Cumberland County Playhouse to Present FOOTLOOSE, 2/1-24
By Amy London
As a new staff member at The Playhouse I had the pleasure of talking with Rob Harrison this week, and it became immediately apparent how deep his ties are not only to the City of Crossville but directly to the Cumberland County Playhouse. He and his cousin, Cosby Stone, are longtime sponsors of The Playhouse and are continuing that tradition this season with FOOTLOOSE, opening Feb 1 and running through Feb. 24th.
Their relative, Margaret Keyes Harrison was one of three original incorporators of the theatre. Cosby and his Mom appeared onstage in The Playhouse's early flagship show, TENNESSEE USA, along with several other relatives. Rob's mom, Grace W. Harrison, was a founding member of The Playhouse family and a close friend to Mary Crabtree (both hailed from Pittsburgh and had much in common).
Grace did the original sketches of what the theatre building might look like, after Paul Crabtree gave her his thoughts on the technical aspects. A professionally trained artist, she worked in many mediums including watercolor and sculpture. One of her watercolors graces the back wall of the theatre to this day. The Playhouse utilized her artistic abilities for numerous set designs, including the very first show, PERILS OF PINOCCHIO. Rob remembers his Mom designing Pinocchio in papier-mache on the dining room table at home. He recalled many set models on the dining room table and told of her delight in finding a home for her artistic endeavors. He quoted her as saying that The Playhouse was "the best thing that ever happened to her."
Rob recalls carrying paint buckets over a gravel filled area where the seats are now. From a young age, his life was filled with escapades at CCP. At the age of twelve Paul Crabtree entrusted him with running the lights for a show. He credits Paul with fostering his self-confidence and esteem through many experiences. His cousin Cosby joined him in the lighting booth over the years, and when they got bored, he confessed they would wheel the spot lights to the window and find couples necking in the parking lot. At a perfect moment, they would shine the spot on those youngsters. Once when wheeling the spot light back to its proper position, it toppled over and created an enormous crash during a show.
Rob went on to tell of his Mom painting final touches on sets minutes before curtain, along with her friends and colleagues Martha Hill, Helen Byrd, Bettye Evans Halverstadt and Mary Crabtree. He said "Growing up I thought every town was like this."
His two daughters carry on the tradition of involvement at CCP, as does his wife, Lisa. Last season she performed in shows at The Playhouse with both of her children, though she admits to preferring small roles. Their daughter, Grace W. Harrison, a senior at Stone Memorial High, is playing the role of "Wendy Jo" in FOOTLOOSE and their younger daughter, Katherine Lee Harrison is in the ensemble. Both girls have been involved in the Cumberland County Playhouse's Triple Threat Dance & Education Program for years.
Lastly Rob discussed his commitment to sponsoring productions at The Playhouse. "It is important for the economy of this town to attract families," he said, "and it's a lot of fun."