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

A sketch of the proposed design for the Cottage Theatre.

Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a two-part series looking at the history of the Cottage Theatre. Part I can be found in the April 21, 2022, issue of The Sentinel.

While reviews were not always rave, throughout the 15 years, one key thought was repeated often: it was quaint, cozy and well loved by actors and audiences alike. It may not have been much, but it was ours, in a collective sense of community. The theater was regularly bustling with activity as performances came and went and audiences laughed, cried and escaped the outside world for a few precious hours.

In 1994, property values increased as Walmart entered the area. Aware that the lease would end in 1997, the theater board became concerned about finances.

An audacious plan for a new building was developed and fundraising began. The community raised money and various funders supported the effort. The Woodard family provided a generous 40-year lease on a piece of property and builders began constructing a new state-of-the-art facility.

The final play at the Thorton Lane facility was A Christmas Carol in Dec. 1997. The current theater opened its 125-seat facility in July of 1998 with a run of the play “You Can’t Take It With You.” The official opening Gala would not occur until September’s run of “City of Angels”.

The opening of this theater was met with much praise, including the following quote from Shelly Davey the General Manager at the time of the transition:

“Now, sets are built in a shop west of the stage. Actors prepare to perform in two large dressing rooms, complete with their own bathrooms behind the stage. A light booth perches at the back of the theater with two portholes for spotlights. The stage’s floor hides four trap doors for special effects and other theater magic. Monitors backstage and in the green room show actors what’s happening on stage while they wait in the wings. And large metal roll-away doors – most notably, one in an upstairs storage area – allow artisans to hoist sets and large props about the theater with ease. Also on stage a secondary platform fills the orchestra pit allowing actors to walk into the audience, to get right in their faces. Scenes and lights can be hung from railings towering above the stage. Carpeting is plush. Ceilings are high.”

An expansion project in 2006 is the last time significant changes have been made with an increase to the lobby size and bathrooms as well as a 1,700 square foot annex.

Now, sixteen years later, we are ready to see the next step in the life of the Cottage Theatre. A large renovation project has just wrapped up. We can enjoy changes including increased seating, new lobby and improved technology. Architects’ renderings can be seen on the theater’s website.

Our community theater has been here for 40 years and has continued to grow and expand. From the first performance in a rustic open-sided tent to 15 years in a quaint 1,500-square-foot building and now 24 years in a modern fully outfitted theater, one thing is certain — the new improvements will add another performance to this long running act.

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