by Rob Crouse, Founder and Board Member, Capital City Productions; Photos provided by Capital City Productions
When local theatre director and actor Rob Crouse visited his friend Tom Simon, co-owner of the Jefferson City Ramada Inn, he had no money and a big dream—presenting a dinner theatre production. Crouse had no idea that 30 years later, his dream would have been embraced by thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of audience members in one of only three year-round dinner theatre experiences in the state of Missouri.
In January 1991 the newly named not-for-profit theatre company Capital City Players began performing one to two Broadway musicals every year in the banquet room of the Ramada Inn. These labor intensive performances required setting up a stage, lights, and sound a week before every production opened along with the weeks of rehearsals the shows required.
During the middle of these Ramada years, when the group performing Shakespeare in the Park disbanded, CCP assumed this role in partnership with Jefferson City Parks and Recreation, presenting these summer stage productions for the next seven years.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2006, after an evening of dinner and a conversation with the owner of Tonanzio’s Restaurant in nearby Guthrie, Missouri, Crouse came up with the idea of replicating a summer stock experience for a small group of CCP actors and technicians. With the help of CCP family members Branden and Stephanie Bise, Tom and Michelle Baker, and Kip Neblett, Crouse was able to convert the restaurant into a dinner theatre environment and bring in a small group of additional CCP actors to do two summer theatre productions. The success of that venture convinced Crouse that CCP had developed a large enough following to produce their own shows.
After much searching, Crouse discovered the empty and neglected Shikles Auditorium as the perfect new home for CCP, and Bill Lockwood, Director of Jefferson City Parks and Recreation, the organization that was subleasing the space, agreed to a rental.
However, raising the money to renovate the space and buy the equipment for the dinner theatre was not as easy as Crouse had hoped. When only Central Bank and Fab Building Center stepped up as major donors, Crouse’s late wife, Chris, agreed to let him take a $40,000 second mortgage on their house to open the theatre.
The new CCP dinner theatre opened with the daring Broadway hit, “The Full Monty,” in January 2007. In spite of several ice storm cancellations, the show was highly successful, and the CCP dinner theatre experience of presenting Broadway musicals and plays to Central Missouri year-round took off.
Gradually, the work of holding a full-time job and running a year-round dinner theatre took its toll on Crouse’s health. Fortunately, in July 2016, Nate Grey, who had moved back to Jefferson City and become involved with CCP; Luann Madsen, one of the original CCP family members; and a small group of the CCP family, came to the rescue and agreed to assume the financial and administrative responsibilities of running the theatre so Crouse could have the major back surgery and knee replacements he so desperately needed.
Under the visionary leadership of Nate Grey, CCP greatly expanded its mission, adding children’s theatre camps, professional artist performances, acting and technical workshops, a scholarship program, partnership productions with the local Boys and Girls Club and Blair Oaks High School, and a new Pay It Forward program, which allows CCP to raise money for another worthy not-for-profit organization at each production. The much-enhanced (or revitalized?) new mission demanded a new name. Capital City Players became Capital City Productions.
But this was far from the last big bumps in the road for CCP. During the summer of 2018, the Jefferson City Housing Authority (who owned of Shikles Auditorium) unexpectedly announced their intention to sell the space. In spite of CCP’s repeated attempts to reach a cooperate agreement, the building was sold, and CCP was given a year to find a new home.
After looking at the limited spaces available that might work for most of the next year, CCP was blessed to finally find a much larger and more exciting theatre space at 719 Wicker Lane and entered into long-term agreement with the owners Butzer, Inc.
With the financial support of major donors, Central Bank, Jefferson Bank, and Hawthorn Bank and other loyal CCP supporters and the hard work of so many others, CCP was able to create a much more grandiose stage and auditorium space. Additionally, they were afforded a larger lobby and rest rooms, a shop for building, dressing rooms, costume room, props room, make up room, tech booth, and office.
Yet the trials and tribulations of CCP were far from over. Just as the new theatre was ready to open with a sold-out production of “The Bodyguard,” Covid-19 struck and the theatre had to refund thousands of dollars.
But thanks to the implementation of strict health protocols and its large socially distanced space, unlike many theatres, CCP has been able to survive that crisis and finally open to perform productions with limited capacity audiences.
On February 18, 2021, in the company of Mayor Carrie Tergin and Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce members, the CCP family officially cut the ribbon on their new theatre complex. This new beautiful space not only offers an exciting home for all of CCP’s productions and activities, but is a wonderful new event space available to rent for wedding receptions, parties, and club and business luncheons and meetings.
What started out as one man’s dream has emerged from 30 years of struggles and triumphs to become one of the most valuable entertainment and community assets and tourism attractions of Central Missouri, drawing regular tour bus excursions and audience members from not only all over Missouri but visitors from other states. CCP has been named the “Best Live Theatre” venue in Missouri for the past two years in the Missouri’s Best competition.
The hospitality of CCP reaches far. Its “Pay-It-Forward” program has raised more than $80,000 dollars for over 75 other local charitable organizations in the program’s short existence. Its media posts reach 80,000 people, and 8,000 subscribe to CCP’s email news.
To learn more about CCP’s coming events and how to support its activities, individuals can go to www.ccpjc.org.
Capital City Productions looks forward to 30 more years of living up to its motto—”putting community back into community theatre… one special moment at a time.”