History

The Court House Players is a non-profit community theater group serving the tri-county area of Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex for over four decades. The group has been designated a 501(c) corporation by the IRS since 1994.

In 1979, four couples interested in theater put their heads together and decided to try and organize a theater group. This was the first, and to this date, the only such organization in the tri-county area.

Questions as to the nature of the group, the kind of productions the group would attempt, how to fund the plays, and whether it would be a resident company or community theater all resonated throughout the meetings, and soon the attrition began. Through all this, one couple, Dick and Meryl Lusher, kept a solid vision for the direction of the group.

In 1980, the group mounted its first production, but few residents in the area had ever seen a live stage production. So their potential audience stayed home in droves in spite of the fact that the show, "Barefoot in the Park," was critically acclaimed: "If these are the new kids on the block, other area groups had better watch out."

The show traveled from Gloucester to Mathews to Middlesex on succeeding weekends, and on many evenings the cast and crew outnumbered the audience. It quickly became apparent that efforts to reach the maximum potential audience were not working. Feeling totally rejected, they all took a hiatus to decide whether or not this was something the community even wanted. But requests for more came from those who had seen the shows, and it began again, this time with one specific location, and for one weekend only.

The first real breakthrough came in 1985 with a Puller Center benefit production of "South Pacific" in the impressive Gloucester High School auditorium. The show played one three-day weekend to an audience estimated at 1,200. Over $9,000 was raised for the Puller Center. Audiences from then on doubled, and CHP actually began to pay for the shows with the ticket receipts.

In 2001, a need for more youth involvement was discussed and a Youth Theater committee was formed. Its primary goal was to inspire a respect for live theater and attract local youth. This goal was to be reached by mentoring new young members in both behind-the-scenes and front-of-the-curtain practices during a live theater production. This was done in the hope that they would continue to participate in CHP's future endeavors. These cast members had the benefit of working with more experienced performers in musical and straight play productions. This was the beginning of CHP's sponsorship of the Missoula Children's Theatre week-long theater camps.

In 2002, the Court House Players performed "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat" - our first performance in the newly constructed 700-seat Harry M. Ward Auditorium at Mathews High School. The total audience was over 2,000. CHP had helped with the design of the facility and was a major contributor to its funding, generating nearly $20,000 with "A Generation Celebration," a musical revue and silent auction, in 2001.

In its long history, Court House Players has performed over 130 shows, ranging from Pulitzer prize winners to comedies to children's theater and major musicals, and we have sponsored 50 Missoula Children's Theatre productions. We have had over two dozen different directors and thousands of participants - all volunteers. CHP has played to over 100,000 people who have hailed from all along the East Coast.

To accomplish all of this, CHP has used 30 different venues (schools, churches, meeting halls, court rooms, yacht clubs, and restaurants) and living rooms, back porches or even vacant store fronts for rehearsal space. The group was able to find all of these unique and diverse performance and rehearsal spaces, but also needed a place to build sets and store set pieces and costumes. For years, we painted sets beside the cows and bulls in a pasture at an estate in Ware Neck and stored set pieces in the barn and tack room.

In June of 1996, a former meeting hall building, on a small piece of land in the Misti Cove community of Mathews, was donated to the Court House Players. The group considered its potential as a theater, but finally decided that it was more appropriate as a storage facility for sets, props and costumes.

Subsequently, CHP set its sights on a piece of land a little over six acres adjacent to Fort Nonsense at the corner of Routes 3 and 14. The property was in a central location at the Gloucester-Mathews line and convenient to Middlesex. The Court House Players finally purchased the property in November 2002 and the dream of a performing arts center, "a home of our own", finally had the potential to become reality.

In 2017, CHP sold the Misti Cove property and built a new building on the land at Fort Nonsense. The 3,100-square-foot structure houses everything from platforms to props, lighting to costumes, and provides a central location for the construction and painting of sets.

Throughout CHP's first 25 years, Dick and Meryl Lusher remained at the helm, with Dick directing and training the next generation in all aspects of theater. If "all the World's a stage," then Dick Lusher took his final bow on March 24, 2005. He was able to fulfill his dream of a successful community theater group, but did not live to see his dream of a home for his extended family of thespians become a reality.