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Experience, New Home, Donations Bode Well for CCT

July 5, 2004 – Anyone familiar with community theater who sat through Caribbean Community Theatre's production of "Cheatin'" last month had to be impressed. One wonders if it is the wealth of experience of the CCT staff or its enthusiasm for a new home that makes the troupe so much better than average.
Whatever it is, the force is working in many directions for this group.
CCT moved into the building at 18 Estate Orange Grove, Christiansted, in January. According to Eileen Des Jardins, managing producer, "We're making improvements as fast as we are able to physically and financially, and we'll continue to make the improvements a little at a time."
She added, "People who have been coming to our shows since 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' opened in February have seen all the improvements we have made since then — painting, electrical, new chairs, etc."
CCT also has come up with an expanded season. Last year was the first time the troupe offered full-scale summer productions. The venture was successful enough that it is happening again this summer.
"Cheatin'" was the first of this summer's two shows. The second, "What the Butler Saw," an adult farce by Joe Orton, will be presented at 8 p.m. July 23, 24, 30 and 31 and at 4 p.m. Aug. 1.
Experience Plays Its Part
"What the Butler Saw" is being directed by Marty Merrick, who says he has been with CCT "about 20 years, almost from its inception."
Merrick retired from the Navy after 27 years. In the service, he was not just swabbing decks, he said before a recent rehearsal; every time he had a chance to participate in community theater, he did. His efforts earned him a full-time, paid position as stage manager for a couple seasons in Pennsylvania.
Many others, like Merrick, have had long-term commitments to CCT.
Des Jardins wrote in an e-mail, "We probably have 300 to 500 current members, and about half have been CCT members for over 10 years."
She gave some examples:
– Walt Julio, the house manager for "Cheatin,'" is a former police detective and has been a CCT member for more than 20 years. He is a former board member and is usually in at least one show each year.
– Billy Gibbons is another stalwart; he had the male lead in the "Forum" production in February.
– Paul Hess, the narrator of "Cheatin,'" is a veterinarian who has been with CCT for more than 15 years and is a former president of the group. He made a generous donation for the lighting board when the group moved into the Sidney Lee Theater at Island Center eight years ago.
– David Richards has worked as artistic director for CCT on and off for over 15 years. He also serves as CCT’s musical director and plays piano for auditions, rehearsals and performances for musicals and musical revues.
The veterans and the new home give CCT the opportunity to put variety into its repertoire. In the winter months the group stays with "safer" productions that won't offend anyone, Des Jardins said, while the two summer productions are adult comedies.
As for the physical condition of the building, there's still a long way to go. On the back of the program for "Cheatin'" was a wish list of items needed, including curtains, a sound system, stage lighting, air conditioning, furniture and carpeting.
But no one is in despair; Des Jardins said a donor has committed to the purchase of the new curtains and she hopes to have them hung before October. And just this week, she said, another donor committed to a considerable contribution to the building fund. She believes this new funding will help pay for electrical work recently completed that will enable the troupe to use WAPA three-phase power for the stage lights. Until now, CCT has been using a large generator on loan from Hovensa and Anthony Crane International for the lighting.
Des Jardins said the problem with the company's previous home at the Sidney Lee Theater was that CCT could not get a long-term lease from Island Center. At its new home, the troupe has not only a long-term lease but air conditioning and much more room.
And More to Come
Des Jardins sees something special coming for the winter season. Her friend Marsha Munchez, who has directed several plays written by black women, will this year direct "Real Women Have Curves" — an award-winning play by Mexican-American playwright Josefina Lopez.
In addition, Des Jardins said, "We are constantly looking for new plays, new themes, new writers, different angles, interesting stories. And the search is never-ending."
Several members of the troupe went to New York last year and attended a play on Broadway. Des Jardins said the experience "reaffirmed that we are producing good-quality theater for St. Croix audiences."
Many of CCT's members and others who have attended its productions over the years would say there was no need to go to New York for that reaffirmation: The productions are affirmation enough that the company is producing good-quality theater.

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