MADISON — When a large branch split off a tree beside the Lakewood Theater last week and landed on the roof, Susan Quinn added its removal to her list of things to do.

“It’s just one of those things. There’s always something to be done,” said Quinn, 63.

Fast-forward a few days and it’s the afternoon before opening night at the theater. The list is growing longer — get change for the restaurant, make repairs and last-minute touches to the set and costumes, fix the bathrooms.

Quinn and her husband, Jeff, have been managing and directing at the Lakewood Theater for 30 years, and they’re used to doing a little bit of everything.

The theater, which opened for the season on Thursday, is celebrating its 115th year in operation this year. Nine shows are scheduled through the end of September, including the current “The Witch in 204,” about a New Jersey witch who falls in love with a genie whose ex-lover plots to do away with her.

On a recent afternoon, the Quinn family — which also includes daughter Katherine Quinn, manager of the Lakewood Inn restaurant; and son Matthew Quinn, the theater’s technical director — were busy getting ready for opening night. Though the theater is open only from May through the end of September, running the theater is a year-round job that involves the work of about 100 volunteers and about two dozen employees.


Since 1990, the theater has been a community theater run through the nonprofit group Curtain Up Enterprises. There are some paid employees, but most of the actors are volunteers who come from around the state.

Jeff Quinn, 64, is a musician at local churches in the off-season, while Susan is a retired special education teacher who taught at Harmony Consolidated School and then for 10 years at Maine Central Institute. She runs the costume department and Jeff is a director and actor.

The theater is a lifelong love for Susan Quinn.

“I was raised on Lakewood,” she said. “My dad had worked here as a kid. His parents came when we were children. This was the place. After I got my driver’s license, I liked to drive here and hang out on the lawn and hope to see somebody famous. It was always very special and magical. It’s always held that.”


The theater dates to 1901. It originally was an American Indian camp turned into a summer theater and artists’ colony by Herbert L. Swett, Lakewood’s first manager. The first play to be performed was “The Private Secretary,” on June 15, 1901.


It started as a repertory theater company, where actors and actresses would live and work. The performances often served as tryouts for Broadway productions.

Beginning in the 1950s, it was part of the Straw Hat Circuit, which brought a different cast to different theaters on the East Coast every week. Performers including a young Humphrey Bogart, and later Cass Elliot, of The Mamas & the Papas; John Travolta; and Scott Bakula.

Around 1979, the theater reverted to a repertory company, but it got too expensive to pay actors.

“A local group formed to try and keep it going, but it just couldn’t be sustained,” Susan Quinn said.

At the time, the theater was privately owned by Paul DeGross. The Quinns took over management for a few years by renting the theater.

“He watched us very closely and he praised us a lot for our work. He called it dedication; I call it a sickness you can’t get over,” Susan Quinn said. “He encouraged us and said if we bought it, we could make it work.”


Nonprofit Curtain Up Enterprises was started in 1990 by Jeff Quinn, Bruce Hertz and Marti Stevens, an actor who also became known in the area for her contributions to education.

Though Stevens has since died and Hertz is no longer involved, the Quinns have never left.

They have a home in Cornville, but they live above the restaurant across from the theater during the summer.

The goal for the 115th anniversary year is to raise $150,000 through a capital campaign for building repairs, a new building for the summer children’s theater program and new lights in the theater.

“We’d like to see it go another 50, 60 or 70 years,” said Stephanie Irwin, a member of the board of directors and a director of one of this year’s shows. “There’s no reason for this to stop. The building is sound and beautiful. The Quinns have taken tremendous care in keeping both the inn and the theater fit to work in. That’s a tremendous amount of work this whole family does.”



The season starts with the selection of each year’s plays and musicals in the winter.

Auditions usually are held in March, and the cast spends about six weeks preparing each show. There are nine in this year’s lineup.

“There’s a lot of talent within arm’s reach. I’m still amazed at the talented people we have in the area. They’re unknown, but their hearts are just full of wanting to perform and put their talents out there. This is a wonderful venue for them to come and do that,” Susan Quinn said.

“I love to just sit and watch the plays,” she said. “I see them in rehearsals, and now how it all gets done; but to watch the faces of the people who come, especially in a musical or comedy, they get a chance to go someplace else for a few hours.

“We send them home laughing, sometimes arguing, ‘No, that’s not what the play meant; it meant this.’ That’s great, sending them out having discussions or singing songs that they know.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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