Music, singing, laughter and applause - these are the sounds that from spring through late autumn reverberate across the hills of Buckingham Mountain, down into the valleys from where a once traditional, 18th-century cow barn has been lovingly transformed over the years into an expansive, state-of-the-art, award-winning playhouse. This is Town and Country Players and our storied journey spans 64 years - from the evolution of our county, through exciting improvements to our organization and physical facilities.
Burgeoning theatricals moved from Europe to North America in the early 1700's. Performances were advertised through printed handbills passed to pedestrians along cobblestone squares and storefronts. Although Town and Country Players did not formulate until the 1940's, the stage had already been set for our future home.
In 1767, a new farm with a substantial barn was built at the side of the road in what is now known as Buckingham (first it was known as the village of General Greene Inn, then Vorhees Tavern, Wilkinsons Tavern and Centreville,) near what is now the intersection of Routes 413 and 263. There marked the crossroads where General Nathaniel Greene aided General George Washington in the orchestration of The Battle of Trenton, allowing Durham boats and flats transported down from Tinicum Township, to carry Washington and his men across the frigid Delaware in the winter of 1776. Little did that community of colonists know then that almost two centuries later a band of 20th-century citizens would claim stake within walking distance of Greene's headquarters, by founding a theater community in Buckingham that would inspire new artistic expression and appreciation of the performing arts for decades to come. Welcome to a part of the past and the best of our future that is Town and Country Players.
Wars marked the occasion when many playhouses went to "black", so when World War II ended (1947), theaters opened again for business. Town and Country Players was the brainchild of local residents Florence Weisel and Lenora Dunn, Jean and Milton Rutherford, a prominent Doylestown business couple. Together, they began the quest of bringing a non-equity play house to central Bucks County. Private conversations ignited public interest, and the troupe blossomed from 19 to 40 by the debut of their first production "The Late George Apley", watched by 400 patrons on February 27, 1948 at Doylestown Borough School at Broad and Court Streets.
Technical hurdles plagued the theater company for a decade, as the school stage had no wings, low ceilings and immovable walls, making it impossible for actors to enter from the opposite side of the stage. Larger productions such as "I Remember Mama," with its cast of 22, provided particular challenges to directors.
In 1953, Town and Country Players pooled actors and volunteers to assist Pearl S. Buck's Welcome House in their production of "The Happy Children," written and directed by Philip Mathias. Our own history was then being built as international icons such as Oscar Hammerstein II and Pearl S. Buck performed alongside T and C members. Also, when a professional children's theater group scheduled to perform at Philadelphia's Academy of Music cancelled, T and C stepped in and staged its first children's play of "Pinocchio." This started the tradition that still exists today of our family productions, first staged at area schools, firehouses and grange halls and annual arts festivals.
Town and Country Players was ready to locate to a permanent home and in 1957, the founding members, (Milton Rutherford, a local businessman and great historian passed away in 2008,) rented the barn situated on the property of Mr. and Mrs. Willard Nichols. When the Nichols' offered to sell the barn structure separate from the rest of the farm in 1962, we took on the challenge, as well as a mortgage and annual tax bill. A bank loan was also needed to replace an antiquated pump and well, but when an increased schedule of productions, including the children's shows spurred increased revenues, the Barn (as we now affectionately call it,) was born!
Through the years there has been an ever-present array of skilled laborers and volunteer carpenters, electricians and craftsmen whose time, talents and skills have improved our facility. Actors, musicians and family members have been known to pick-up a paint brush or hammer to beautify the Barn. The task to upgrade our technical and space needs is on-going, but major improvements such as to introduce our 25th anniversary (1972), Scott Connard (who was introduced to the art of lighting by Central Bucks East High theater director Jeanette Brown,) Dan Weidman and others installed ramped seating in the main area of the theater, a catwalk with an overhead lighting booth and a ventilation system. In 1994, the renovation fund committee headed by Mickey Kolman raised money to improve the Barn's insulation, allowing the team to finally install an air-conditioning system. In 2006, we removed the dilapidated seats and replaced them with "Kimmel Center styled" red leather seats, supplemented by commemorative plaque donations. Current and intensive upgrades, particularly in 2010-11 have included new insulation of theater and sound booth, installing house lights and a control system, rewiring outlets to new booth services, replacing the house carpet, installing new heating/cooling unit in dressing rooms, the installation of backstage monitors and improved utilization of set build and costume areas.
Think of it! Town and Country Players has transformed into one of the most successful and "audience-friendly" community theaters in the Greater Philadelphia region, raising the curtain on shows that rival many on the equity stage. We now boast six to seven professionally-staged productions sifted each year through hundreds of in-demand scripts by the Play Reading Committee, then approved by the Board of Directors and ultimately voted on by our general members. Selections have included an adult musical, comedy, drama, classic or mystery, the family musical and the fall family play. Patrons look forward to our traditional appearance in the "Doylestown Memorial Day Parade," the annual "A Very Town and Country Players Christmas" Concert performed at historic venues such as the James H. Lorah House in Doylestown Borough, and a featured concert spectacular with music and lyrics by a famous composer, such as in 2011 with the works of prodigal son, Stephen Sondheim.
Our "One-Act Festival" provides a platform for qualified or incoming directors to produce quality shows on the T and C stage. Performers from all of our shows come from as far south as Philadelphia and as far west as central New Jersey. Our Summer Theater Workshops, no ordinary summer camp, is a stepping stone/hands-on approach for young students to learn about all aspects of theater - from auditions, vocal training, movement and blocking to costuming, sets, lights and sound. Each staff-supervised, week-long workshop session culminates with a performance viewed by family and friends. Students form bonds that last a lifetime.
Many familiar veterans may be seen greeting guests or announcing raffle winners. Lynne Anne Donchez, an integral part of our group, grew up as our resident hair and make-up designer, following in the family's heritage, as her father and mother performed for several decades on the T and C stage, and now sister Nancy directs and produces and Nancy's daughter Page is an actor and noted choreographer. Many families have spent their quality time on the boards or backstage at the Barn. Town and Country Players is home to the generations.
So, thrill to the anticipation as you approach the new Box Office ticket counter in our luxurious Club Room, head upstairs to the main stage entrance where you are greeted by our ushers and are handed your program, then head to your seatOverhead screens on either side of the house draw your attention to area businesses advertisements and visual reminders of upcoming productions, then music or the orchestra climbs as the lights fade to black before the show begins. With 64 seasons of fantastic theater presented to you by Town and Country Players, who knows what new surprises we have in store for you!
The Historic Barn Theater Complex serves as a public, not-for-profit organization with 501(c)3 status with a seasoned Board of Directors, many of whom hold degrees in the performing arts or entrepreneurs and executives with major area corporations, schools, for-profit and not-for-profit companies.