In the early 1970s, Binghamton University (then known as "SUNY B") professor and soon to be theater department chairman, Dr. John Bielenberg sought to expand the theater department's available venues to an off-campus site. He did this first to enhance "town-gown" presence, and second, and most important, to give the department's students more opportunities to practice and hone their craft.
Dr. Bielenberg and his colleagues found the Cider Mill, a working cider mill and apple warehouse on South Nanticoke Street in the Village of Endicott. It had been in the Ciotoli family since the 1940s, and was a popular seasonal attraction for lovers of fresh apples, cider, and donuts. The warehouse side of the Cider Mill was just what they were looking for.
From the very first production in 1976, a classic British courtroom drama called Witness for the Prosecution, and through the next 16 winter and summer seasons, the Playhouse produced dozens of comedies, dramas and musicals with growing skills, expertise, and quality, eventually replacing the apples completely.
A sampling from those early years indicates the breadth of the Playhouse's artistic reach: Company, Sleuth, Night Must Fall, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Of Mice and Men, Whose Life Is It Anyway, Da, Agnes of God, South Pacific, A Raisin in the Sun, Equus, The Last meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia and so many others.
"The professional nature of the theater was all important to us," recalled Dr. John Bielenberg, now-retired BU Theater Department Chairman. "The students were able to work with the professionals, whom we hired as actors and directors, in an atmosphere similar to that they would find in their theater careers." In addition to the students, the theater employed a wide range of skilled professional actors and directors, and built a local stock company that included such audience favorites as the Richard and Noni Smith, Tom Kremer and Carol Hanscom, Bill Gorman and Claus Evans, among many others.
While the Playhouse was expected to pay its own way financially, Binghamton University provided valuable assistance, foremost the theater department staff, scenery and costume departments, sound and lighting equipment along with scores of young actors and technicians for many years. In 1991,when it became necessary for the University to give up the playhouse, it was restarted as an independent non-profit by Tom Kremer, Craig Saeger and Barbara Wolfe. They were supported over the years by many, many dedicated Board Members, a super-hardworking group of staff members, the Ciotoli family and the devotion of the patrons, donors, and volunteers.
Since 1991, Tom Kremer was succeeded as Artistic Director by Saundralane Cuyler and then Penny Powell. Titles produced between 1991 and 2014 includeThe Miracle Worker, Art, 1776, Noises Off, Man of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof, Nunsense, My Fair Lady, Cabaret, Chicago and Spamalot. The Yuletide Season was ushered in and celebrated from 1982 until 2015 with an original musical version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which was written in collaboration by early company members and copyrighted by founding artistic director John Bielenberg.
Gail Belokur, who arrived in March 2014 as Executive Director, became the Playhouse's fourth Artistic Director in June 2014. Under her leadership, the seasons began to combine shows that are in the style the faithful Cider Mill Playhouse audience have come to love as well as exciting new directions including regional premieres and development of new works. These included audience favorites Into the Woods, Thoroughly Modern Millie, You Can't Take It with You, and The Fantasticks as well as innovative, more contemporary works Stage Kiss, The 39 Steps, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Urinetown.
Significantly, on December 21, 2015, Cider Mill Playhouse became Broome County's first and exclusive Equity house, under annual contract with Actors' Equity Association as a Small Professional Theatre, Level 5 theatre. By doing so, not only can local actors and audiences enjoy theatre-making with a higher caliber of artists, but we are able to provide important career-building opportunities to playwrights, directors, designers, actors, technicians and other theatre professionals. Thank you to all our artists, professionals, board members, community members, patrons and sponsors, advertisers and donors who made this possible!
The 41st season will launch with a new farce by local playwright Santino DeAngelo, who has enjoyed other works' premieres in Florida and New York City, but can now begin in his hometown of Endicott thanks to our Equity status. In the 2016-17 season we will also welcome a new version of A Christmas Carol, which we are producing to continue the well-loved tradition while bringing fresh energy and magic to our audiences. The season will also see a return to summertime productions in the summer of 2017.
In all, the last 40 years have brought nearly 300 dramas, comedies and musicals, and more than 5,200 performances to the Playhouse stage. We invite you to join in as we strengthen our community by providing a destination that engages, enriches and educates its citizens, emerging artists, and theatre professionals through the production of theatre.
See the complete history of productions at the Cider Mill Playhouse here.
1201 Union Center Maine Hwy
PO Box 482
Endicott, NY 13761
Box Office hours to be announced soon