Barnstable Comedy Club theater invites community to its 100th birthday party

·5 min read

Barnstable Village will be the site for celebration this weekend, as the Barnstable Comedy Club theater commemorates its 100th anniversary year with a big party at its longtime home.

The public is invited to join the centennial event from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20 at Village Hall, which will offer guests entertainment, refreshments, sales of specialty items and a silent auction, as well as displays of theatrical memorabilia that commemorate the BCC’s storied history of community theater.

A scene from a 1967 production of "The Fantasticks" at Barnstable Comedy Club. The actors have not been identified.
A scene from a 1967 production of "The Fantasticks" at Barnstable Comedy Club. The actors have not been identified.

Among the slate of performers will be young cast members who took part in this summer’s “Kids on Broadway” workshops held at the comedy club, performing excerpts from their “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” show. Jim Ruberti, a local comedian and longtime BCC supporter, will present his “sit down stand-up” comedy. And there’ll be a sneak preview of numbers from the musical “Rock of Ages,” the theater group’s fall season opener.

The auction will include a framed and signed poster by author/artist Edward Gorey, original art and prints, jewelry, and gift cards and baskets from a wide range of local merchants and organizations, according to Ann Ring, the club’s business manager.

Reviews: A murderer, a kids' rock band & more: What our critics say about 5 Cape Cod theater shows

Putting the event together took “a great group of people doing amazing things,” says Cissy George, chairperson of the centennial committee and a new board member.

A 1950 production of the play "Arsenic and Old Lace" at Barnstable Comedy Club. The actors have not been identified.
A 1950 production of the play "Arsenic and Old Lace" at Barnstable Comedy Club. The actors have not been identified.

During the party, organizers say, there will be a presentation of a State of Massachusetts centennial citation recognizing the BCC’s many theatrical contributions over the years.

100 years of theater

Archival information shows the Barnstable Comedy Club began as a local theater troupe around 1913, rehearsing in the Old Barnstable Inn, where the Barnstable Tavern now stands. The group’s first stage play displaying the comedy club moniker on tickets was Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan” in 1922, with a reserved ticket price of 75 cents. The troupe then performed at the newly constructed Village Hall, which opened in 1912 to much fanfare, with guests such as famed author Joseph A. Lincoln in attendance.

One hundred years later, the oldest live community theater on Cape Cod and one of the oldest amateur theater groups in the country is still going strong, in the same Village Hall — which the BCC purchased in 1961 from original owners the Barnstable Women’s Club. The venue, which has kept its designation as the Village Hall, has remained a familiar institution, hosting community activities throughout the years.

The Village Hall on Route 6A in Barnstable from the early 1920s when it became home to Barnstable Comedy Club theatrical productions.
The Village Hall on Route 6A in Barnstable from the early 1920s when it became home to Barnstable Comedy Club theatrical productions.

The comedy club’s story is dotted with well-known characters and events. Among the best known might be late writer Kurt Vonnegut’s involvement with the group. Vonnegut and his family lived on Cape Cod in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the famed author worked on many BCC productions – mainly behind the scenes – briefly becoming the club’s president in the early 1960s. Vonnegut’s daughter, Edith, an artist who still lives in Barnstable, will be one of the guests at the centennial event, and organizers hint that her father’s many contributions will be remembered at the party during the singing of “Happy Birthday.” Kurt Vonnegut, too, would have turned 100 this year.

World premiere: New play explores love between a Whydah pirate and Wellfleet 'witch' + 6 more shows at Cape Cod theaters

According to George, the word “comedy” in the BCC’s original name defined a wide range of dramatic theater performed in that era. Over the years, she says, the Barnstable Comedy Club has been dedicated first and foremost to presenting “community theater,” and over the past century has mounted more than 284 productions. Those have ranged from dramas like “The Caine Mutiny,” “The Lion in Winter” and “Death of a Salesman” to lighter musicals and comedies including “Anything Goes,” “Calendar Girls,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “South Pacific.”

A complete listing of all BCC performances since 1922 can be found on the club’s website, www.barnstablecomedyclub.org.

Creating good memories

The productions have included all ages, and are sometimes a family activity. Sonia Schonning, who has been involved there since 2013 and will be directing “Rock of Ages,” says the BCC is “home” as the first theater that welcomed her, where she has made “forever theater friends” and where she has shared the stage with her husband and daughters in multiple shows. “The only greater thrill (than) being on stage is watching your children shine with confidence because of the gift of theater,” she wrote in a reminiscence.

From the 2015 Barnstable Comedy Club production of "South Pacific," clockwise from left, Sonia Schonning played a lieutenant), Addie Schonning played Liat, and Tala Schonning played Ngana.
From the 2015 Barnstable Comedy Club production of "South Pacific," clockwise from left, Sonia Schonning played a lieutenant), Addie Schonning played Liat, and Tala Schonning played Ngana.

The surname “George” appears frequently in the club annals. The current board president, Lloyd George (brother-in-law to Cissy), has Barnstable Comedy Club blood running in his veins: His father, Harold George, served as board president in the early 1960s and was active in acting, directing and stage manager roles.

Lloyd George recalls that as a youngster of about 12, he spent a lot of time around the theater with his family, and was often conscripted into cleanup and other duties. He and his buddies, he says, especially liked riding up and down in the dumbwaiter that once served the building’s entertainment and refreshment functions. (“A secret,” he says: “It still exists today!”)

As kids, he remembers, “We were always involved with activities at the club such as basketball games, square dancing ... and of course ballroom dancing lessons...” Of the dancing, he adds, “Most of the kids in the village participated … because their parents said they had to.”

In Truro: Drag ballet, tap and body rhythm: Provincetown Dance Festival expands to two weekends outdoors

His anecdote about the comedy club’s history is one of many being collected for printing  in an upcoming Centennial Yearbook that is due to be made available for purchase later in the year.

Lloyd George has recently become more involved himself in the BCC’s activities, assuming the position of board president in January. “I’ve followed in my father’s footsteps as president. Who would have ever foreseen this?” he adds. He calls the long-lived comedy club “a hidden gem.”

Celebrate Barnstable Comedy Club’s 100 years

When: 5 to 10 p.m. Aug. 20

Where: Village Hall, 3171 Route 6A, Barnstable Village

Admission: Free

Information: 508-362-6333, www.barnstablecomedyclub.org

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod theater: Barnstable Comedy Club holds 100th birthday party