(From the Harwich Chamber of Commerce magazine, 2018)
Home of the Harwich Junior Theatre
Sixty-seven years ago, Wheelock College drama professor Betty Bobp founded the Harwich Junior Theatre. Bobp envisioned a place where children, young people, and adults could work, learn, and experience theater together.
From its simple beginnings at the legendary Exchange Hall in Harwich Center to its current incarnation as a nationally recognized year-round source of education and entertainment, the beloved theater is the embodiment of Betty’s dream and a pioneering force on the Cape.
Recently renamed to reflect the breadth and depth of offerings and to continue the important work of their mission on a much larger scale, the Cape Cod Theatre Company – Home of the Harwich Junior Theatre is both a center for theater education and outreach, and a working theater that mounts 10 fullscale
productions each year for audiences of more than 20,000.
For three generations, CCTC-HJT is home for those with a mutual love for live theater – brimming with creativity and collaboration. It is a nurturing place –
where children and adults are welcomed, accepted, and valued for who they are. Seasoned theater professionals staff the productions and classes with experience and expertise in specific aspects of theater – including directing, acting, choreography, scenery, lighting, costume and sound design, playwriting, and music.
Many of the alumni have transformed their experience into professional careers in the arts – from behind the scenes in design and technical theater to Broadway, film, and television. Others have applied skills they gained at CCTC-HJT to highly successful careers in business, education, and health and human services.
Today, generations into Betty’s vision, the theater is vibrant and alive with theater artists, creativity, and innovation. It is a place for people of all ages to stage their dreams.
Cape Cod Theatre Company – Home of the Harwich Junior Theatre is Cape Cod’s premier intergenerational theater, with a commitment to educate, empower, and inspire students of all ages from all background to explore and expand their creative talents and aspirations, to experience and appreciate live theater, and to develop and nurture a lifelong appreciation of the performing arts.
This multigenerational effort commenced with the first production, when they performed Cinderella in 1951 at the well-known Exchange Hall in Harwich. Betty Bobp obtained a $100 grant from the Harwich Playground and Recreation Department and led her company to their first production. Bobp was in charge of all aspects of the production. She directed and produced the show, hung lights, made the costumes, built the sets, and worked with local families to stage the production. In addition, she taught workshops in the technical aspects of theater, as well as drama. That summer she staged three productions: Cinderella,
The Ghost of Mr. Penny, and Tom Sawyer.
Through love and dedication, Bobp was leader and mentor, and provided an environment for young people and adults to work creatively together. Each summer, there were four productions. As the theater grew, the classes and workshops provided the knowledge and skills to keep the company alive. Most classes and rehearsals took place at the Harwich Recreation Building a block away from the Exchange Hall. More importantly, the environment was one that included
all levels of students, ages, and creativity. The atmosphere created an environment where creativity, risk-taking, and performance culminated in productions of excellence. In 1959, Bobp incorporated the theater into a nonprofit organization, Harwich Junior Theatre Inc., and created a Board of Directors.
ARTISTIC GROWTH OF THE THEATER
Through the decades, the theater has grown into what it is today, but it has remained true to the vision of its beloved founder. In 1964, when it learned the
Exchange Hall would be razed, Harwich Junior Theatre needed to find a new home. In 1965, it purchased the Ocean Hall Building at 105 Division Street in
West Harwich. Built in 1869, the three-story building had been a turn-of-the-century movie theater.
As the HJT moved into its new surroundings, it continued to work tirelessly to produce its intergenerational productions and educational programs. Over the
years, original scripts were produced at the theater. A touring youth troupe was organized in 1967, the Harwich Junior Players, that visited summer camps, the
local library, and nursing homes.
In the 1980s, HJT saw tremendous growth in the number of audience members and students. People who had grown up in the theater were bringing their families back to be a part of it. More people were gaining interest. During the summer, the performances regularly had full audiences. The theater also kept its
doors open all, performing regular productions during the winter months.
The 1990s and the first decade of this new century have brought many changes. While still maintaining the philosophical platform, the theater continued to look beyond its doors and into the community. The theater hired Nina Schuessler as Producing Artistic Director, thanks to her deep commitment to the mission and creative spirit of HJT. Nina has guided the theater in the high quality of production and education. In 2012, the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod honored Nina with the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award.
The educational and outreach programs continue under the dedicated and expert guidance of Tamara Harper, Director of Education and Community Outreach. In 2016, Tammy received the prestigious VISI Arts Educator of the Year award.
The theater established a full-time Technical Director Position in 2000 to oversee technical production. Matt Kohler now serves in that role. CCTCHJT made an important commitment to contract with Directors and Designers who were also educators as the title Teaching Artist became a significant new addition and direction for the theater in its Education and Outreach Programs.
Today, CCTC-HJT is thriving. Awards and accolades are too numerous to list. CCTC-HJT is a recipient of the prestigious New England Theatre Conference Award for Excellence in Educational Theater as well as recognized by Massachusetts Office of Tourism as one of the Greatest Places to Visit.
Embodying the same ideals as in 1951, CCTC-HJT continues to give children and young people a place to create, learn, grow, and form lifelong friendships. There are 10 full-scale productions per year, bringing the classics, musicals, and new plays to the stage. Tammy ensures that the in-house educational and outreach programs serve the community. These programs enrich many students from Provincetown to Sandwich each school year and from all over the country during summer months. CCTCHJT Theatre Arts classes inspire the next generation of actors and theater artists in dynamic and experiential classes focusing on the needs of each individual student. They offer open enrollment at any age level. This encourages exploration while creating for each individual student the
chance to see the world through the diverse lens of the performing arts.
When the play begins as the lights dim, that magical time of anticipation and excitement creates a special bond. The lights, sounds, costumes, and actors
take us on an enchanted journey that we share with fellow audience members. This shared experience is the real gift of the theater.