Deb Ellefson, President; Val Levno, Vice President; Mary Jo Holzhaeuser, Secretary; Sharon Campbell, Treasurer; Dag Bystrom;  Warren Kehn, Clarence Campbell, Addisen Ploeger, Carolyn Haase


The year 1972 was a memorable one for American theatre. The musical Grease opened off-Broadway. The Broadway musical 1776 closed following a three-year run. Meanwhile, here in Ashland, some local theatre history was being made.

Here is how founding Chequamegon Theatre Association member Karen Trudeau recalls the first years of the CTA: Norm and Lois Glovsky; Dave, Karen, and Marcus Trudeau; Neil Myers; Ray Maurin; and Corrine Bystrom were the original founders as we recall. We decided to call ourselves CTA and kept costumes and properties in a spare room at the Trudeaus’, with flats and set pieces stored at the Meyers’. Karen was our first treasurer and secretary and did makeup. We had meetings at the Glovskys’. We tried to do three plays a year. It took a few years of organizing before, as Karen further relates, Ray Maurin from Ironwood, Michigan, launched the CTA by directing Home at Alvord Hall on the Northland College campus in 1974.

By 1975, the CTA was officially incorporated. The names on the Articles of Incorporation are: Lois Glovsky, Norman Glovsky, Karen Trudeau, and David Trudeau. Homeless during those early years the CTA performed mostly at the Alvord Hall or the Ashland High School auditorium. However, they were also known to take their shows farther down the road – to the Dodd Gym, the Scottie Club, Archie’s Supper Club, Lakewoods, the Steak Pit, and even as far as the Hurley Holiday Inn.

At last, in 1980, under the leadership of President Donna Kramolis and Treasurer John Abts, the CTA purchased the old Rinehart Machine rinehartShop and set about turning it into a theatre. It took over four years of work and sweat by many volunteers, but the CTA finally staged its first production, A Christmas Carol, in its new home in 1984. The debt on the Rinehart Theatre was retired in 1999. Since then, manyimprovements have been made to the exterior and interior of the building. Most recently, the audience portion of the theatre received an extreme makeover – new seats, new carpet, and new paint.

Thanks to constant support from local individuals, businesses, and foundations, CTA has enjoyed steady growth throughout its history. As a completely volunteer organization, the CTA depends especially on the efforts and talents of members who are in it for the long haul, such as Warren Kehn and Kathy Logan, who have served the organization in every imaginable capacity for the past 30 years or so. Another example of this long-lived dedication to the organization is Sue MacKenzie Smith, who has been involved with the CTA for most of its existence, as actress, director, Board member, and patron. As a matter of fact, Sue starred in CTA’s production of Mame in 1994 and directed the revival in 2007.

Over the years, the CTA has staged an amazing variety of plays and musicals – from the serious (Death of a Salesman in 1977, Inherit the Wind in 2007) to the light-hearted (Little Shop of Horrors in 1990, Barefoot in the Park in 1980 and 2002), from the intimate (The Gin Game in 1983) to the shows requiring a “cast of dozens” (My Fair Lady in 1985 and 2004). Luckily, CTA patrons have an eclectic taste in theatre. They are also known for their loyalty. Carolyn Sneed’s name, for example, appears on lists of patrons in 1980, in 2007, and on every list in between. She is just one of many people who support the theatre financially and by their continued enthusiastic presence in the audience.

Part of the charm of community theatre is its accessibility. The Chequamegon Theatre Association has always attracted people of all ages and backgrounds. After three and a half decades, there are now third-generation CTA members, like Sjan Bystrom. Sjan’s grandmother was a founding member. His father, Dag, is a current Board member and CTA’s technical wizard. And it is not unusual to see Sjan manning the light booth or working backstage during rehearsals and productions. Another CTA family recently had three generations represented on stage in the same play: Mae Pinckney, her daughter JoAnne Dormady, and JoAnne’s children, Joelyn and John, all appeared in Mame earlier this season.

Education is an important component of CTA’s mission. This education is cleverly disguised as fun each year when 15-20 kids participate in the Children’s Summer Theatre Workshop. The students explore every aspect of stagecraft in a three-week crash course that culminates in the production of a play. Hundreds of children have had this experience over the years, and many of them go on to participate in CTA’s “grown up” productions.

Any viable organization must look always to the future. CTA’s long-range plan will eventually include a new building, as the historic Rinehart Theatre will not last forever. As intimidating as that thought may be, current members have only to look back to 1972 for inspiration – to those eight brave, creative souls who got together over at the Glovskys’ and started a wonderful community institution.