By Stephen Schwartz & Roger Hirson
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In July 1961, the first production of the Pultneyville Civic Light Opera Company, conceived by Jean T. Cooper and her brother-in-law, David E. Cooper, was performed on the Gates Hall Stage in conjunction with the annual Pultneyville Homecoming celebration. Jean, a graduate of the School of Drama at Ithaca College and Dave, a graduate of Geneseo, who taught English and directed plays at Sodus Central School, wanted to take a departure from the dramas and comedies produced by the Pultneyville Players. Since a Broadway musical was prohibitively expensive for a start-up group, Gilbert & Sullivan operettas were chosen, as there were no royalties.
For the same financial reasons, it was decided to mount the production in modern dress, saving money on the traditional period costumes normally associated with G&S. H.M.S. Pinafore was selected, because the two Coopers were most familiar with that piece.
At first, the Pultneyville Players balked at sponsoring the musical production, citing “no one wants to rehearse in the summertime” and “no one will come to a show in Gates Hall in the heat of summer” as the reasons. Jean, who was then the president of the Pultneyville Civic Improvement Association (the name “Improvement” was reported to have been dropped from the name of the group because it was felt “Pultneyville doesn’t need any Improvement”), said that group would sponsor the show.
The Pultneyville Civic Light Opera Company (PCLOC, pronounced “puck-luck”) was formed, and has performed a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta each Homecoming for the past 39 years. The operettas are given in a rotation: H.M.S. Pinafore; Ruddigore; Pirates of Penzance; Patience; Iolanthe; The Mikado; The Gondoliers; Princess Ida; Yeoman of the Guard; and sometimes The Sorcerer and Trial By Jury are performed together.
In 1967, Dave Cooper borrowed $300 from the Civic Association in order to make the light opera company self-sustaining. The money was repaid following the summer production and the group has been self-sustained since that time.
Because of the modern-dress costuming concept, the shows are much funnier and more light-hearted than the usual Gilbert & Sullivan presentation. Many of the cast members have returned year after year to perform the shows, including accompanist Mary Alice Henry, who had been with the group for many decades before her passing in 2009. Much of the Company’s success rests on the continuity of the cast and a loyal audience. As the years have passed, minor technical improvements to the theatre have brought the Company into each decade better than the one before. Today’s July performances benefit from air-conditioning. Further improvements to the building are pending as the Gatesinger Company works closely with its closest friend and landlord (Williamson-Pultneyville Historical Society).
Director David E. Cooper died in April 1990. Nan Hanna-Paquin (daughter of Jean T. Cooper) and several others have taken the director’s seat since his death. In 1997, Jean Cooper returned to the Gates Hall Stage as Inez in The Gondoliers, her final stage performance before her death in August, 1998.
Today, the Gatesinger Company, Ltd. is comprised of all of the following subsidiaries:
June 2017 marks 150 years of dramatics performed at Gates Hall. That is why the theatre is identified as the oldest community theatre in America.