County Players’ Falls Theater opens season with Bell, Book and Candle revival

Photo of County Players’ recent production of Amadeus by Jeff Giudice

Christine Crawfis wasn’t exactly born in a trunk, but she came within five years of claiming that proud theatrical mantle. Hers is a deep and rewarding theatrical life – rewarding for her, but also for the many thousands who have benefited from that life.

Best-known in Ulster County as the managing director of the ever-popular Mohonk Mountain Stage Company, Crawfis knows more about the theater business than any dozen producers, directors, actors or stagehands you might care to audition. She has studied Directing at Boston University, been a producer of special events in Florida, served as executive director of Unison in New Paltz and is currently teaching Non-Profit Management and Strategic Fundraising at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

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Crawfis has also has been involved for the past ten years with the County Players’ Falls Theater in Wappingers Falls, where she’s currently the group’s vice president. This venerable community theater is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year: a practically unheard-of accomplishment that Crawfis is only too happy to crow about. How many institutions, after all, can claim to have survived and thriven for 60 years? And, as Crawfis will tell you, how many non-profit enterprises can make that claim – especially a community theater that relies exclusively on volunteer labor at every level?

Only one such enterprise comes to mind – the one whose mission has remained the same since Dwight Eisenhower was president: “To delight, educate and challenge the community and to nurture creative expression through theatre and performing arts of the highest quality.”

She admits that there have been troubled times, times when the company’s aim fell short of sheer delight. Asked to describe the company’s secret to survival, she takes a moment, draws in a breath and says a single word: “Passion…There seems to have always been a sense of love at play in every aspect, from the audience to the backstage crew, the person at the box office as well as the cast.”

As excited as she sounds when describing what the County Players have accomplished over the years, Crawfis gets rhapsodic when describing the what and the why of community theater everywhere. She has seen how critical community theater has been for young people everywhere, and how critical it remains for organizations such as the County Players to continue to attract and be available to young people. “Community theater has always been important for young people; it’s where they can find an identity or a safe place to spend their free time. It’s that that so many of them find a safe haven where they can participate in the creative process.

“Every theater is looking to involve a younger audience who may or may not have had the experience of attending live theater. A major survey discovered that those audience members who value theater as an adult had a positive experience of it as a young person… That’s one reason why getting young people into the theater is all part of creating an audience for the future.”

Teaching theater is one thing, she said. “But when we get kids working in a show, they’re learning it at a different level; they’re living it at a different level, and that’s really critical.”

The theater experience, she said, is participatory on both sides of the curtain, an experience that can’t be matched by television or film. “There’s something that happens – there’s an energy exchange between actors and a live audience, something very magic about that. When you walk into a theater and sit down, that audience is the only one that’s going to see that performance. Ever. Because it changes all the time. The actors and everyone involved in the production draw energy from the audience, who just gives it right back. That’s palpable, and I think that when young people experience it from both sides, they get it. They totally get it.”

The County Players’ Falls Theater will celebrate its 60th anniversary by reaching back into its production history of more than 250 plays to select its main-season shows. The first production will be Bell, Book and Candle, which opens on September 8. A special kickoff celebration will be held on September 10 at the Villa Borghese in Wappingers Falls. For more information, visit http://countyplayers.org/60th-celebration-events.

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