Franklin Civic Operetta Association Beginnings

In 1959 a group of seven energetic and brave citizens, interested in improving the cultural status of the Franklin Area and to encourage music and drama appreciation through training and participation of area residents of all ages in the various phases and aspects of theatrical production, organized the Franklin Civic Operetta Association. This group consisted of Jack Harter, Marian J. Hoffman, Mrs. Lewis Judson, Mayor Guy Mammolite, Plumer McClintock, Frank O’Neil, and Roy Wolfe.

Civic’s first stage was located on a cement slab which originally was a base for one of the large oil tanks of the former Atlantic Refinery located on Route 8 North about 1 mile from Franklin. This outdoor theatre served Civic for two years, after which operations were moved to George Shaw’s Red Barn on Route 322, Victory Heights, where productions were staged until 1965 when road construction widening of Route 322 necessitated a move to the new Franklin Area High School Auditorium. Today’s home is the beautiful Barrow-Civic Theatre located in downtown Franklin at 1223 Liberty Street.

One of the goals of the founding Civic members was for the association to own their own theatre space. This goal was always in the forefront as the Franklin High School, the old Voyager Inn and the Franklin Club joined the list of hallowed Civic venues.

A Permanent Theatre

The year 1989 saw the light shine on that goal. The former Kayton Theatre came up on the auction block and the Civic members saw an opportunity which could not be passed up. Board Chair Mary Ann Richardson, a Civic member since 1960, led the decision to pursue purchasing the Kayton and turning it into a home for Civic. In a matter of six weeks, the Board of Directors raised $15,000 through personal contacts, and armed with the money in the bank, purchased the Kayton at the tax auction.

Civic now owned a theatre but in what state? Dilapidated, stripped of seats and lights, and roof falling in, the challenge facing Civic was enormous. Then in 1991, provenance shined on Civic through the generosity of Franklin native Charles A. Barrow. Living in Arizona, Mr. Barrow contacted local resident Lucille F. Hirsch asking her advice on what worthy cause he could contribute to in his hometown. In the course of a conversation, Civic’s theatre endeavor came up. After long discussions and plan sharing, Civic was informed that Mr. Barrow would make a gift of 1.75 million dollars to the project.

Civic sprung into action, hiring contractors and architects to design and build the new theatre. The Kiwanis Club of Franklin donated monies towards new seats and a new marquee. Another Civic campaign was launched to raise the rest of the needed monies for a project totaling over two million dollars. Reconstruction began on the newly renamed Barrow-Civic Theatre in October 1992, under the supervision of Toby Saltarelli.

August 14, 1993 was a thrilling night as Civic formally dedicated the new Barrow-Civic Theatre. With special guests Charles Barrow, Lucille Hirsch, and many others who contributed to the success of the theatre, Franklin Civic presented the musical 1776, highlighting not only the birth of a nation but also the birth of a theatre.

Since the turn of the century, FCOA and the Barrow-Civic have seen activity increase on stage. The Barrow-Civic has played host to professional operas and touring companies, singers and songwriters, and a wide variety of acts, shows, and performers. The Three Irish Tenors, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the Elks Vegas Show, and Menopause highlight just a few of the many professional touring groups which have graced the stage in Franklin.

Franklin Civic also has further developed their Little Theatre program to include one-acts and monologues, old time radio show theatre, and seasonal holiday shows. The FCOA Youth Theatre presents an opportunity for local youth to participate in shows and learn not only acting skills, but technical and program skills through the Youth Theatre Camp. The BCT Old Radio Show Troupe welcomes all who are interesting preserving the history of old-time radio shows by performing several times a year in the Little Theatre.

Continued Growth

Many of the big Broadway musical hits including OKLAHOMA, BYE BYE BIRDIE, SHOWBOAT, MY FAIR LADY, SOUND OF MUSIC, CABARET, OLIVER, and MUSIC MAN, to name a few, have been produced by the Operetta Association. Since the opening of the Barrow-Civic Theatre in 1993 Civic has also produced many fine dramas and comedies such as TEN LITTLE INDIANS, AH WILDERNESS, INHERIT THE WIND, NOISES OFF and GLASS MENAGERIE to name a few.

Much fine talent has been uncovered in the area and afforded an opportunity to display that talent, as well as learning many other aspects of theatre production under professional guidance and instruction. Many of the players double in the construction and painting of sets, handling of special lighting effects, designing and making costumes, etc. An average musical production involves about 50-70 people, including technical, stage and orchestra personnel.

Until recent years, much of Civic’s activity had been confined to the summer months when the college students were home, since they depended heavily upon that age group for talent and participation. Today, Civic’s season is year round.

It’s been a long trip from the slab of concrete stage on Route 8 to the stage of the Barrow-Civic Theatre, a state of the art entertainment complex. Franklin Civic Operetta Association’s mission remains strong and clear: to provide leadership and education in cultural development and performing arts to the region, striving to create a legacy of quality entertainment by tapping the resources of all age groups, and encouraging the pursuit of artistic talents.