Cottage Theatre was born in the winter of 1982, when a group of Cottage Grove residents socializing at the local Village Green Motor Hotel were reminiscing about their high school drama productions and someone announced: “What Cottage Grove needs is a live theatre!”
Just a few months later, Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water opened under a billowing Army surplus parachute on the lawn of that very same hotel. An unexpected rainstorm blew in on the final evening of the five-day run, carrying away the parachute, dousing the stage and seating area, and cancelling the final performance. But even that act of nature could not deter our fledgling theater’s success: The play returned for a second run by popular demand, upstairs in the hotel’s cramped loft.
After the second year’s three-production season, the players decided they needed a single home for rehearsals (taking place at the Odd Fellows Hall), set construction (housed in a second-story building downtown), and ever-growing audiences (sitting on borrowed church folding chairs). Cottage Theatre moved into a nearby former health food store, leasing a 1,500 square-foot-facility from a local bank for just $50 a month. The cozy but cramped building accommodated about 70 squeaky seats and a tiny stage from which actors exited to the great outdoors. There were no amenities — such as dressing rooms, costume and set storage, or quiet commodes. Even so, Cottage Theatre flourished for 15 years, staging great performances and children’s programs which drew actors, directors, musicians and audiences from near and far. Our little theatre was bound together by a passion to perform and no shortage of bailing wire and duct tape. Yet everyone who set foot in the house was soon entranced by the quaint magic of Cottage Theatre.
In the early 1990s, a different kind of drama took place at Cottage Theatre when Wal-Mart announced that it was coming to town and locating on adjacent land. With the sudden increase in the value of the property, the bank decided to sell, forcing Cottage Theatre to find another place to play. Though discouraging at the time, that event forced us to improvise to prevent the curtains from permanently closing.
With customary flair, we developed an aspiring plan to build a new state-of-the-art Cottage Theatre with an unimaginable million-dollar price tag. Fortunately, our idea was met with unprecedented support: The Woodard Family Foundation provided a start-up grant. Pledges began to roll in when seat sponsorships were offered at $1,000 apiece. Cottage Theatre’s musical group, Way Off Broadway, raised $10,000 with a series of weekend benefit performances. And regional donors such as Meyer Memorial Trust helped carry the momentum. In the summer of 1998, our new and improved 11,000-square-foot Cottage Theatre opened with a gala celebration.
Fast forward to 2006, when we embarked on an expansion to double the size of the lobby and restrooms and add a 1,700-square-foot annex for use as a rehearsal hall and children’s workshop. A year later, we hired an executive director to help manage the Theatre and day-to-day operations. These efforts and investments have met with success: In 2009, we paid off our building mortgage, and by 2010 our performances routinely sold out.
Since our humble beginnings under a parachute, we’ve proven that it takes more than a gust of wind to keep Cottage Theatre down. From our early days on a tiny stage to the impossible dream of a “real” playhouse, Cottage Theatre has flourished. We owe our success to strong community support and many, many dedicated volunteers.
We invite you to join us and be part of our continuing story!