The Cumberland Theatre proudly celebrated its 30th year of entertainment in 2018. The theatre is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization entirely owned by its volunteer Board of Diretors and operated by its two Artistic Directors. These members of the community spend invaluable time and resources to the funding and operating of the theatre. Other volunteers support the theatre by serving on various committees and by working as front of house staff.
A brief history...
The Cumberland Summer Theatre was initiated as a project of Frostburg State University, becoming independent of the University in its fourth season. It was started when President Herb Reinhard wished to revive the dormant summer theater program at the University. A member of the University’s theatre faculty, Professor David Press, convinced President Reinhard that the university could help spark regional economic reinvigoration if the theatre was located in or near downtown Cumberland, and if it was a professional theatre associated with the university. President Reinhardt appointed Dr. Press to organize it with the assistance of Dean Philip Allen. Enthusiastically backed by President Reinhard, the two became the nucleus of the university/ government/ community team that started the theatre. In the initial season, Press, the Artistic Director also served as producing director. In the second season, Allen was made Executive Director and assumed the producer’s role with Press serving under him as the Artistic Director.
Dr. Philip Allen, with the assistance of President Reinhard and Dr. Press, established a Board of Trustees chaired by Shirley Giarritta. The Board consisted of representatives from the University, County and City administration members, local businesses, and interested area residents. Tremendous effort and tireless fund-raising resulted in the incorporation of the Cumberland Summer Theatre in 1987.
In 1988 & 1989, the fledgling organization staged summer seasons of rotating repertory theatre. In the initial season, Press, the Artistic Director also served as producer. In the second season, Allen was named Executive Director and assumed general management and producing functions with Press serving under him as Artistic Director. In the third season, Mr. Pat Julian was engaged, becoming the first year around, full time Producing Director and general manager for the theatre on the Downtown Mall.
In 1991, Dr. & Mrs. Nicholas Giarritta purchased, and with assistance from the State of Maryland, renovated an empty church building on Johnson Street, the current home of the Cumberland Theatre. With Dr. Giarritta as General Manager, the new Cumberland Theatre and Creative Arts Center opened featuring a sold out production of the musical Nunsense starring Denise Lor, directed by Don Whisted, the theatre’s Artistic Director.
Mr. Whisted served as the Artistic Director from 1991 - 2016 and has produced and/or directed over 100 productions.
In 2003, at the opening night performance of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd”, the auditorium was christened “The Nicholas and Shirley Giarritta Playhouse” to commemorate their many contributions to the theatre throughout its history.
The Board was delighted in 2003 when distinguished stage, Emmy Award winning, and Academy Award nominated actor William H. Macy honored the theatre by agreeing to serve on the Board of Trustees.
When Mr. Whisted retired in October of 2016, Kimberli Rowley & Rhett Wolford were engaged as co-artistic directors. Since then, the theatre season has been expanded to include seven main stage shows and several other special events throughout the season.
In 2017, the theatre's production of "Carrie the Musical" (directed by Rowley and designed by Wolford) was named one of the Top Ten Shows in the entire state of Maryland by the Maryland Theatre Guide. A capital improvement fund was also created to make improvements on the building, itself.
In early 2018, the theatre was awarded $50,0000 by the Community Legacy fund to make much needed repairs on the building. A state of the art hearing looping system was added and the sound system was upgraded significantly thanks to sponsorship from Allegany Hearing and Balance and the Community Trust Foundation.
2018 marked the 30th Anniversary for the Cumberland Theatre and the theatre sold a record number of 9,200 tickets. The theatre was also nominated for 33 Broadway World Regional Awards in a variety of categories including acting, set design, costume design, choreography, directing and lighting design.