Brush Creek Players: Celebrating 40 years of live, local theater

November 2016 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Business, Community
Cofounder Shannon Copeland, President Norman Gouveia and Co-Volunteer of the Year Frank Bartruff on stage at the Playhouse.

Cofounder Shannon Copeland, President Norman Gouveia and Co-Volunteer of the Year Frank Bartruff on stage at the Playhouse.

By Nancy Jennings

Some things are hidden in plain sight.

Silverton’s Brush Creek Playhouse is anything but hidden – or plain. The bright red 1895 schoolhouse and grange hall grabs your eye as you drive past the intersection of Silverton Road and Brush Creek Drive.

Originally painted white, the bright color change was sparked by the desire to “get back to the original look of the little red schoolhouse,” Co-founder Shannon Copeland said.

The now 88-seat theater serves The Brush Creek Players, who will be celebrating their 40th anniversary this year.

The Brush Creek Players is an all-volunteer, non-profit group working to present quality plays to the greater Silverton, Salem and Mount Angel communities.

Blending the old with the new, the theater seats came from a church in Crabtree, Ore., roughly 30 years ago – and air conditioning was installed in 2014.

Norman Gouveia, 70, is the current president, as well as an actor and director. His term expires on Dec. 31. Starting at the playhouse in 1985, his specialty has been writing and directing the melodramas.

Gouveia met Copeland, 72, in 1965, when they were students at Mount Angel College.

At 19, Gouveia set his sights on becoming a history teacher. He sang in the chorus and acted in stage plays now and then for fun. What led him to his true calling? 

“Girls,” he said.

“I was walking down the hall at Mount Angel College, and these two girls I knew asked me if I had all of my classes. They said ‘well, we could use some guys in theater.’ With raging hormones, I said ‘Sure.’ So I changed my major from history to theater,” he chuckled.

Copeland’s father was an English teacher and was required to put on at least one play per year as part of his curriculum. So Copeland performed in grade school and high school plays and found himself following the acting bug through college with Gouveia.

Copeland helped write some of the dialogue for the melodrama Love in the Cucumber Patch, which debuted this past summer.

Where does draw on for inspiration?

“Geography,” Copeland deadpanned.

Also a board member at large, Copeland recalled the theater’s beginnings.

“We started in the early ‘70s as the Silverton Community Players.”

In 1978, the Brush Creek Farmers Association donated the building and the acre of land to the acting group.  They then renamed themselves the Brush Creek Players.

There’s nothing logical or scientific about how plays are selected.

Brush Creek 2016-17 season
The Brush Creek Playhouse
11535 Silverton Road, Silverton

“We go by tea leaves,” Norman joked. “Every year around May we put out the word at the board meetings that it’s time to think about the next season. We all start throwing ideas around and look at the directing talent and go from there.”

Plays run from 90 minutes to just over two hours. Each performance has a drawing during intermission. Two or three winners are drawn and can pick their prize from among a pile of donated items from local shops. Everybody on the board is required to put in their time for one show by greeting the audience, taking tickets and serving snacks and drinks. Fresh popcorn is a staple.

Michael Wood, 55, is the current treasurer. He’s been active in the theater for just over 10 years.

“The first production I was in was in 2006. It was A Man for all Seasons directed by Norman.

“Right before that, my daughter Emily was in the children’s show, Winnie the Pooh.”

Linda Zellner, current secretary, has been in charge of the children’s plays for more than 20 years.

Emily Wood, 19, is the new president-elect for the 2017 season. She and her father co-wrote The Mystery of the Kitchen Table in 2014.

Michael Wood said writing a play can take up to 30-40 hours plus rewriting time. “Once it’s flowing, the words and dialogue come readily.”

He believes we all have a reserve ability to act deep within us.

In 2014 the playhouse was hit with the theft of $45,000 by a former treasurer. An anonymous donor stepped up with $10,000 to help, and other community donations followed. The Oregon Cultural Trust assisted as well. The shows were able to go on, bringing the group “out of the red and into the black,” Gouveia said.

“Michael Wood found the discrepancies. The person involved was a trusted member of our theater community and it was tough to swallow. We got justice there,” Gouveia said.

“We are probably in as good of financial shape as we have been for decades. Frankly, that’s because of the support we have gotten from the community for the last five years. We had some tough stretches, but we’ve turned around and we’re very excited about what the next five years hold,” Wood said.

This year’s co-volunteer of the year Frank Bartruff, 74, has helped at the playhouse for nearly two years, building and painting sets and in the box office. “I started out mowing the field. I hadn’t been to a play here in years. I fell in love with the place.”

The board encourages community members to discover the talent and fun at the Brush Creek Theater.

“Come out and enjoy the show. If you’re creative, there’s always room for actors and actresses, backstage people, sound effects and lighting,” Gouveia said. “Our goal is to attract talent that wants to be part of a live theater experience.”

Wood added, “At every show we have somebody who says ‘you know, I’ve been driving by this for years and I finally decided to stop.’”

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