks reading board meeting minutes and studying old files in the Players’ archives. There were photographs, vintage programs, theater posters, thousands of colored slides and articles written about the Players, all contained within six filing cabinets four drawers high. Bob and Phyllis Stuart, historians for the Players for 35 years, had kept tidy records and impeccable notes.

“They saved everything. And not only that, they’d taken notes and attached them to old pictures,” said Webber, who was able to use these notes to include detailed accounts of the Players’ very early days. “One of the goals of the documentary was making those early years seem interesting. What was funny? What was human? What was real? I tried to always put those things in the narration.”

The documentary spans back to the Players’ first show, The Mollusc, which cost 75 cents and benefited the Great Vermont Flood of 1927. It tells of key members, like Stuart, Veroqua Sheldon Lovgren and Harriet Strong, and features live interviews with 23 members of the company.

“They’re adults now, but they were in the shows as kids in the ‘60s. They remember what it was like to work with people like Harriet Strong, who directed the first musicals of the ‘50s and ‘60s and was a tough cookie,” Webber said of Strong, who blocked out her shows on a chessboard, moving the pieces around as though they were actors. “She was very specific about what she wanted. She would end up with a superlative cast and run them ragged.”

One of the questions Webber wanted to answer was why the Players lasted so long when other groups died out. He thinks the search for a permanent studio brought them together. For years, they moved to many temporary homes, including a former bakery and at least three different warehouses. Meetings were held in downtown offices and, once, a funeral home.

In 1963, the Players purchased a former Baptist Church, located a block from the Concord Auditorium, but there were immediate problems upon move-in, from high expenses to maintenance issues. For several shows, Erik Hodges remembers Players simply carrying sets down the street and through the back door of the Audi. “It was a great way to promote the show,” he said in the film. “People would stop traffic in both directions.”

Another vivid memory for Hodges: the culture of smoking during rehearsals. “You’d go in an average rehearsal, and there’d be a pall of cigarette smoke that would hang right at nose level,” Hodges said.

In the ‘40s, Players began working in earnest to find a reliable, permanent rehearsal space to also store sets, costumes and equipment. It wasn’t until 1997 the doors of their facility on Josiah Bartlett Road opened. Today, Webber says the Community Players of Concord is a theater with decades of resources and many hands that specialize in everything.

And yet, while the Players were, at one point, the only game in town, those days have passed.

“As time goes by, people are aging out. We have trouble getting backstage help now. It’s a struggle to get young, strong people to push scenery around,” Webber said. “If you’re doing Wicked or Spamalot, people will come out of the woodwork to be in it, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stay around for the next revival of The Sound of Music.”

At the film’s end, it’s October 2021 – opening night for Barefoot in the Park in the Concord Auditorium. Despite the setbacks, they’re back onstage yet again.

“It’s on to the next show. The Players are making it happen in spite of those roadblocks,” Webber said.

The Players: The 95-Year History of the Community Players of Concord NH, written by Jim Webber and edited by Michael O’Meara, screens at Red River Theatres, 11 S. Main St., Concord, Thursday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. The film was supported by the New Hampshire Humanities and the Walker Lecture Series, and the event is a benefit for the Players, ending with talkback. Tickets are $15. Visit redrivertheatres.org or communityplayersofconcord.org.




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