Since the Chanticleer Theater opened in 1952, it’s helped local performers grow, brought entertainment to the community and introduced lifelong friends.
The theater is preparing to move from its longtime location at 830 Franklin Ave. to the new Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center in downtown Council Bluffs, providing a chance to remember its history.
“Farewell 830,” a show that will run through Sunday, is one way the theater’s illustrious run on Franklin is being showcased. Some of the active performers, directors and spectators shared their memories of the community theater.
Actor Riley Pope joined the theater through camps, and soon after was cast in Chanticleer’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” in 2010.
“I was in the Lollipop Guild at 8 years old and have been working with them ever since,” Pope said.
As a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School, Pope said there isn’t a Chanticleer performance she doesn’t think of fondly.
“From a young age I felt accepted,” Pope said. “Things may change and people may come and go, but it’s been a particularly positive environment inside the building itself. The environment has never changed.”
Since beginning her acting career, Pope said she grew up in the theater and spent most of her youth there.
Her mother, Carrie Pope, said she didn’t realize her daughter would find a lifelong passion for theater. She has been supportive and recently became more involved with the theater herself.
“At first, I just assisted and was a parent who was there, but this year they needed someone to do costumes,” Carrie Pope said. “So another parent and I stepped up and helped with costumes.”
Through the years, Carrie Pope said she’d been impressed with the directors and coaches her daughter worked with as they helped grow her confidence and talents along the way.
Carrie Pope also enjoyed seeing the other children perform and grow throughout the years.
“I think the best part was seeing all the children grow up, and not just my child,” she said. “My child has made lifelong friends who have become part of the family.”
Dwayne Ibsen, founder of Ibsen Costume Gallery in Omaha, also has a history at the theater, including putting together the show “Farewell 830.” He was in charge of costumes for most of the theater’s previous shows.
“I was a teacher in Omaha and did a show at the Omaha Community Playhouse and was invited to come to Chanticleer to work, so I did,” he said. “I got lost the first time I tried to find it. The second time, I did find it and since then it’s kind of become a home.”
A second mishap showed itself when Ibsen performed at the theater for the first time in “110 in the Shade.”
“In the middle of one of the performances, a light on stage caught on fire,” he said. “There was smoke everywhere. The show had to stop. Everyone went out, but eventually everyone came back in and finished it.”
Ibsen has a history of directing shows, and will continue that streak by directing “The Music Man,” the theater company’s first show at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center, March 13-22, 2020.
Season ticket holder Elaine Fenner has not performed or directed at the theater, although she’s been an active season ticket holder and audience member.
Both Fenner and her husband, Bob, have attended performances since they’ve moved to Council Bluffs from New York in 1975.
“It was kind of a thrill to have a neighborhood theater and it was special for us to go to it,” Elaine Fenner sad. “The plays were always good. It had a good orchestra, and now the children’s plays are fantastic”
Fenner said other than the performances and music, they enjoyed the isolation of the building and how the building looked like a theater from the outside and inside.
“I think the sound was always good and it was a relaxing way to sit and watch a play being performed,” she said.
Denise Putman, president of Chanticleer Theater, PACE board member and performer, has multiple memories about the theater between bats, the performers and now moving the theater.
Originally Denise and her husband, Bob, moved to Council Bluffs with teaching contracts. As new teachers and newlyweds, Denise Putman said they waited four or five years to get involved in the theater. They performed in “Oklahoma” in 1976.
Since then, Denise and Bob Putman have continued their involvement in the theater, with her as president and him as theater manager.
“The friendships Bob and I made throughout the years, way back in the ‘70s, we’re still friends with today. I would say Chanticleer is more of a family than a business or institution,” Putman said.
As both a PACE board member and president of Chanticleer Theater, Denise Putman has seen multiple sides of the transition.
“Anytime you leave somewhere you’ve been at for 40 some years, it’s bittersweet, but it’s really exciting, and the new facility will be great,” she said.
Some new opportunities brought about from the move include additional workshops with more space, a new stage, as well as showcasing different arts including dancing, art and the orchestra.
“The most important thing is we need to appreciate the past and enjoy the present,” Denise said, “and look forward to the future.”