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, our beloved theatre has always meant more than the sum of its productions. For thousands, it is “home,” brimming with creativity, collaboration, and a mutual love for live theatre.
Betty Bobp, our founder, was a respected drama teacher at Wheelock College in Boston. Her dream was to create a theatre that would provide opportunities for individuals of all ages to experience every aspect of the theatrical experience – from set and costume design, to playwriting, prop making, acting, and directing.
Betty set the cornerstone of her dream with the founding of the Harwich Junior Theatre organization in 1951 and secured space in Harwich Center’s historic four-story Exchange Hall – at the time, the tallest building on the Cape.
In the summer of 1952, along with a few volunteers, the new theatre mounted Cinderella, Tom Sawyer, and The Ghost of Mr. Penny at the Exchange Hall. Betty made the costumes, taught the students, built the sets, and directed the three shows on a budget of just $100. The organization’s following began to take hold, and a fourth summer production was added to the roster beginning in 1954.
In 1965, with the planned demolition of the Exchange Hall looming, Betty needed to find a new location for her theatre, and moved the organization to its current location in the former Ocean Hall on Division Street in West Harwich. Prior to that purchase, Ocean Hall had contained a first-floor public hall; its second story was occupied by Mount Horeb Lodge of Freemasons; and its third story was used as a dining room.
Around the same time, the theater also established a relationship with playwright Aurand Harris – its first of many artistic collaborations. Identified in the title of his biography as “America’s Most Produced Playwright for Young Audiences,” Harris summered in Harwich for many years, and worked with the theater, “directing and workshopping his latest plays for young audiences prior to publication.”1 Harris’ Rags to Riches premiered on the new Harwich Junior Theatre stage in 1966.
The Harwich Winter Theatre was established in 1970 by Harwich Junior Theatre alums Susan Kosoff, and Jane Staab, along with Anthony Hancock. It was the first of several efforts to extend the theatre productions into the off-season.
In the late 1970s, the Helikon Theatre was formed by Nina Schuessler and Sherrie and Philip Scudder. Helikon produced 10 shows in the 9 off-season months, while Betty’s Harwich Jr. Theatre productions continued to run during the summer months of June, July, and August.
During the 1980s, a front lobby, a rear two-story addition, a deck, and interior renovations provided significant improvements to the old building as the theatre transitioned into a year-round destination for live theatre and theatre arts education.
Betty Bobp remained involved as an advisor into the 1990s. In 1996, Nina Schuessler was hired as the organization’s first full-time, year-round producing artistic director. Under her stewardship, the theatre has grown tremendously; still it maintains Betty’s vision for an inclusive community that teaches students of all ages to appreciate the performing arts, and demonstrates the transformational power of theatre – particularly for young children.
In 1997, the organization was presented with a regional award for excellence and achievement in theatre by the New England Theatre Conference. That same year, Betty passed away, just a few years shy of the organization’s 50thanniversary.
In 2006, the organization signed a contract with the Town of Harwich to lease the building at 265 Sisson Road in Harwich Center. The building, now known as The Arts Center, expands the organization’s physical footprint and serves as rehearsal and classroom space, and hosts small-scale touring productions, open mic coffee houses, and experimental theatre.
In 2012, the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod presented Nina with its Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award for her contributions to the organization and the Cape community through her tremendous work with the theatre. During her tenure with the organization, Nina has produced and/or directed more than 200 plays and musicals, including 20 new scripts by playwrights in residence.
In August of 2015, the organization officially changed its name to the Cape Cod Theatre Company – Home of the Harwich Jr. Theatre. The change was significant in that it reflected the evolution of the organization from a small, seasonal venture to the pioneering force that it is today as a year-round center for theatre arts education and outreach – and a semi-professional theater theatre that mounts 10 full-scale productions each year for audiences of more than 20,000. The new name intentionally maintains the reference to its significant Harwich Junior Theatre roots and history.
The organization’s current staff of three full-time and one part-time employees, along with an active and involved Board of Directors work to ensure that the theatre continues to adhere to its mission and social responsibilities as it embraces a bright future.
Seasoned theatre professionals and members of the Actors’ Equity Association regularly staff our productions and classrooms with credentials of talent and experience in specific aspects of theatre – including directing; acting; choreography; sound, lighting, and set design; playwriting; and music.
Many of our family members have transformed their experience here into careers in the arts – some working behind the scenes, some becoming familiar faces on Broadway, the big screen, and on television. Others have applied the confidence and skills they gained at the Cape Cod Theatre Company to highly successful careers in business, as teachers, and in government.
Now generations into Betty’s wonderful dream, our theatre is more vital and vibrant than ever. It is alive with creators and creativity. Actors and audiences. Learning and mentoring. Camaraderie and friendships. It truly is a place for people of all ages to stage their dreams.
Artists in Residence
How did you end up at CCTC/HJT: I came to HJT as an apprentice through the venerable Betty Bobp who was the Head of the Theatre Department at Wheelock College where I was a student.
What is your favorite intermission snack?: Popcorn; least favorite snack to clean up: Popcorn.
What is your most meaningful HJT experience?: Hard to pick one … The obvious was seeing my son Charlie on stage, in the moment; hearing him work lines and practice his steps at home; observing the respect given, and example set, by other performers of all ages; watching him sign autographs after previously collecting them. Equally rewarding were glimpses behind the scenes – at the Arts Center (Old Rec), watching him work on blocking and delivery as Rob Zapple (and other teaching artists) envision what’s to come; upstairs at HJT, at warmup as the cast comes together. And then, seeing him give back as a teenager, helping younger actors learn their roles. Now, knowing he understands teamwork, speaks confidently in public, and has other lifelong skills learned at HJT.
Helping Rob and others rebuild the HJT stage on an extremely tight deadline, with short money, was also very rewarding – seeing the project come together with creativity and community, all in the name of safety and HJT’s future.
If you could bring back ANY show we have done, what would it be? Frankenstein – Charlie’s first show – preferably via time travel: same actors, at same ages 🙂
What is your most meaningful HJT experience?: I would have to say it’s a tie between the friendships I made over the years at HJT that have lasted until this day and winning the Doane Award in 1999.
Who is your ESSENTIAL jester: Emily Murray and Geoff O’Donnell.
Is there anything important you think we should know about you or your connection with CCTC/HJT? Yes! I have had so many amazing experiences at HJT but this year has been an especially nostalgic time for me at theatre. My niece and nephew were in their first show at HJT and I got to watch them fall in love with the theatre just like I did 25 years ago. It was the best deja vu.
How did you end up at HJT?: I first became involved with the HJT through Bernice Healy around 1983. She was very active with the theater and encouraged me to bring my children. The theater has inspired many lifelong friendships. It’s a wonderful place for Cape children to meet and make friends with children from other Cape towns and off Cape.
Have you ever performed in a show?: I was in one show, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever(with Joanne Brown) and was terrified every show. The experience gave me new respect for the art of acting!
What is your favorite intermission snack?: M&M’s
What is your favorite musical?: Pirates of Penzance
What is your favorite Musical?: Pippin.
What drives you to give so much to the theatre? When I thought about the CCTC|HJT community’s warm welcome to us as new members and ongoing encouragement of our kids, I realized how important it is to help the theatre continue to play these roles for the next generation of families like ours. The theatre quickly became an important part of our family after we moved to the Cape full time a few years ago. Since then, our daughters have been on stage, worked as members of stage and production crews, and taken a string of classes. Their experiences in multi-generational casts and being trusted with significant responsibilities have been hallmarks of their time at CCTC|HJT, and such an important part of their growing up.
the lyrics to Rainbow Connection and getting my friends to help me create them and so much more!
Who is your ESSENTIAL jester: Andrea Healy
What drives you to give so much to the theatre? I grew up at the theatre. I learned so much from the faculty, made life-long friends, and have a career in the arts.
Who is your favorite fictional character: Jim Hawkins – ‘Treasure Island’
What was the first show you ever saw (or performed in/worked on) at HJT? Mr. Popper’s Penguins – 1962 – I played “Columbus,” the oldest (tallest) child penguin. My first lines were “Ork, Gork, Gork.” All created through an improv session taught by Betty Bobp (although we did not call it that — the term improv, short for improvisational theatre, had not yet been coined) where we had a mock fight between the two oldest penguins.
What drives you to give so much to the theatre? I grew up in the HJT and have been deeply involved with live theatre my entire life. It is important for children, young adults and adults to learn communication skills, cooperation, collaboration, artistic and creative expression, tolerance for others, working with a group to accomplish what cannot be done alone – good daily lessons for anyone involved in live theatre, or, life.