BROOKE HILLS PLAYHOUSE: A COLLECTIVE MEMOIR, PART 7B

The Drover’s Inn, Wellsburg, W. Va., by Russ Shaffer

BEYOND THE REMODELING

DAY-TO-DAY OPERATION

In addition to putting on plays, there were a lot of jobs around the Playhouse that had to be done on a regular basis.  We had a duty roster for the “paid” crew that covered the following chores: K.P., Cleaning the House, Cleaning the Lobby, Cleaning the Tool Room/Kitchen, Cleaning the Dressing Rooms, Cleaning the Rest Rooms, and Manning the Box Office. Each chore was defined with a list of things that were to be done, and a chart was posted on the inside of the tool room door each week showing which crew member was assigned which chore for each day.  So, in addition to building and painting scenery, making props, working on costumes, and rehearsing, each crew member got a taste of “the glitter, glory, and glamor of theatre,” also known as cleaning the toilets, sweeping the lobby, or pulling tickets and labeling them for the evening performance. 

Breakfast was usually just coffee, toast, juice, and cereal, and everyone made their own. Work started at 10:00 a.m., so the crew had to make sure they were finished eating before then. The K.P. person made the Kool Aid or Lemonade, set the tables, cleaned up, and did the dishes after lunch and dinner. I’d put out stuff for sandwiches and chips and any leftovers, and people made their own lunch. We ate our meals family-style on picnic tables in the yard, and if it rained, the tables were moved into the lobby. After lunch and dinner every day, we’d play croquet. Croquet lasted for a few years, but then Al got us playing volleyball, and that was the game of choice for at least the first 24 years.

Everyone was doing multiple jobs. I wrote the program notes, got printing estimates, wrote press releases and season fliers, cooked, and I don’t know what all. Norma would be painting scenery one minute and organizing the box office the next. Judy would be rehearsing and helping with costumes. Bill and John were upstairs building, downstairs running cables, and out and about bringing things back like huge cable spools which would be used as scenery for Charlie Brown and then serve as tables downstairs in the lobby. Bill Nelson (Nelly), Tom Pasinetti, Janie Miller, Larry Crofford, Tom Cervone, Rich Ferguson (the one from St. Clairsville not from Wellsburg), Tommie and Al Martin, Mariana Hubbard, Heather Otto, Mary K. Hervey DeGarmo, Marlene Marston Bringardner, Elliot Lieb, Tim Christie, Tom Ott, Jim Sheetz, Shelley Dwaihy, and Tom Aston were all working from morning until night on jobs they’d never done before to get the Playhouse up and running. Other folks from the nearby area would lend a hand on their days off to move us closer to opening night.  There was a sense of urgency, but we could see progress, and everyone knew we were a part of something that was new and exciting.

We were pretty much bleeding money and running up a big bill at Robert Scott Lumber in downtown Wellsburg, where we purchased lumber, hardware, and paint. The lumber yard was owned by Charles Beall, whose cabin we were also living in at the Bellview Campgrounds. I can’t say enough good things about Mr. Beall, because I also asked him for a program ad. He not only took one, but he reached into the cash register on the spot and paid in cash!

1972 Program Ad

This is how strapped for cash we were: We straightened nails! Oh, yes, absolutely, all nails and especially duplex (double headed) nails which were more expensive. This is one of Norma’s most vivid memories. Actually, straightening nails can be very calming and soothing.  It’s kind of funny, but we got into the nail straightening habit, and we did it for years after we probably didn’t even need to anymore. Good recyclers, I guess.

Duplex or double-headed nail, used mainly for securing scenery. They are easy to remove on strike nights when the scenery is taken down.

DINNER-THEATRE

One Saturday afternoon in late May, Bill and I visited Mary Marko, the owner of The Drover’s Inn, about 2 miles from the Playhouse. We worked out a dinner-theatre deal with Mary. We would take reservations for dinner-theatre patrons at the Playhouse and at 4:00 p.m. each performance day, we called the Drover’s to let them know how many people wanted dinner before the show that evening. We discounted our ticket by 50 cents, I think, and Mary took $1 off the price of the buffet.

The Drover’s Inn, Red Dining Room

Around 5:00 p.m. each day, someone from the Playhouse would take that evening’s tickets over to Mary. Patrons would pay for their meals and tickets at Drover’s which was very convenient. We collected our share of the take each Sunday evening after the curtain had gone up on that night’s show. It was a great arrangement for both of us. It’s still amazing to me how many people, like Mary and the county commissioners, just accepted our word that we were going to put on plays in an old barn, but they did.

For a number of years, Buggo Lamone, a Wellsburg character if ever there was one, was the bartender in the Drover’s rathskeller. Our crew would go to the Drover’s bar every once in a while, but we fit into Betts’s much better.

Mary sold the Drover’s to Mark Cooper in August of 1986, and I met with Mark shortly after the sale. He gladly agreed to continue the mutually beneficial arrangement, and the relationship lasted for a number of years after I left in 1995. Eventually, dinner-theatre went by the wayside, but the cast parties are now held at the Inn.  

The Drover’s Inn Rathskeller

A Side Story:  Buggo tried to bite my thumb off one evening in the mid-seventies in Betts’s. No kidding. He was sitting at the bar, and a group of us were sitting at a table behind his stool.  He turned around to face our table, and I guess I put my hand up in the air for some reason. He grabbed my arm and started biting down on my thumb! And I mean really biting—hard! I was so shocked and in so much pain, I instantly broke into tears and could only utter some barely discernible words. AND I couldn’t move because he was pulling me over the back of my chair. 

No one could figure out what was going on, and if they did see that my thumb was in his mouth, they thought he was just joking around.  It most definitely was not a joke. It was horrible. Richard Coote, a friend at the time, and my husband since 1995, jumped up, flew to the bar, and pushed Buggo away which made him quit biting. Thank goodness!

I think Richard was about to slug Buggo, but Richard’s wife yelled something. Richard said, “Buggo, you’re drunk, and you need to leave right now.” Buggo got down off his stool, and started to take a last sip of his drink, but Richard yelled, “Now!” As he left, Buggo did try to apologize, but he kept one eye on Richard who wanted to tear him apart. It really was the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me–in a bar!

A BIG MISTAKE

As many of you know, producing a musical is much more expensive than producing a comedy or drama. The royalty for musicals at the time was three to four times more expensive than the royalty for a play, and the royalty had to be paid before you could rent the scripts and scores for a musical. With a play, you could buy the scripts and tell the licensing company your production dates. They’d send you an invoice for the royalty, and as long as the royalty was paid before opening night, everything was fine.

So, we pulled a fast one. Ha! We thought we pulled a fast one. We paid the royalty for the first week of performances for Charlie Brown and rented the scripts and scores with every intention of paying the royalties for the second week once some more money came in. BUT we also started advertising the two-week run in the local papers. THEY, someone, caught us! In little nowhere Wellsburg, W. Va., the big boys in New York City swept down like vultures with a very legal letter saying we’d better pay up the entire amount of the royalty or there would be no more plays or musicals at the Brooke Hills Playhouse for a long time to come!

Apparently, the licensing companies used clipping services, and someone checked our dates against our payment.

We had no money (I know I keep saying this, but we had…no money!), and I was about to go to my parents when Mariana Hubbard told her mom about the problem. Helen, our angel, if ever there was one, paid the royalty for the second week, and we vowed to repay her. She was so generous and wouldn’t hear of it, but honestly, she saved the day.

Helen Hubbard with her grandson Sammy, 1984

6 thoughts on “BROOKE HILLS PLAYHOUSE: A COLLECTIVE MEMOIR, PART 7B”

  1. This has been a fascinating account of your theater days! The sheer grit, determination, and resourcefulness of the group is amazing.

    Like

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