The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 honors founders who were with the theatre from the beginning and even today continue to support all that La Crosse Community Theatre does.
First President of the Board
How it All Started
Sally Cremer has always loved the theatre. From Broadway to small town community productions, she loves them all. She and her family made many trips from La Crosse to Minneapolis to see shows at the Guthrie. Each time she thought how nice it would be to have great theatre closer to home, but she never thought of starting one.
That all changed in 1962 when Christ Episcopal Church held a “Review,” a-tongue-in-cheek history of entertainment in La Crosse, with Sally Cremer as the production.
“It was standing room only!” Sally says proudly, “The show was a huge success.”
That night, Arthur Hebberd approached Sally backstage and suggested that she start a community theatre in La Crosse. The rest is history. Sally recalls how it all unfolded:
“A day or two later I was visiting Dr. Fritz Midelfort and again the subject of starting a community theatre came up. He looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘Go for it!’ Allen Trane immediately said, ‘I’d like to help you with that!’ I respected their opinions, and four days later I gathered Allen Trane, Wilma Kennedy, Jane Conrad, David Marshall, and Signe Schroeder together to talk about possibilities.
We put an article in the La Crosse Tribune saying that we would be holding a meeting in the undercroft of Christ Episcopal Church for anyone who would like to be involved in a community theatre. I believe it was 1962, a January night of ten degrees below zero! We expected no one to show up. Over 100 people braved the cold to support La Crosse’s first community theatre! I was elected President.”
As founder and the first Board President of LCT, Sally spent the majority of her time in an administrative role. However, once she was off the Board, she joined the chorus line in the production of Guys and Dolls.
“That was the most fun I ever had in the theatre!” she exclaims.
Sally encourages anyone and everyone to get involved, even if performing on stage seems daunting.
“There is so much more to being part of the community theatre “family” than just acting!” she says, “A person may say they could never perform on stage, but there are so many facets of the theatre that offer opportunities for participation. Many volunteers started in one area and then found themselves on stage.”
A Lasting Love
She is proud of LCT and all that it has become.
“The greatest gift was the satisfaction of seeing what I had been part of starting survive and thrive on its own. What an honor for me to see how it has flourished. We began rehearsing in a church basement, performing on Longfellow Junior High School stage, to the theatre in the old Cavalier restaurant, to now having our own beautiful theatre building. That has been a thrill for me to experience over many years.”
At 90 years old, Sally still loves going to the theatre. Taking her great grandchildren to children’s theatre productions is top on the list.
“I think it is so important for children to be able to see live theatre.”
She recalls one of her favorite LCT experiences, Tent House Under the Stars, when LCT performed shows under a big top tent set up at the Mt. La Crosse ski area.
“I have fond memories of my daughters being able to help during summer productions with small roles, makeup, costumes, and being the page turner for the pianist’s music,” she says, “It was fun to share my love of community theatre with them.”
Thanks to Sally Cremer, La Crosse and the entire Coulee Region has been sharing her love of community theatre for over 50 years.
Donald and Barbara Frank
Patrons of Distinction
With their love and appreciation for the arts, this team became integral players in the creation of La Crosse Community Theatre. In the early 60’s, Barbara answered an open invitation to join an enthusiastic group of people that included Sally Cremer, Jerry Boge, and Julia Steinke Saterbak to establish a community theatre in La Crosse. Barbara was immediately drawn to the collaborative aspect.
“People working together can accomplish many good things,” she says, “and that was certainly true in La Crosse.”
An artist and painter, Barbara admits that she is not one to seek the limelight, preferring to help behind the scenes painting sets and sewing costumes.
Donald holds the distinction of acting in LCT’s first production, The Matchmaker, where he played a variety of small roles. He later played Sheriff Will in Bus Stop, a show he remembers fondly.
“Near the end of the play, the audience applauded as each of the actors exited for the last time. However, since I left first, no one clapped. That happened every night of the run! My ego was wounded, but at least we all got applause during the curtain call.”
The Importance of the Arts
The Franks strongly believe in the importance of nurturing the arts, as Barbara points out, “To nourish your psyche, enrich the community and to also have fun. Theatre lets you vicariously experience all kinds of things that help you grow.” Fifty plus years later, they continue to be active patron donors attending all LCT productions.
When asked what they cherish most about their LCT experiences, Barbara recalls the dedication and commitment of everyone involved.
“We started with high hopes, aware that sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t, but we made it happen. Today, after all these years, the Dream lives on. And here we are, bigger and better.”
Artist of Distinction
Colleen was only sixteen when she became involved with La Crosse Community Theatre. With her mother’s encouragement, she auditioned for LCT’s first production, The Matchmaker. She landed the role of Ermengarde, the love-struck teenage niece of Horace Vandergelder, and a star was born.
Over the years Colleen has created memorable performances in dozens of LCT shows including: Elma in Bus Stop; Joan of Arc in The Lark; Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore; and Aldonza/Dulcinea in Man of La Mancha.
Colleen recalls a humorous story about Man of La Mancha and Fiddler on the Roof auditions: “Arnold Johnson was the director and he expected the actors to come to auditions in costume. If your hair was not the right color for the character you had to wear a wig, even in rehearsal.”
Colleen also has fond memories of Bus Stop:
“We had an interesting, good cast. It was the first show where I was exposed to properties and serving food on stage. We used peaches for the eggs. The set had a large neon sign next to the entrance to the diner that was legible to the actors entering upstage that read “EATS”. It’s the little things that start the fascination.”
More than Just an Actress
Over the past fifty years, Colleen has worked with almost all of the directors at LCT. She has volunteered in every facet of theatre production and earned several Dionysos Awards for her work on and off the stage. She’s performed the duties of an actress, director, assistant director, and stage manager, but has also assisted with sets, costumes, makeup, properties, wardrobe, etc. She even served on the LCT Board in the nineties. During her tenure, she was instrumental in increasing the salary for the directing staff and in establishing the Studio Theatre.
Although she is probably best known for her work on the stage, Colleen says that the activity she most enjoyed was being an assistant director/stage manager.
“I learned sho much from the various directors, not just about directing, and just just in that job. I learned about casting, acting, blocking, and positioning actors to elicit the response you wanted. I remember Michael Thompson saying about community theatre, ‘You never precast a show, but you never choose a show you can’t cast.’ That is one of the most profound statements I have ever heard, and it has influenced me for many years.”
Allen Saterbak and Julia Steinke Saterbak
Artists of Distinction
For forty years the husband and wife acting team of Al Saterbak and Julia Steinke Saterbak were household names for anyone connected with theatre in La Crosse. Together, they volunteered thousands of hours onstage, backstage, offstage, and as patron donors for LCT. You might as well think of them as the Lunt and Fontanne of La Crosse
When Julia moved to La Crosse in 1960 to teach at UW-La Crosse, she was dismayed that there was no community theatre. She had been very active in Beloit Community Theatre and missed the creative outlet. So when the newly formed La Crosse Community Theatre announced auditions for their first play, The Matchmaker, Julia was eager to audition. Although she wasn’t cast initially, someone dropped out three weeks into rehearsal. The director wisely asked her to fill in, thus launching Julia’s long and illustrious career entertaining LCT audiences in twenty productions. While acting was her favorite way to volunteer with LCT, Julia also helped with costumes, set construction, and play reading. She served as LCT’s historian for 35 years, transforming a big box of jumbled news clippings, programs, and posters into the LCT archives that we continue to use today.
“There is something so special and creative and stimulating about going through the process of putting a play into a final production.” –Julia
Al had been involved in theatre in junior high and high school, so when he moved back to La Crosse in 1975, he immediately connected with LCT. He auditioned for his first show, Kismet, and was cast in the principle role of Hajj. Al went on to perform in eleven more LCT productions, portraying some of theatre’s most memorable characters, such as the King in The King and I and Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Al’s other volunteer activities include set construction, sound technician, and director for The Pajama Game.
“Nobody likes auditions, and sometimes it is scary to be on stage, but every member of every cast and crew, and every member of the audience will support your efforts.” –Al
Michael Thompson (posthumously)
First Professional Managing Director
Young and Talented
When Michael Thompson started as LCT’s first full-time director, he was only 25 years old. Though young, he had a wealth of theatre knowledge. He graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, IL—which is one of the top 25 liberal arts colleges in the nation. He also received invaluable experience from The Goodman Theatre, the oldest and largest not-for-profit theatre in Chicago.
“He was a fount of information, educating us all so casually, we barely knew we were learning.” –Colleen Kavanaugh
As a director, he was brilliant. Colleen Kavanaugh recalls, “He was a perfectionist; he coddled his actors, and every one of the actors responded to him. He made every actor, from the smallest walk-on to the leads, feel as if the entire show hung on his or her performance.”
Michael knew how to get the performance he needed out of his cast. He was a master at blocking scenes, often staging the entire show as he read it for the first time. If an actor wasn’t giving the necessary emotion in his line delivery, he’d have the actor switch positions with his scene partner so the audience could focus on the other actor’s reaction instead. His keen vision ensured that all of his actors shone onstage.
“Mike Thompson impressed us with his energy and his attention to detail.” –Julia Steinke Saterbak
Marilyn (Bruha) Wood
Choreographer of Distinction
Sharing her Talents with the Community
Marilyn’s involvement with La Crosse Community Theatre began in 1964 when she and some of her dancers auditioned for the musical, Bells Are Wringing. Her talent so impressed the director, Michael Thompson, that she immediately secured the job of choreographer. The rest is history.
Marilyn’s creative choreography graced dozens of musical productions, spanning the tenure of six directors and three decades at LCT. Her work appeared on local stages throughout La Crosse including: WWTC Coleman Theatre, Viterbo Fine Arts Center, Tent House Theatre Under the Stars at Mt. La Crosse, and of course, the Cavalier Theatre on Fifth Avenue. Marilyn’s versatile style is evidenced by the variety of shows she has choreographed: Anything Goes, Guys and Dolls, Hello, Dolly!, My Fair Lady, Kismet, The King and I, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, the list goes on and on. She has dedicated thousands of hours to LCT, all the while raising a family, teaching, and managing her business. She even found time to choreograph for Aquinas High School and Lutheran Hospital’s Pills a Poppin’ variety shows.
Marilyn is humble about her contributions saying, “LCT has given me a lot of good fun and a chance to help other people have good fun, too!” She laughs as she fondly recalls auditioning 85 young girls for LCT’s 1984 production of Annie, “The were all so nice and polite. But I feel bad for the ones who did not get in.”
Dancing Through Retirement
Marilyn retired from teaching in 1996. Her contributions to the arts in La Crosse made such an impact on the community that Patrick Zielke, the mayor at the time, declared June 15, 1996, “MARILYN WOOD DAY.”
Although she is officially retired from teaching, Marilyn still has not retired her passion for dance. She still enjoys attending LCT shows regularly, especially the musicals. Also, each week she observes students at Julie’s School of Dance in Holmen where “Miss Marilyn,” as the students fondly call her, offers pointers and words of encouragement. She inspires them, and they inspire her.
The La Crosse Tribune
Corporate Supporter of Distinction
As a newspaper, we’ve never been on stage or behind the curtain.
We’ve never rehearsed or worn makeup or costumes.
We haven’t volunteered (maybe some of our folks have along the way…).
We haven’t received applause and haven’t needed to (some boos for reviews when we wrote those in the past, but that’s another story that doesn’t need to be told).
Honestly, newspapers aren’t terribly comfortable with recognition—especially when it simply involves doing our job.
But, our job is important to the community because we raise awareness.
As someone who has long been involved with the arts, I would suggest awareness is especially important for arts groups.
Whether it’s theatre or music or visual art, part of our support of the arts comes from informing our readers what is available in the community.
Sports always gets its due—and I love sports.
But I also love the arts—and it’s so important that arts and artists receive recognition.
When a health center or other key business recruits new employees, the arts are almost always part of the discussion.
Our coverage that emphasizes the vibrancy of arts in our community provides encouragement for people to get involved and attend.
…We’re simply doing our jobs.