Nuggets of History A History of Live Theater in Cottage Grove (Part I)

Once referred to as the theater that shouldn’t be, the Cottage Theatre’s history has many stories to share.

The Cottage Theatre’s first show was performed under a large tent in the middle of a field. But the idea was conceived nine months prior as a group of citizens were chatting after the January Chamber of Commerce Banquet at the Village Green.

This “half-serious suggestion” moved forward rather quickly forming a board and establishing as a non-profit by the end of May. All the typical tasks had to be handled like appointing positions, writing bylaws and establishing goals and a mission. At the same time, volunteers had to pick a play, find actors, rehearse, make costumes, and build props.

That very first performance, yes the one in the tent, was Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water, directed by David Colton. While it was well received, the fact that it was performed in September proved to be troublesome as a significant rainstorm disrupted the final performance.

For a year, the shows continued as the group found locations willing to host plays. One newspaper stated that some plays were held in the loft at the Village Green Resort. The Cottage Theatre website added details of performances also being held in the Odd Fellows building on Main Street.

A year after the first performance, the theater found a building to call home. A small structure once used as a church and then a health food store would serve as our local theater for fifteen years. The first play performed in the new building was Blithe Spirit. 

In those fifteen years, the building was upgraded and added to, but remained a small venue never exceeding 72 seats. Patrons who visited the restroom were asked not to flush during performances as it would disrupt the players. Performers had to dress in borrowed trailers.

One charming story that is quintessential Cottage Grove tells of one performance in which a local car dealership loaned a truck for use as a dressing room. A sheet was hung down the middle to separate the male and female performers. As luck would have it, halfway through the run the dealership sold the truck and drove it off. One can picture actors dashing out of the side door into the rain for a quick costume change only to see a glimpse of the dressing room truck driving away with the sheet flapping out of the back.

Part II of this look at the history of theater in Cottage Grove will continue in the next issue of The Sentinel.


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