Little Ole Opry History
The history of Little Ole Opry 1982 n- 1984 as written by Martha Houghton.
Little Theatre on the Bay “LTOB” was founded on August 2, 1948, at the home of Eleanor Shank in Coos Bay, Oregon. This initial group of ten developed the charter. Although loosely organized the year before to perform live radio plays on station KOOS, the first big public meeting was held August 14, 1948, at which 44 people attended. The charter was closed October 28 of that same year, and LTOB listed 76 names as “charter members.” Eleanor Shank was elected President for the first year, with Leonard Love as Vice President. The organizational setup included a nine-man board of directors: President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Business Manager, House Manager, Stage Producer, Radio Producer, and Educational Director. Board members were chosen by a popular vote of the membership, and those elected balloted among themselves to assign board positions. It was noted that all profit gained through stage productions is kept in a special “building fund,” and no member is ever paid for any work they do in connection with the Little Theatre on the Bay. (1)
LTOB started acting in various venues around the Bay Area, wherever they could find available space. They met at a bowling alley, the North Bend airport gym, the IWA hall, as well as the auditorium at Marshfield High School, before settling mainly at the I.O.O.F Hall across from the Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay, where they had one of the few revolving stages in the country owned by a little theatre group, and the largest one in Oregon.
The first stage show was “Meet the Wife,” in December of 1948. Early the following year they produced “The Drunkard,” a smash hit which played for three nights to a total of 3,000 people. The season included “Arsenic & Old Lace,” “The Late Christopher Bean,” were performed, and finished with “Stepping Sisters,” in December, 1949. It was decided that one play each season would be a melodrama, including Olios. Programs were printed for each performance, and used advertising to help defray cost. For example, the Chandler Hotel was billed as saying “We pride ourselves on being chosen as the “Stage Door Café” by Little Theater members.
In 1950, they developed a year-end celebration called the “Masque Awards” which they patterned after the Oscars in Hollywood, to acknowledge outstanding performances by an actor and actress.
During the 1951-52 year, six plays were produced, including the annual melodrama, and this pattern continued for years.
Readings of plays were held at the I.O.O.F Hall in 1953, and the membership pool was about 60. At that time, dues were $5 for the year, which included a ticket to every stage production.
Roy R. Scheider was a lieutenant in the Air Force in 1955 when he began acting with the LTOB group. He directed and played a leading role in Gore Vidal’s “Visit to a Small Planet” in mid-December, 1958. This was a foray into cabaret-style theater, with performances at Fritz’s Coffee house on South Broadway in Coos Bay. The show was to be a fundraiser for a new building. Fritz’s banquet annex was located next to the Embaco bowling alley, 347 S. Broadway in Coos Bay. Cocktail hour was held before the show, and a buffet dinner for $1.50.
He also worked on set construction. For his entire two and a half years while stationed at Hauser AFB, Scheider participated in every LTOB production, including direction of three. His discharge from the Air Force would happen in February 1959, and he planned to return to New York to pursue a stage career. In an interview with The World newspaper, he commented, “It’s been a blessing to me,” enthused the New Yorker. “I don’t know what I would have done here without the Little Theater.” He paid particular tribute to Joe Kelly, “from whom I learned more than anyone, especially about comedy.” It was a time of crossroads for LTOB, having $3000 in the bank, but needing a new place to perform, and needing more money and volunteers to put a plan into action. Scheider raised some ire with the board when he mentioned that apathy among the local community. “I’d like to leave here knowing that Little Theater will go on-but I have my doubts. Since we lost our theater, some of the so-called loyalists have abandoned us like a sinking ship. Now we have just a nucleus left. Many people lack the creative urge…they’re too lazy to leave television and other passive entertainment for something active. But participating is a lot more fun. Playing various roles, I’ve gotten insights into personalities I might never have been able to understand or sympathize with.” Scheider felt that theater must appeal to the masses. “For one thing, there’s not enough of the upper crust. We should keep the price low, advertize in the mills as well as in the Hub (a local department store).” His remedy for the theater was to increase the membership and take a chance-go with Kraus’ offer of a building at the new shopping center, which would become Pony Village. Scheider later went to Hollywood and starred in “All That Jazz,” “The French Connection,” and as the police chief in Stephen Spielberg’s “Jaws”, “Jaws II,” among other things. He also had a long television career, and was nominated for two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA.
Eleanor Shank, one of the founders of LTOB, owned the I.O.O.F. building in Coos Bay where the group performed many plays, but in March, 1958, they planned their last performance there. It was called “Ladies in Retirement,” and directed by Roy Scheider. According articles in the local newspaper The World at the time, they lost this venue because city regulations found it wanting in terms of theater safety. The group looked around Coos Bay, but none of the available parcels were adequate. Shank remarked, “If the Coos Bay City Council could have seen past the ends of their noses, they would have seen to it that a piece of land was made available to a group that could only better a community.”
Regarding an apathetic community, she remarked, “The Little Theater existed some eight years before Lt Scheider came here. It will exist after he leaves. His contribution has been valuable. But so have the contributions of many others who preceded him. Twas always thus about the apathetic condition of the average theater community, where many of the town’s population fail to appreciate the so-called finer things of life such as the arts. Many people who form and participate in a community theater are trying to bring something into an area lacking in such resources.” She concluded her statement by saying, “So there is definitely no apathy, at least within the original founder of Little Theater-me. And as long as I live here, Little Theater will not dissolve into ‘nothingness’.”
Despite the verbal sparring, they completed their season with two shows-a dance and revue were held on May 3, 1958, at the IWA Hall for one night only, so season ticket holders were cautioned to plan to use their third punch on their ticket on that night, and a play “Solid Gold Cadillac,” at Marshfield High School.
The group was determined to find a ground-floor building that would be more suitable to patrons. In October they were going to celebrate their 10th anniversary, and were hoping to have a home by then.
The nine-member board of directors of the theatre group, including President Connie Moe, met during the summer of 1958 to discuss a permanent home. In September, they agreed unanimously to accept land offered by Walter Kraus, who owned land in North Bend near Pony Slough where he was going to build a shopping center. The theatre building would also be used as a community meeting hall. They divided up board responsibilities for pursing their goal of a new theatre, including lobby, revolving stage, and seating for 350 persons. The selling of life memberships was discussed to help finance the building.
But in early 1959, the vision for a new building changed again. Foster and Stanley McSwain, operators of the Liberty (which was closed at the time,) offered use of that space for a small lease. The Liberty had closed in 1953 when a more modern building, called the “Port” was opened a few blocks away. This new theater was able to show wide screen movies in formats such as “VistaVision.” In April, work parties made up of LTOB members began cleaning the Liberty and preparing it for use. Board members noted that “the building is acoustically perfect and because of its central location and large seating capacity it will be a valuable asset for forthcoming productions.”
The first theatrical production in the Liberty was “The Tender Trap,” directed by Hope Cahill, on June 19, 1959. All service men (along with their dates) were invited to attend dress rehearsal on two nights preceding the opening. It was mentioned that this play was a “Little Theater” production, at the Liberty Theater in North Bend.
“Anything Goes,” was the first big musical produced at the Liberty, in 1960. Directed by Hope Cahill, it featured a cast of 50 actors, singers and dancers, and a full orchestra.
There have been differing patterns of providing entertainment to the North Bend community, (extending geographically from the city of Florence to the north, Roseburg to the east, and Brookings to the south.) The current pattern has been the Little Ole Opry variety show for four weekends in the summer, a drama or comedy in the autumn, Little Ole Christmas Opry in December, another drama/comedy in February, and a musical with an orchestra in the spring.
A complete “fly loft,” planned by George Stout and installed in March 1961, enabled them to produce plays of differing kinds. Now scenery would be raised or lowered at will, on stage, to change scenes completely and rapidly. Stout also expanded the lighting system to produce a wide variety of stage effects and illusions, and improved the sound equipment, gaining more sound-effects flexibility.
The under-stage dressing rooms were remodeled in 1961 to better accommodate large casts of shows. They added a circular staircase, modern lighting and dressing tables. A large project, all done by theatre volunteers,, with the help of donations from Bay Area businesses.
A 1963 program states that smoking is allowed “only in the lobby or the restrooms on the mezzanine floor.”
LTOB purchased the building from the Banks/Jack Granger family on February 19, 1975. During the next few years, extensive renovations were made to the building, including remodeling the balcony, ticket booth, green room, dressing areas, costume room, sound booth, and light booth,. The Moorish domes were removed in 1974 because of roof leakage. Two lots to the south of the theatre were subsequently purchased from the Granger family in 1980. Both the building and the lots were paid off in May, 1995. LTOB is debt free, and only the second owner of this building.
We are grateful to our patrons, local businesses, and donors for contributions made throughout the years, allowing us to continue providing quality entertainment in such an historic venue.