Sally moved to Capitol Hill from New York City in 1962 and completed her studies in theater and dance at Howard University and, later, George Washington University. After joining the Erika Thimey dance studio in Georgetown as a teacher and performer, she taught dance to Hill children at Friendship House and various neighborhood churches from 1972 to 1974 under the name of Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. The workshop was incorporated by 1975, and by 1980 it had renovated and moved into the old B.B. French School, where CHAW makes its home today. In this interview, Crowell describes some of the more than 65 CHAW productions she piloted before leaving CHAW in 1992; a list of those productions appears as an addendum to the transcript. Generations of Hill residents participated in these productions as actors, techies, directors, teachers, audiences, patrons, and parents, and many are remembered by name here. Now a resident of Connecticut, Crowell is still dancing, acting, teaching, and spreading her enthusiasm for the arts at all stages of life.
Interview with Sally Carlson Crowell
Interview Date: February 5, 2022
Interviewer: Randell Norton
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis
START OF INTERVIEW
NORTON: All right. This is Randy Norton interviewing Sally Carlson Crowell [on Zoom] for the Ruth Ann Overbeck History Project. It is February 5, 2022, at five minutes after 2:00. And I am at my home at 730 11th Street NE, Washington, DC. Sally is in her home in Deep River, Connecticut. Right?
CROWELL: At 15 Old River Street, yes.
NORTON: Okay, all right. Sally, let’s start this. Can you just give us all a brief description of where you were born and where you grew up?
CROWELL: I was born, actually, in Middletown [Connecticut]––but always a resident of Deep River, Connecticut––in 1942.
NORTON: And where did you go to school?
CROWELL: At the Deep River Elementary School, where I am now teaching. I’ve kind of come full circle.
NORTON: And after that, where did you go to school?
CROWELL: We had a regional high school built here called Valley Regional High School, which was shared by three towns––Essex, Chester, and Deep River. And, at that point in time, there was a junior high attached to it. So, I was able to go to junior high until my parents moved to Clinton, Connecticut, only a few miles away. Then I went to Morgan School for my high school.
NORTON: Okay. Now I understand you did a fair amount of dancing and shows and that sort of thing while you were still in school.
CROWELL: Oh, yes. In fact, I started taking dance when I was five years old in kindergarten. You know, the ballet, tap, acrobatics, all of that. Continued that all of the way through high school and was an assistant teacher for the person that I was taking classes from [Marie LeRoy Keane]. I became an assistant teacher for her. I eventually started my own little school here with another [dancer, Audrey Palm Ward].
NORTON: That was while you were still in high school?
CROWELL: Still in high school. And, then, in my junior year, going into senior year, I worked at a resort here in Connecticut called the Ted Hilton resort, where I was an assistant social director and taught ballroom dancing as well as doing some entertaining.
NORTON: So you got off to a good start in the dancing department. Were you in shows or do any kind of choreography while you were still in high school?
CROWELL: Yes. We had a variety show in Deep River that I was a part of that the fire department always sponsored. So I’d do my tap dance and my ballet dance. But then, later on, I also choreographed—we had what we called the [Morgan] Variety Show. And we had, you know, singers and dancers, and I choreographed and directed that in my senior year.
NORTON: And after you graduated from high school, what next?
CROWELL: I went on to the Boston Conservatory and studied primarily dance. But that’s where I was introduced to modern dance, which is what I do a lot of now and I did in Washington, DC. Modern dance. And theater. Acting and doing musicals. I was with a group that was an offshoot of the department there, the drama department. We did musical revues on Cape Cod [Massachusetts] during the summertime.
NORTON: And how long did you stay at the Boston Conservatory?
CROWELL: Two years—then I went to New York.
NORTON: Okay. You went to New York to seek your fortune or … ?
CROWELL: I went to New York because a school mate at the Conservatory had graduated and she went to New York, and she kind of lured me into leaving school early. So I didn’t finish at the Conservatory. I went to, yeah, “seek my fortune,” so to speak. Not really, just get some more professional experience.
NORTON: And what happened when you went to New York? What did you do?
CROWELL: Well, I modeled in the Garment District in order to make some money, modeling coats. And, then, I was auditioning for all kinds of off-Broadway revues, which I got into. And then, the big one was at the Orpheum Theatre. I did Anything Goes with Hal Linden and Eileen Rodgers. That was in, like, 1961. Because from there I went to a Broadway show called Nowhere to Go But Up, which was at the Winter Garden. So, everything happened very fast. Two or three years, an awful lot happened. And it was during that time that I also met my husband. So, you have to go to New York City to meet a Texan that you marry! He was from Texas [Canadian, Texas].
NORTON: And what’s his name?
CROWELL: His name was Erbin Levoy Crowell, Jr. And he was a grad student at American University in Washington, DC.
NORTON: How did you meet him in New York?
CROWELL: He was a friend [of my roommate.] He actually had been a life guard at another resort in Massachusetts and that’s where my roommate, Fayn [LeVeille], had met him. And so he came to New York actually to visit her and met me.
NORTON: [Both laugh.] Okay. And one thing led to another.
CROWELL: One thing led to another. The show on Broadway was not a success, even though we had Hal Brooks working on it––I’m sorry, Mel Brooks, Hal Linden was in the other show. Mel Brooks was what they called the “show doctor.” They brought him in to see if he could save it, but it couldn’t be saved. It was about prohibition and I guess it wasn’t the right time.
In any case, I auditioned for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. And I had a call back for that, [for] what was the national tour. So, I told—I don’t want to say what the nickname was for my former husband because now that he’s a grown person he’s not called that anymore. But I said, “I have this opportunity to go on tour nationally.” And he said, “I’d rather you stay here with me. Will you marry me?” So that’s why I didn’t go on the tour and why I went to Washington, DC. [Laughs.]
NORTON: When did you move down to D.C.?
CROWELL: 1962 I think was the first time I went to D.C. He actually had an apartment on Constitution Avenue [NE]. He was [a student] at AU [American University] but he was also [teaching at Hine Junior High School, and later] working for the Library of Congress. And it was after we married [that we] decided that we were going to stay there. That was when the community was really exciting and changing. And we wanted to help be a part of the change. We really wanted to see it integrated.
NORTON: When you say “the community,” is this the Capitol Hill community?
CROWELL: Yes, Capitol Hill. That’s the only place I’ve ever lived in Washington, on Capitol Hill. And so we invested in a little row house right behind the Marine Barracks, 730 Ninth Street [SE], which my former husband really worked pretty much on his own with friends to restore and put into a good living situation.
NORTON: What was the neighborhood like when you moved in?
CROWELL: It was hard, it was very hard. If I remember correctly, a lot of dirty roads. It wasn’t pleasant at all. But we didn’t mind. We didn’t mind because there was a whole bunch of us that were doing it at the same time. Marguerite Kelly—I noticed Marguerite and Tom were interviewed also for this project. We got very friendly with them. We got very friendly with the minister at St. Mark’s [Church]. I think it was Bill Baxter at the time. And there was just a whole influx [of] liberals. There was a whole influx of people who wanted to see positive change and didn’t feel that it was happening. And that [hoped] maybe they could help make it happen.
NORTON: Now, were you working around that time you moved into Ninth Street?
CROWELL: Actually, no. We decided that it would be a good time for me to finish [college]. I only had the two years down on my bachelor’s degree. So I went to Howard. A friend of ours … Again, I was very much involved with Friendship House at the time. I think we were even on the board. We were definitely volunteers. And that’s where I definitely met Marguerite and Tom and other people.
And one of them was Pete Ward. I believe Pete was working on his social work degree at Howard. And he suggested that, if I was looking for a place to go to school, they had a good drama department. And they had the Howard Players. They were quite well known. So, I went up, had an interview, and had my transcript from the Boston Conservatory. But as I say, it was only two years. So I did my final two years at Howard.
NORTON: When did you finish at Howard?
CROWELL: Oh, good, you would ask! ’66, I think. And one of the great things—I mean, I was so welcomed there. I felt no prejudice at all. And I even got some very, very good roles. In fact, one I received an award for and a very good review from The Washington Post––playing Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire. It was just a very, very good education all the way around.
NORTON: And, after you finished at Howard, what happens?
CROWELL: Got pregnant. [Laughs.] I think that was about the time I got pregnant. But, in the meantime, I had wondered where I would be able to dance. Because when I was in New York, I was a member of Actor’s Equity [Union], and when I came to Washington there were no Equity theaters. There was Arena Stage. And I did do something at Kreeger once. But there were no Equity jobs.
So, I thought, “Well, what am I going to do?” I thought I’d go back and do some more with my dance. And I called back to the Conservatory and asked if anybody [in Boston] knew anybody in Washington, DC, that I could go to, to maybe join a company or do some teaching for. And they turned me on to Jan Veen [who had been my modern dance teacher at the Conservatory]. [He] had been a dance partner of Erika Thimey. Jan was from Austria, Erika was from Germany.
NORTON: How do you spell Jan?
CROWELL: Pardon me?
NORTON: How do you spell Jan and how do you spell Erika?
CROWELL: All right. Jan is J-A-N V-E-E-N and Erika is E-R-I-K-A. And it’s an unusual last name, T-H-I-M-E-Y.
NORTON: And it’s pronounced …
CROWELL: It’s pronounced TEE-MY. It’s a hard one. But, anyway, so I went to Georgetown. She had a studio in Georgetown. She welcomed me. She sponsored me at the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College a couple of summers, in exchange for coming back and teaching at her studio and being a part of her company. Her company at the time toured into the schools under the sponsorship of the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Concerts in Schools. Performing for kids, mostly in the inner-city schools but also in Maryland and Virginia. So I did that for a number of years before she was thinking about closing her school and [asked] did I want to take it over. And I thought about it and I said, “No, I want to teach closer to where I live.”
CROWELL: So, I started doing a lot of teaching around the area, starting at Friendship House, actually. Teaching some little children, little kids, and then using other church halls like the Lincoln Park Methodist. Of course, Christ Church. I used that a lot to teach. And eventually I got to know other people who were also interested in the arts on Capitol Hill.
NORTON: Okay. Who were they?
CROWELL: Namely, it was Jean [and Val] Lewton. They lived very close to us and also were involved in Friendship House. And Mariana Gasteyer and Phil lived on Independence Avenue. She was an artist, a visual artist. And Jean’s interest was theater and music. She was also a musician. So, the three of us … I’d been teaching under the name Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, because even before we incorporated, I gave it a name. And then we decided to incorporate. And about a year later it was suggested to us that we go nonprofit because we were relying on churches for facilities and we were obviously making a profit. So we formed a nonprofit corporation.
NORTON: All right. So when was the Arts Workshop formed? I mean the official entity formed?
CROWELL: I don’t have the papers in front of me. I think they’re buried somewhere. But I’m sure they have them at the Workshop. [I taught on my own from 1972 to 1974, and CHAW was incorporated by 1975, as I recall.] It was right around the time my mom got cancer and I had to take a little leave.
At that point in time we were already in the chapel of the Presbyterian church [Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church]. And that was a real boon because it allowed us to use that space, which is a beautiful little space, five days a week and on Saturdays. And we even did some performances in their little parish hall there before we got even more involved at the Christ Church. [This is also about the time that Ann Johnson, Bill Akers, and Ed Holt became more involved in productions like I Do! I Do!, which was performed at St. Mark’s Church.]
NORTON: Yeah, I can remember you being involved at the Presbyterian church. As an aside, what was Erika Thimey doing at this point? Were you staying connected with her or … ?
CROWELL: Well, up until 1980—is that right? Yes. 1980, because that was the year that we actually went into the B.B. French School [DC public school from 1904 to 1942 at Seventh and G Streets SE, current site of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop]. Let me backtrack here a little bit. Rosalie Hansen was very, very instrumental. [She was vice president of the board of directors.] And her husband, Larry, [helped] in submitting a proposal to the District of Columbia for the project, the Benjamin Brown French School preservation project, to actually restore that building so it could be used as a learning place for the arts in exchange for providing financial scholarships or actually financial aid to some of the children in the area who maybe couldn’t afford to pay for classes.
NORTON: So, that was the quid pro quo for you being able to use the French School, right?
CROWELL: Right, right. And an awful lot of support had to come from [neighboring] Christ Church on that one, legally, and then also the neighbors had to be very much in support of it. So, it was quite intense. The U.S. Marines actually had the use of that building prior to us going in, and it had been vacant. They had used it for storage and then they hadn’t used it at all. So it was really full of dead pigeons. It was pretty sad. But you just had to walk in there and visualize what it could become, you know. You just could see––oh my goodness, what a space!
NORTON: Who came up with the idea that you renovate the French School? Or that this would be a good idea for the Arts Workshop?
CROWELL: Well, I have to say I did. I mean …
NORTON: You just saw it there in the neighborhood?
CROWELL: Well, it was right around the corner from me. It was at the corner of Seventh and G. I lived at Ninth and [G]. And I, you know, I saw it abandoned all the time. But I think because Larry, Rosalie’s husband, actually worked for the DC government, he was privy to the fact that this was going on the market. They wanted to get it off the rolls, off the DC rolls. When we were doing this, one of the DC employees, who was one of the higher-ups, told us that we were doing the “work of God up there in that community!” So that sort of motivated us to keep going. [Laughs.]
NORTON: I actually remember having a little piece of the work and doing some painting and all that sort of thing. Did you have an architect? How did you [accomplish] all this?
CROWELL: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. We had to go through all of that. On my teaching staff was Diana Parson, whom I met through Erika Thimey. We had both danced in her company. And then, after Erika closed her company in 1980, Diana actually came … She was in the process of doing performances with me and was a friend. Well, her husband, Richard, was a steel worker. He had a whole big steel business. And he knew this architect, Marc Reshefsky. And these guys basically gave their work pro bono.
And there was also—gosh, I haven’t thought about his, I don’t even … We had a lawyer. I should make a note of that. He didn’t have children in the Workshop so I didn’t know him. You know, most of these people were involved either in teaching or performing or as students [or as parents]. Another key person, Jim Mayo, who was working for the Smithsonian, had done some of the exhibits. He actually offered his services as a plasterer. So he did all the drywall with a lot of volunteers [like Arthur Fox, Gary Staples, Ian LeValley, my parents George and Gert Carlson, my son, my niece Karin Carlson, and more]. I mean we had a whole list of volunteers and it was quite a project.
We should have had a video. We have lots of photographs which I’ve since turned over to the Arts Workshop. [And we owe a special debt of gratitude to all the photographers who documented CHAW over the years such as Bruce Robey, Russ Fint, Joan Giesecke, Gayle Krughoff, Max Hirshfeld, and Tim Brown to name a few.]
But, when you think back on it, it started—1978 is when we submitted the proposal. I can’t say exactly when in 1979 that we actually broke ground, but we were determined to take occupancy in 1980 because we were trying to carry on classes in the meantime in different churches around the area. We had about four different satellite churches going on, plus trying to do performances in the schools and outreach programs in the schools. So, we got an occupancy permit to go in, I believe it was the fall of 1980.
We had Marion Barry’s wife [Effie Slaughter Barry] there as our honorary chair. Ned Chalker was key as chairman of the board. Michael Hughes—I’m rattling these names off. Paris Singer, who is still on the Hill I believe. Crisley Sampson. In the meantime, the mainstays, the people who were teachers along with being performers, such as Raye LeValley, Stephen Johnson, at that time Charlotte Floyd. [Janice Delaney, Elizabeth Welch, Roland Dority, Peg Kinnison, James Butcher, Stan Paige, and Lorna Williams were also on the board.] They were all doing double duty.
They were all helping to restore the building [and] at the same time trying to teach classes and help do fund raising. We had to write grant proposals. We got support primarily from the [DC] Office of Historic Preservation but we had to match it. So, we went to two private foundations, the Meyer and the Cafritz, I believe, to get matching funds to come up to—I don’t know whether it was $50,000. I can’t remember now, but $50,000 sounds right. But then on top of that, you know, we had other expenses. We had to pay our teachers. We still had electricity and all of that sort of stuff to do. So, the board was just really great about trying to keep all of this intact and on track. Quite a time.
NORTON: In terms of the courses you were doing at that time, you were doing both adult courses and kids’ courses?
CROWELL: Yes, yes. And summer camps. Summer camps. They were very popular.
NORTON: So, you were doing summer camps even before you renovated the school.
CROWELL: Yes, we did. We did start that. I can’t tell you exactly what year. I remember using the Methodist church one summer and, of course, Christ Church one summer. Not too much earlier though. We used the Presbyterian church. So that, too, would be ’78, ’79. And, then, of course, once we got in that building, we were able to expand productions to include more of our members, more of the people who were, you know, involved as students and members.
And that’s when we started so many of the larger musicals. Like we did DC In Revue: A Hometown Musical, which was written by Sam and Kathy Smith [and Rebecca Denney]. And we actually did it on Eighth Street at the old ASTA Theater [American Society of Theater Arts theater space located at that time at 507 Eighth Street SE]. I don’t know what it is now. I don’t know what’s in that space now. I think it’s a restaurant. Anyway, then it just broke out because I got Jim Vance [news anchor at the Washington NBC TV affiliate WRC and father of student Amani Vance] to do Guys and Dolls. And so many good, key [participants], almost like a stable of good actors and dancers and singers who were on call to do just about anything—costumes, [sets, sound, publicity, lights, etc].
NORTON: And then a lot of the rest of us, you know, not necessarily good dancers or actors, the community people that filled in the parts.
CROWELL: Well, yeah, I pulled you out of [one of Charlotte Floyd’s tap dance classes]. Charlotte Floyd was very good in tap. Josephine came a little bit later. Josephine Nicholson. But Helen Jackson was one of our main [dancers]. Bruce Brennan, yourself and Linda [Norton, interviewer’s wife]. Adele Robey at some point [performed and] did graphics, all of our beautiful posters which I have hanging in my studio. [E. Raye LeValley and Millie Lee St. John also did graphics.]
[Moving to Hine Junior High School for some productions] was a big turning point [and the beginning of doing major musicals such as Oliver!,] Kiss Me Kate, or Guys and Dolls, Music Man and all these large musicals. Mame. The last one we did was Pajama Game. That would have been in ’92. But that was like a whole decade, I would say, yeah, ’82 to ’92, where we did a major musical every spring plus we did children’s musicals, children’s [art] work. The children [shows] we usually did at Christ Church stage. And then there were several summer camps that we ran for two or three weeks during the summer.
NORTON: Now, the first big show that I can remember you doing was Guys and Dolls, and that was at Hine wasn’t it? Or was it not?
CROWELL: Yes, it had to have been at Hine, yeah. Because 1983 was Damn Yankees. I don’t have it in front of me, the year each one happened. But, Guys and Dolls was certainly the big, major start.
NORTON: And then Damn Yankees was next, I think.
CROWELL: Damn Yankees was ’83. Because that was the year my dad died and before he died he threw out the ball. Do you remember that? My dad was a ball player …
NORTON: Yes, yes, yes.
CROWELL: … so I had him throw out the ball to get the show started. [Laughs.] And I can’t remember whether Parker Jayne was already in the pit.
NORTON: He was not the music director for that one I don’t think yet. He may have been playing.
CROWELL: He could have been doing the piano, yeah. Because he was in for a whole long stretch of the musicals. Music Man and …
NORTON: I know Phil DeSellem was the …
CROWELL: Oh, he might have done one of them.
NORTON: … was the lead actually. He was—what’s his name?
CROWELL: Oh, yes, in that particular show he was [one of the leads]. So, we had people who were—I mean he was a wonderful piano teacher and yet, you know, he liked to sing and dance and act. Steve Johnson was another one who was a wonderful teacher but he was also a great actor, a great dancer, and just a wonderful performer.
NORTON: How did you manage to get the use of Hine? It was a big auditorium.
CROWELL: I don’t think it was that difficult, although I think she called me a “bulldozer” at one time, a complimentary “bulldozer.”
NORTON: This was Princess Whitfield?
CROWELL: “I’ve been bulldozed by Sally.” [Laughs.]
NORTON: Was this Princess Whitfield, the principal? [Whitfield was principal from 1982 to 1995.]
CROWELL: I don’t whether it was—where was Veola Jackson? Or was it …
NORTON: Yeah. Veola was at the Cluster [Capitol Hill Cluster Schools], so …
CROWELL: Oh, okay, all right. Well, we did a lot of outreach with her. I think it—I can’t remember. I’m sorry, it’s just too long ago. But it wasn’t a problem. I mean we had to pay extra for extra custodians and you remember, that auditorium wasn’t really set up for dressing rooms or, you know, it’s not a real theater. So, we had to rig where the girls were going to change and where the guys were going to change and then we had to try to figure out where the children—because when we did a lot of these shows we deliberately used a lot of children. They were in the classes and they were eager to participate. So, we would try to find shows that had children in them, obviously.
And then we also did straight dramas, you know, for those who just really wanted to act. We had some really good actors that didn’t sing and dance necessarily but they were really interested in legitimate [community] theater. [Stephanie Deutsch and Jean Frane were in Children’s Hour at Christ Church.]
NORTON: What’s the first non-musical drama that you remember?
CROWELL: Believe it or not, I think it was called Santa Claus by e.e. cummings. And I remember asking my former professor [James W. Butcher] up at Howard if he would play Santa Claus and he took it the wrong way. He thought I wanted to actually have him dressed up as Santa Claus and play Santa Claus. And I said, “Oh, no, Mr. Butcher. This is not— no, no, no. This is a very serious role!”
And we did it actually—we performed it in the chapel of the Presbyterian church. We used that space. We also did The Fantastics there. A couple of times we did The Fantastics. That’s a smaller show and didn’t need to be at Hine. So, I think we did one at Christ Church and one at the Presbyterian chapel. [Gerry Connolly was very involved in acting and technical theater at Christ Church.]
NORTON: What are some of the other non-musicals that you remember?
CROWELL: Well, we did one, a show that I really loved, The Beautiful People by Saroyan. And it was one that––Mr. Butcher being my mentor and my former teacher––I said, “We’re looking for shows.” And he goes, “Well, if you agree to do Beautiful People, I’ll direct it.” And I said, “Well, all right, you’re in.”
And, oh, Peter Glickert on the Hill, he was in that one. And, oh gosh, Reuven Goren and Rebecca MacKinnon when they might have still been in junior high school. They might have been junior high school but they would have been about, yeah, sixth grade. It was about a family. And Sally, oh, Sally and John Matthews. They were wonderful. They loved it, too. Actually, they were not members of the Arts Workshop and they were not students, but somehow the word got out that we were doing this play by Saroyan called The Beautiful People and they just said, well, they loved that play. That was probably the most serious one that we did.
You know, we did The Dining Room, which is a great play, too. But we were able to break that one out so that we could do three little casts and have three separate directors. So, that was worthwhile, that was good. And, also, the Plaza Suite, we did that one the same way, had the three little vignettes, the three little sort of one-acts within one play and had different directors work on that.
NORTON: What about one-act plays or whatever, some sort of DC …
CROWELL: Oh, yes, we did participate in that [The DC One Act Play Festival]. Yes, we did. Yes. I think for the duration, for however many years they did it, we did it. We tried to be a part of … Oh, The Sandbox was one, by Albee. Stephen Johnson was the lifeguard and Jean Lewton (well, Kling now), Jean Lewton Kling played the lead. And it was just wonderful. It was just top notch. You had to say it’s a community theater because nobody got paid but they were certainly professional caliber.
NORTON: And you used to charge to go to see it, as I recall.
CROWELL: Oh, yeah. People were expecting [that]. They understand even in community theater you have expenses. You know, there are lots of expenses. Your royalties, then the theater that you’re using. You usually give a stipend to your director. Fortunately, I had a lot of talented people who would offer their services gratis, as scene people and costume people—your wife [Linda Norton] being one of them. And, again, Adele Robey for all the advertising. She largely donated all her services and professional advice. But you always had some money that had to be spent. And, again, our memberships were donations to help. People who became supporting members at different categories knew that the money that they were giving was going to keep the lights on in the school or to support so many of our activities. So, it was really quite, quite an operation.
NORTON: It was quite an operation. I remember that. I continue to be amazed how well you were able to do it.
CROWELL: Yeah, with a whole lot of support. A whole lot of support.
NORTON: You had a certain gift, I think, of asking people to do things. People, for whatever reason, seemed to have a hard time saying no to you.
CROWELL: Well, perhaps. I mean, I didn’t want …
NORTON: You weren’t shy, in any event, about asking people.
CROWELL: No. No. But, on the other hand, I think I must have thought that they would appreciate doing this or want to do it or felt that they could do a good job at it or felt, you know, “Yeah, this is something I can take on.” I don’t think I ever forced anybody to do anything.
NORTON: Oh, gosh, no. No, no, no. It was something people were glad to do.
CROWELL: You know, I don’t think I was heavy handed on that end.
NORTON: Oh, no, no. You were never heavy handed. But people always wanted to do it. Well, then, what were some of the other musicals that you can remember after Damn Yankees? My recollection was the next one was Music Man.
CROWELL: Yeah, that was very well done. [I remember that Nicky Cymrot had the cast party out in Virginia and donated so many fabrics for costumes and sets.] Didn’t I give you the list of the plays?
NORTON: I don’t have the list of the plays. It’s all right. You told me most of them, but let’s just go through and … [A more comprehensive listing is appended at the end of this interview.]
CROWELL: Well, another challenging one, as you might recall, was Kiss Me Kate …
CROWELL: … because, you know, that’s not only based on a Shakespeare play but it involves some very, you know, experienced actors. I’m trying to remember Paul’s last name, how he came on the scene. I don’t know how these people evolved, because they weren’t necessarily students and they weren’t teachers and they weren’t necessarily living in the community. Like Sharon Starling actually lived in Maryland.
NORTON: I think you had—my recollection is you actually had, you know, calls for people to come and try out.
CROWELL: Yeah. Lew Bauer. Lew Bauer was another one. And I don’t know—well, he was in Damn Yankees. He [played] the devil, right?
NORTON: He was.
CROWELL: And he was a mainstay in several of the shows. Let’s see, working backwards, Pajama Game being the last one. Mame was in there. Oh, well, let’s not forget Annie.
CROWELL: Let’s not forget Annie. I took a hiatus in … what was it? My son graduated, I went to Sweden. 1987, yes. And I had a time to rest. I came back here to Connecticut to be with my mom and dad. My mom. Actually, my dad had passed in ’83. Well, my mom, who was …
NORTON: How long? How long did you stay? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be interrupting. How long did you stay in Connecticut for your holiday?
CROWELL: Oh, that was just like a few months. I tried to talk her into moving down to DC. In fact, even buying [but she wasn’t interested].
Well, before I forget it, Walter Graham. He’s another one who was a mainstay. Again, he was a supporting member. But he wasn’t necessarily a student or a teacher or a parent or a resident of the Hill. He lived in Virginia. But he worked on the Hill. That was the other thing. I think because of our proximity to the Capitol Hill offices, a lot of these people did work for the government, as I’m thinking about it.
But, in any case, Annie. I was able to recharge my batteries [in Connecticut]. Fortunately, at the time, Raye LeValley … And Cora Lee Khambatta was another mainstay who, you know, I could feel that … was Charlotte still there? Yeah, Charlotte was still there. Yes. [So I thought they could run the program without me.]
And so I was able to come up to be with my mom for about three or four months and I started, you know, thinking about what was the next musical. And I knew all the kids down there. I knew how many kids we had in those classes, and I said, “Well, let’s do Annie with three casts. We can find three dogs, I’m sure. My little dog could play that little runaway in the beginning.” And then I said, “I’m sure we can find three Hannigans. But I we probably can only get one [Daddy Warbucks].”
Leo Surla. Now, here’s another one, Leo Surla. “Probably only one Daddy Warbucks. And only one Roosevelt.” [That was] you, right?
CROWELL: We didn’t double cast that one. [Interviewer laughs.] And Stephen Johnson as Rooster—was it Rooster? And then his sidekick Helen [Jackson]. We didn’t double cast. We didn’t double cast them. I think I had some standbys just in case something happened. But we didn’t double cast it. And it was great. It was just great. That’s when I had befriended Sam Gejdenson who was one of our Connecticut congressmen. And his daughter, Mia, I believe, was in the drama classes along with so many others. And, so, she was one of the orphans. And, oh, that takes me to South Pacific now, because she was also in South Pacific. Mia was one of the daughters, one of the young daughters in South Pacific. Oh, my gosh, too many, too many. [Laughs.]
NORTON: That’s all right. We’ll keep calling back Sam Gejdenson though.
CROWELL: Yeah. And he didn’t pull any strings to get us money or anything. But, you know, he was—I guess we got in the paper. It helped to have him in our picture, when we did our little bit of publicity, as the dad. Okay, that leads us to the four years in the [late 80s]. Is that right?
NORTON: Okay. All right.
CROWELL: Around that time––’87, ’88, ’89, ’90––right in there, I brought a little touring company of children and basically their mothers, but there were some fathers on board, too, who came up, drove the kids up here to Connecticut. [The Weirich, Welter, Pfeiffer, Halberstein, Norton, Brennan, Robey, Truitt, Gaines, Hirschfeld families were part of this endeavor, and adults actors included Tom Lane, Bob Wenz, and Bettie Magee.]
And I know one summer we used Camp Hazen, a YMCA camp, to lodge them. One time, another one down in Ivoryton that was another summer camp. And they performed at the Ivoryton Playhouse children’s theater festival. And, so, they were up here for a long weekend. They came up. We had a rehearsal. They did two shows. And then they packed up and went back to DC on Sunday. [Laughs.] It was just great. It was just a nice offshoot, another experience for them to have.
[The] Weirichs. That’s another one, Mary Weirich. She was a mainstay in so many productions. She was in Annie and she was in, oh, so many others. She was the one who could do straight plays as well as musicals. I know I’m missing somebody, but we’re going to be able to catch up if I’ve forgotten anybody, right?
NORTON: I would hope so, yes. Well, we finish Annie and if I’m … How about The King and I? Do you remember that one?
CROWELL: Yeah. Leo, of course. That was a fun story. You know that one, right? Where so many of our children were blonde and they had to come up with black hair so that they could pass as the Siamese children. And oh, James Dalpee, yeah. He had bright red hair. So, we could see, after the show had closed, you know, the roots growing out. This kid had the black hair with the red roots. And that was before it was very in. Now it’s very in to do that.
I can’t remember whether Linda was in charge of the costumes. I know Nancy Gaines was big on that. Anne McCormally was big on costumes. Of course, Raye was always big on costumes. And that one required a lot of costumes. And, again, a lot of kids. But Leo Surla was a really fine person. Before I—Dorothy Kellogg, right?
NORTON: Kellogg, yes.
CROWELL: And her husband. Yeah, they were very much involved in the productions, too. Because we also did musical revues, as you remember.
NORTON: Right. I was going to ask about that. You tended to do one of those just about every year, right?
CROWELL: Yes, we did. I tried to do that one in the fall so that we wouldn’t obviously have two shows going on at once. So we usually tried to do that one in the fall. And that was a little bit easier to pull together because … And Parker Jayne was very much … And Phil, too.
NORTON: Phil DeSellem?
CROWELL: Yeah. Phil DeSellem. We could rehearse them in very separate sections, and it wasn’t tied together to a script where [the song] had to fit a certain character. It was more about just going for the music and style and maybe the costuming and just putting together a nice enjoyable, entertaining evening of music and dance.
Mostly we did those at Christ Church. We did dinner theaters, because I remember Bruce Brennan very, very vividly, kind of being the maître d’ and walking around with a [towel over his arm]. We had candlelight and we had tablecloths and … Yeah, dinner theater. Oh, that’s the other one that we did at Christ Church that was not a musical––The Matchmaker.
CROWELL: Your wife was in The Matchmaker, right?
NORTON: So was I.
CROWELL: Right. Oh, yes. Right, okay. Well, I didn’t direct that one.
NORTON: “A world full of wonderful things” [a quote from The Matchmaker].
CROWELL: I think Jean Kling directed that one, right?
NORTON: She did.
CROWELL: But we did so many of these … Maybe we only did about five of these musical revues. We did a tribute to Berlin, a tribute to Rodgers, a tribute to—oh, we did 1940s musical hour. We did music from the 40s, music and dance from the 40s, where we could use tap dance as well as jazz dance. And we always tried to make it entertaining for the audience.
And we did these dinner theaters. And the kids that weren’t old enough to be in the shows … I mean, we used some teenagers. But the kids that weren’t able [to perform] would wait on table. [Laughs.] They would bring the food out from the Christ Church kitchen. Peg Kennison, I remember her very much helping with that. And Bettie Magee. They’ve both since passed. But, they were just gung-ho. I mean they would just do anything. It was incredible. It was incredible.
But the thing is, the reason for doing all these things was because you had all this talent. You had all these talented people who just wanted to share their talent, wanted to get up there and have fun. And it was hard to know when to stop. I mean, it was quite a feat. And it did have to stop at some point. And that’s when I had to leave. [Laughs.] “I’ve got to go now. I can’t take anymore.”
NORTON: So, yeah. And when was that? When did you sort of say …
CROWELL: That was ’92. That was ’92, after Pajama Game. I made the transition. I said, “I’ve got to do something different,” you know. “This ball is rolling. Other people can do this. Other people can choreograph. Other people can direct. Other people can, you know, produce.”
That was a time when Erika was turning 80. Or she already turned 80. No, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me make sure I get these dates straight. So, we started—yeah, yeah. We formed a company in her honor. This was actually co-sponsored by the Arts Workshop, because we did a lot of the rehearsing and the reconstructing of the dances at the Workshop in the black box studio there. In the black box studio.
So, Erika, who was suffering a lot from arthritis, who was using a cane, hard to get around, had moved out to a church that they converted into a home in Smithsburg, Maryland. She and her sister. Erika never married and never had any children, so all of her dancers were considered to be her children. And so many of them who taught at the Workshop, such as Raye LeValley, myself, Diana Parson, Sharon Werth—oh, there we go.
Sharon Werth and her husband Fred were very, very much involved in the reconstruction or the renovation of the B.B. French School. Preservation, I should say. Fred was at that time working in lumber, doing carpentry work. He did a lot of the drywall and partitions and that sort of thing. Fred Werth and Sharon. And Sharon also was a member of Erika’s company.
So a number of them came with me over to the Workshop and, then, when we moved on and wanted to honor Erika by preserving her choreography. Again, she’d done a lot of work with [Washington] Performing Arts Society Concerts in Schools. Bea Prosterman, who was in charge of that at the time, who has since passed, asked me if I would take on this project. And I said, well, you know, “I can’t do that and do the Arts Workshop, too.” So, that was a transition time and I said, “Then I will go with this project because this seems like where I could put my energy right now.”
And so we did a lot of her children’s works. We also did a lot of her liturgical work, which we also did at Christ Church [and the Washington City Church of the Brethren], I might say. As a part not only of their service but we also did special [occasions] like when it was Christmastime we did, you know, the candle processions and that sort of thing at Christ Church. And, so, eventually, once everything was done pretty much as she wanted to have us reconstruct, we then were able to take it into the schools as a little company, a small company. Steve was part of the company. Sharon was part of the company, Josephine Nicholson, Carol Dunn, [Emery Harriston]. Raye during that time was a part of reconstructing the dances, but then she was in the process of moving back to New Jersey. Right about that time.
NORTON: What time are we talking about, right now?
CROWELL: Well, that’s a good question. 1990 was when Erika turned 80. It must have been—you know, I’m not going to say. It must have been in the late 80s. No, she was there for those two shows. 1990, maybe. 1990? No, wait a minute. ’91-’92. I’m sorry.
CROWELL: Well, she had to have been there to reconstruct those dances. But she didn’t go with us into performing them, in the 90s. Because I was already out of the Workshop in ’92. It was from then on I was focusing on the Erika Thimey choreography. They also choreographed their own works, the members of the company.
NORTON: I see.
CROWELL: And, again, we did concerts and receptions at St. Mark’s, I’m remembering. A big one there. Because I remember [dance critic] George Jackson, several dance critics came to that one. Okay, we had to have done this in ’93 because Jim passed away in [’95] and he …
NORTON: This is Jim Mayo.
CROWELL: Jim Mayo. When we incorporated the Erika Thimey Dance and Theater Company, it was Rick Halberstein, Jim Mayo, and myself who were the three incorporators of that nonprofit. [Its offices were in the Washington City Church of the Brethren, where we also sometimes danced for services.] And Raye, [who] was in New Jersey was able to reconnect with us because we set up the scholarship in Jim Mayo’s name. That was one thing he wanted to do when he passed away in ’95. In his will he wanted to start a scholarship for high school graduates. Washington, DC high school graduates.
And, at that point in time, we alternated the disciplines. We went from dance to theater, actually acting, to visual arts. They rotated. And we tried to keep that going, even though I had moved up here in 2002, I tried to go back and forth to Washington to try to keep it going until I really couldn’t do it anymore. And Raye pretty much took it over with Gail Spane, [Carrol Kindel, Diana Parson, and Josephine Nicholson].
NORTON: Is this the Thimey company or is this the scholarships?
CROWELL: This is the Jim Mayo Arts Scholarship Fund, which is now a part of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. We have just gone through that process of transferring those funds over to Duke Ellington. And, in the meantime, we did a fundraiser. You know, we [published] the biography of Erika Thimey [Erika Thimey: A Life of Dance, a Dance of Life, written by Dianne Hunt with design by Linda Flint] when she turned 90 in 2000—that would be right because she was born in 1910. Okay. And we did this whole book signing event. This was out at a Lutheran church in Maryland. [We did another one at a Presbyterian church.]
We definitely did a lot of things. It was a combination of dancing and the written word, poetry. But, anyway, that was to honor Erika. And Raye was able to come back and take over. She’s still living in New Jersey, but she’s closer than I am. So she’s able to run the Erika Thimey Dance and Theater Company along with a board. There’s a very, very long-time committed board to the Erika Thimey Company. Miriam Cramer, Natalie Mullitz, [E. Raye LeValley, Sharon Werth, Seda Gelenian, Bea Davis -Williams, Jody Arnhold, Gail Spane, Carrol Kindel, Lucille Johnson, Minnie Fitzhugh, Eric St. John, Vinna Freeman, Saroj Ghoting, Lucy Johnson, and more].
[Most of ] these people were never totally involved with the Arts Workshop. They were only involved with the Jim Mayo Arts Scholarship and the Erika Thimey Dance and Theater Company. And the group decided that in Erika’s name, whatever funds they had … You know how it goes, Randy. Everybody gets older? [Laughs.] And it’s hard to find … If you don’t have like a school, or you’re bringing up the young folks to take over, you don’t have anybody to pass it on to.
So, this board, this Erika Thimey board came to the realization that we’re going to be dissolving soon and that we should pass [the scholarships] on to other nonprofit educational arts groups that can, you know, do it. So, the University of Maryland got to be the place where we now do a dance scholarship for a graduating senior from the University of Maryland. This is from the Erika Thimey Company. The Jim Mayo [Visual Arts Scholarship Award is for students from Duke Ellington School of the Arts].
NORTON: I see.
CROWELL: Now, let me just flash back to what we tried to do at the Arts Workshop at one point in time. Herbert Boyd was the principal [from 1970 to 1978] at—what’s the public elementary? Brent. The elementary school. Is it still there? I don’t know.
NORTON: Still there.
CROWELL: I haven’t walked in the streets down there in quite a while, so I don’t know how things have changed there. But he was a beloved principal. And his wife Frances served on our board at one point in time. And so, what we did [after he died in 1981], when she was on the board [is] we set up a scholarship in Herbert Boyd’s name at the Arts Workshop. I’m not sure that it’s still going on. But we actually had a plaque put in the little garden out in front, you know, where the portico is. As you’re walking to the portico it would have been on the right, amidst all the ivy and such. Again, I have no idea what’s there now. We did that and then we also had a very solid financial aid program where parents would actually apply for assistance.
NORTON: This is at the Arts Workshop?
CROWELL: This is at the Arts Workshop. We are a nonprofit. We? They. It was a nonprofit. And it was part of their mission to do this. It’s in the articles of incorporation that we do this. So, the thing is, again, I don’t know if the Herbert Boyd scholarship is still going on.
It turns out that my son, Erbin Lavoy Crowell III, whom we call Ted, nicknamed after my dad Theodore, because there were already two Erbin Lavoy Crowells and we didn’t want … so you know how it goes when that happens. You have to give the other one a nickname. Or the other two nicknames. So, he was actually a student at Brent Elementary when Mr. Boyd was the principal. And we tried to do [outreach classes] with them. We sent in groups to perform there at Brent as well as some of the other local schools on the Hill. I remember getting special grants for that that Rosalie Hansen was involved in. And, then, I guess also Charlotte Floyd went into the schools. Josephine Nicholson went into the schools. And then we actually …
NORTON: When you say “go[ing] into the schools,” what were they doing?
CROWELL: Oh, I’m sorry. Go in and teach, teach classes. I’m sorry. Yeah. Actually, go in and work with some children. Usually creative movement. Usually creative movement, dance.
NORTON: And this was part of the outreach for the Arts Workshop?
CROWELL: Right, right, right.
NORTON: Okay. Now, Ted. I remember Ted. He was in a bunch of shows and …
CROWELL: Oh, not a bunch. No, Mommy couldn’t … no, I couldn’t get … I got him to do Damn Yankees.
NORTON: Yes, I do remember that.
CROWELL: I got him to—I don’t know. Did he actually wear … ? I got you guys to wear tap shoes because they were kind of like cleats. It worked for me choreographically.
NORTON: We had to do a lot of tap dancing, too, as I recall.
CROWELL: Yeah, you did, you did. But I thought that was a unique twist on it. I don’t think in the original production the ball players wore tap shoes. But, anyway, I thought that was really neat. And he did … in fact, I even have a photograph of it, and I think you’re in the photograph, too. I’ll have to make a copy of it. I think it’s the end of “You Gotta Have Heart” or something, because you’ve all got your arms up and you’re just like … You know, you’ve got your hand on your chest, and you’re, you know, obviously singing “heart.” [Laughs.]
Anyway, no, my son turned out to be a wonderful artist. He majored in art and anthropology at Brown, but he took all of his undergraduate art courses—not all, but many— at RISD, Rhode Island School of Design. And so he did art and anthropology, and then he turned his attention to the environment and nutrition and organics. So he now supervises Neighboring Food Co-ops of New England. And he lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. And his wife is also into organic. I think she actually owns … I think it’s called [Real] Pickles. Have you heard of [Real] Pickles? Anyway, organic, they’re organic, they’re organic. [Laughs.] So, anyway, how it goes. But he plays guitar and my grandson plays the drums.
CROWELL: And, so, you know, the arts are still there.
NORTON: Good, good, good, good. So, now, let’s just sort of go back to the time … I mean, you talk about transitioning away from the Arts Workshop. So, how did that work? Because, were you still living on Capitol Hill at that point?
CROWELL: Yeah. I lived on Capitol Hill, oh, gosh, until I moved in 2002. But I rented it [out] and after that I actually rented it with the idea that I could have a room upstairs when I came back and forth, and I did that for about five years.
NORTON: Was this the Ninth Street house still?
CROWELL: The Ninth Street. Still the Ninth Street house. There was a woman who worked for Congressman Byrd, I think it was, at the time, and Debbie was her name. And she was very good about that. She paid rent that enabled me to keep the house payments going, the taxes paid, and have a place for me to stay when I would go back and forth. In the beginning, I tried to go twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. But, eventually, it became one time a year and now, I’m afraid, it’s … I sold the house in 2010 and so, with the COVID now, I haven’t been down there in two years. The Kindels [Karl and Carrol] are still on Ninth Street; the Umanskys, are still on Ninth Street. I would, you know, like to check in on them. [Laughs.] See how they’re doing.
NORTON: Good, good, good. Now, you had something of a relationship with Jim Mayo, as I recall, at least without prying too much.
CROWELL: Definitely, definitely. Yes. Seventeen years, as a matter of fact. And it was one of the reasons why I actually, you know, decided that it was time to leave the area. Because when he passed away in ’95 … You know, it starts happening. And then I lost my good friend Roland Dority, who was also so involved in the Workshop. And here he was blind and he was tap dancing with me, you know. We were teaching him to tap dance. He was our sound man for so many of our shows. He had all this sound equipment. And he was an ANC commissioner, too, and a real advocate on Capitol Hill. Lived on A Street, NE, I believe.
CROWELL: And I would, you know, take him shopping and do some things for him. But he was devoted to the Arts Workshop and then he was devoted to the Erika Thimey Company. He was the secretary of that for a number of years.
Oh, back to Jim. I met him through, actually, an ANC meeting when … Oh, gosh what was the issue? I have no idea what the issue was. It could have been Eastern Market. Eastern Market was always an issue! But I met him and, you know, sparks happened and we got involved. He lived right around the corner.
He lived where Helen Carey had her real estate office. I think it was 711 E. And he maintained that apartment until he passed away of cancer in ’95. But, again, before he did pass away, we did so many—I mean, he was so instrumental, also, in all of the sets, so many of the sets. Set organizing. And he was a good supervisor of volunteers. That was no small task.
And remember Mame—it might have been Mame, with all of that art deco? Mary Procter, yeah, she was big on that. Bill Matuszeski and Mary Procter, they were very involved with the productions. In fact, he was in one. He was in Oliver! Oh, I forgot about Oliver!
CROWELL: Yeah. Oliver! I mean there were at least ten of them, ten big [shows]. You know, we were working toward a common goal. He was very much in support of [CHAW]. [Jim Mayo] had been born on Capitol Hill. I hope somebody does something for him.
NORTON: This is Jim, eh?
CROWELL: Jim, yeah. Posthumously—what is it, posthumously? Whatever. After the fact.
CROWELL: Posthumously, that.
NORTON: Post´humously, whatever.
CROWELL: Whatever. And I think people could do it. You could easily put together a story about Jim because he was a character and believed wholeheartedly in the arts on the Hill, and whatever support he could give, he did.
Warren Robbins was another one, who was the founder of the African American Museum, right? [National] Museum of African Art, was that what it was? Yeah. He actually lived on Independence Avenue. But that was the beginning of the whole big African museum. Warren Robbins. And he lived [later] on Sixth Street, right? You know how Christ Church’s parking backs up on the people on Sixth Street there? He was one of those people [who] actually testified that anybody who wanted to park behind his fence to go to the Arts Workshop were welcome to do so. I mean, he was just, again, very supportive of us getting in there.
NORTON: You did have one neighbor who, as I recall, was always a little bit of a stickler. Is that …
CROWELL: Yeah. I don’t blame them. I mean, we did everything we could to monitor our people and not make a lot of noise. I don’t know what they wanted to see happen to that building because you know very well how landlocked it is. I mean, it’s like you can’t … Obviously, there were no automobiles around when it was built because everybody obviously walked there and there was no congestion. But I think that’s what they were concerned about. I knew them well. We actually had their children in the Workshop at one time.
But, you know, I just felt that this just was meant to be, you know, that the Arts Workshop was in a position to do something with that building that needed to be done. They couldn’t make it into condos, you know. You couldn’t do anything like that with it. So, anyway, yes, we won’t mention that name right now because, obviously, you know, water under the bridge. I hope.
NORTON: Listen, one other thing, you talked about Eastern Market. I can remember the Arts Workshop always performing at Market Day. And Market Day I think is now gone the way of all flesh. What do you remember about Market Day?
CROWELL: Oh, my gosh. Well, first of all, that reminds me that before we actually had any other kind of theater [space] we used Market 5 Gallery. That’s where we did Our Town. Our Town, with Val Lewton as the narrator, and Jean [Lewton] was in it and, oh, so many people. Oh, my gosh. And it was, again, given that situation where it was very raw—well, you know. I mean it was no frills, definitely no frills, and where do you change your costumes? You know. But we did it.
We did dance concerts there and we also did, after another play, a non-musical. What’s the one with all the characters? Paris [Singer] was in that one … We had to have done that in 1977?
And then we got very involved in Market Day. Yeah, we took that on not only as a way to show our support of Friendship House but also to promote the Arts Workshop, obviously. To show that we had talent, you know. Kids were talented. And they would do acrobatics with Steve [Johnson] or they would do tap dancing with Charlotte [Floyd] or they’d put on a cute little show. Puppets, we actually did puppets one year. I remember Mariana [Gasteyer], Jean [Lewton], and I doing a puppet show with the kids there. So, that was a nice hub but there was never any time that we thought we would take [Market 5] over. Never. Never, never, never. Because it just would not suit our needs for classes and everything else. It was not an option, not an option.
NORTON: All right. The Market 5 Gallery.
CROWELL: Yes, yes. The Market 5, where, you know, the stage was. I don’t even know what it’s called anymore. Is it still Market …
NORTON: North Hall [in Eastern Market].
CROWELL: Oh, Inez Lester. Let’s not forget Inez Lester and Bob Lester. Oh, my goodness … Were they supportive of everything going on! And they didn’t get involved until a little bit later though. Let me just think, because I had Brian [and Cameron, their sons] in creative movement at Christ Church. So, the kids were involved but I don’t think she was doing any acting with us yet. She’s a great actress. Very good.
NORTON: I was in two or three shows with her, including [unintelligible], think. She was, of course, in South Pacific. She was Bloody Mary in South Pacific.
CROWELL: Right, right.
NORTON: And she was in Twelve Angry Men.
CROWELL: Yes. Another good one. That was another great one. I think Jean directed that one, too, right?
CROWELL: That was at Christ Church. Another great performance. Yeah, another straight play. Yeah. I don’t have room for all the posters to hang in my studio. There’s just too many.
NORTON: I think Inez was in––as [were] Linda and Adele––in Steel Magnolias. I think they were in that.
CROWELL: Oh, yes, yes. And we even did Bus Stop, at Christ Church. Bus Stop, Steel Magnolias, yeah. Thank you for remembering, recalling those. I do have all those written down somewhere, but they’re not at my fingertips.
NORTON: Anyway, the Market Day, Eastern Market Day, just going back to that for a second. They always got one of those DC Rec[reation] Department stages up there.
CROWELL: Right, right, right.
NORTON: Got up on that, yeah.
CROWELL: Yeah, yeah. It was good. Oh, Katherine LaToracca. Remember her?
CROWELL: Who did so much. Well, she taught, what was it? It was piano and voice. Did she teach for us? Anyway, she was in a couple of our shows.
NORTON: She was in Oliver! She started in …
CROWELL: She was definitely in Oliver! She was definitely in Oliver! And a couple of our musical revues. And she was game to go out there and be with the kids outdoors. Oh, yeah, I remember Jim Vance—this was before we got the Recreation Department’s big, you know, trailer. We actually did a block party on Eighth Street, right in front of the Marine Barracks. And we used a flatbed truck, a Marine flatbed truck. [Laughing.] And I remember Jim Vance. We auctioned things off because I have an image in my mind now about him being there. And we actually did stuff right there in the street. They must have closed off Eighth Street for us. I mean, imagine that. [Laughs.] I guess all you’ve got to do is ask, Randy. Right?
NORTON: Right. You were always doing some sort of fundraisers. I can remember that, too.
CROWELL: Well, yeah, we sort of had to.
NORTON: You had raffles and you had all kinds of stuff.
CROWELL: You sort of had to. I mean, as a nonprofit, there’s not, you know, too much coming through the door. So, you had to. And grants. And grants will help out a lot. Then, of course, you know you have to spend a lot of time writing a grant proposal and then you have to hope. Round up all the support materials and hope that they go for it. Right?
NORTON: Right. So, now, when did you sort of move back to Connecticut full time or at least mostly full time?
NORTON: Okay. And before that you’d been working mostly with Erika Thimey …
CROWELL: For about ten years, I devoted most of my ten—yep, to Erika. And, oh, I should mention, in order to survive—and so much of this is about survival––there was a woman in a wheelchair who was blind and needed a place to be. She didn’t want to go into a [nursing] home yet. She was not that old. And, so, I was by myself and, once again, I talked to my ironworker friend Richard Parson. And he constructed a ramp to come into my house that would take care of the wheelchair. And he also completed the spiral staircase that I had in the back, never got finished, so that I would have an escape from the second floor in case of fire or whatever. And I lived for a couple of years —it was only two, it was a couple of years––upstairs and Marianne lived downstairs. And what I had to do was have somebody tear out the partition—no, put up a partition.
NORTON: Now, who’s Marianne again, just so we’re clear. [Interviewee laughs.] The lady in the wheelchair?
CROWELL: The lady in the wheelchair. [She] was blind. And I did have a little powder room downstairs. That’s the wall that had to come down, so she could get her wheelchair there. And she had access to the stove, the refrigerator, the sink and I was upstairs basically using a hot plate. [Laughs.] It was like, I don’t know, it was like New York all over again. But, anyway, we did that for a couple of years until she went to live in an assisted living place with her mother over in Georgetown. And I would go over to visit her. She paid rent so that was how, you know, I got through.
But, getting back, while I’m talking about surviving, you know, so much of what you do you do pulling on your resources of what you have learned and what you think you can do with them. I didn’t mention that I got divorced from my son’s father in officially 1972, which ironically enough was when I started the Arts Workshop. Of course, you had to stay separated for two years before you could actually get the divorce. But you say, “Okay, what am I going to do? I have a child. I have a house.”
The one thing he did when he went basically back to—he was a green person and went back to the woods. But we had joint custody of the child. Well, actually, no. I was given custody of the child but we arranged joint custody because I felt that was the right thing to do. Because a boy needs his father. That’s basically my philosophy. And, so, “Okay, what I can do is I act and I sing and I dance and I teach.” So, that’s when I started, basically with me, myself, and I, with my phonograph. At that point in time it was phonographs and records, LP records. Right?
CROWELL: And I remember going from church [to church]. I used the Lincoln Park Methodist Church for a class or two during the week. I went to Christ Church. I went to St. Mark’s. And somehow pulled together enough students to get something started. And, of course, some of those people that I got pulled in were people like Marguerite Kelly, whose daughter Meg was one of my first students down there, who must be in her 50s. And, also, Mariana Gasteyer’s child. Of course, she’s Ana Gasteyer now of—what’s the show? Saturday Night Live.
NORTON: Saturday Night Live, right.
CROWELL: But she’s also now on another one called American Cars or something, something about cars. [American Auto] She’s now got a new little sit-com on Monday nights I see. But she was one of my first students doing dance, ballet at the time.
And Terry Braunstein, who was an artist. I have her paintings in my studio here. She had her daughter come dance with me. She danced with me. I did a class for moms, moms and kids together. And then I eventually did an exercise class and wove in modern dance for adults. And all that just kind of evolved. And then as I needed help––like Raye, who was great in crafts and art as well as in dance, was able to come over because Erika had closed her studio. So she was able to take on students. And it just grew and grew. It grew organically. It just grew.
But it started out of necessity. It started because, “Okay, now what do I do? You know, there’s no Equity job, I can’t just … As much as I love to act, I can’t …You know how much time it takes. I can’t go sit around memorizing lines and not be paid for it, you know. And I can’t go, you know, [be] dancing seven shows and not be paid for it.” So I did what I could [to] make a living at that time. Now I am dancing.
NORTON: Fast forward. Right. What are you doing back in Connecticut?
CROWELL: Fast forward, fast forward. Oh, I forgot to mention, in the midst of all this, in the 80s, I got my master’s degree at George Washington University. It was suggested to me …
NORTON: In your spare time, right?
CROWELL: Well, it was in the 80s. And it was suggested to me by a board member that any self-respecting head of an arts institution should have a master’s degree. So. [Laughs.] Of course, of course, I totally agree. “Let me go get my master’s degree.” So I was doing everything at the same. But from GW [George Washington University] and that was a very positive experience, too. [They eventually presented me with an alumni award.]
So, after I resettled—I hadn’t sold the house yet, didn’t sell that for eight more years—I was going back and forth. I took the first job that I saw advertised in the newspaper [The Valley Courier]. We have a local newspaper. And it was as a paraeducator in the elementary school. I arrived here in June. I think I went for the interview in July or August and started work in September as a paraeducator with second graders.
NORTON: What’s a paraeducator?
CROWELL: It’s like paralegal. You know, you basically help out the teacher. You take on special needs or you augment, in some way. Like if a kid is having a rough time you try to figure out how you can keep them learning and not disruptive and that sort of thing.
So I started with second grade. During my time––and I’m coming on 20 years––I didn’t think I would, but one of the benefits, and this was true in Washington, too, [is] I walk to work. I walked to the Arts Workshop when I was working there. It was just a three-block walk. I walk up to the elementary school. It’s like a five-minute walk to the elementary school. So, I thought, “Okay, this is good. This is good.”
And, of course, I have since met so many wonderful teachers and students. Hundreds, hundreds I’ve been involved with up here, just through basic, you know, reading, writing, basic math. And library. I had to substitute in the library for a while while they were looking for a new person. But, for the most part, the last ten years I’ve been primarily with kindergarteners, which, of course, I love because you can be a whole lot more creative with your teaching. You know, they say, of course, now that kindergarten is the new first grade because they’re reading. We’ve got kids reading in kindergarten.
NORTON: Yeah. I know.
CROWELL: Reading. Well, is that true in DC, too? Probably, I don’t know.
NORTON: I think it is but it wasn’t when I was a kid. [Laughs]
CROWELL: No, no. Give me the sandbox. Give me the clay. Give me the Play-Doh, right? But I do little plays with them. I also teach Day of the Arts. We have once a year a Day of the Arts where we just turn, you know, the whole school becomes [the] arts. Music, dance, theater, whatever. I teach in that capacity.
I also took on the Green Club when they wanted to have our kids know more about the environment. So I and then the art teacher did that for four years until I turned that one over. I was a mentor. I’ve been a mentor for about six, seven years for two or three different kids. And it’s just been a very ongoing enriching experience because I’ve also had time to be a trustee of the historical society, where I did several projects, several events, wrote proposals about oral history.
Also, the preservation of our local theater up here, which is called the Deep River Town Hall Auditorium. My dad had served as first selectman from ’47 to ’55. I remember when he was first selectman there and also doing shows on the stage there when I was a little kid. We used to do town shows there. So, I’ve been able to stay busy. I am now the president of the Deep River senior club, called the Deep River 60 Plus Club. And I have a group of seniors who dance with me. They’re not only from Deep River; they’re from various towns around. But they’re very experienced at dancing. They did it as kids and they love to do it now. So, we get together once a week, put together little shows and then take them around [to senior centers and nursing homes]. [Laughs.]
NORTON: You’re right, you’re keeping busy it sounds like.
CROWELL: I am keeping busy. And, then, my friend Randy calls me up and he says, “The Ruth Ann Overbeck project has been trying to get in touch with you.” And I say, “You know, Randy, I know. I have it here on my desk and I just haven’t gotten to it. Sorry.” He goes, “Well, I can interview you.” I said, “Okay, then. Let’s go for it.”
NORTON: Yeah, and we have. So, anything else you want to … I think I promised to get you out of here before 4:00, so I think we’re still in good shape. Is there anything else you want to [mention], in terms of your memory? I think I’ve gone through my notes pretty well. I think at some point we’re going to need to get some of the spelling, but I think maybe I’ll talk to Bernadette [McMahon, Project Manager] about that. But, at some point, maybe you would want to just look at the transcript and you can make sure the spellings and everything, the names and everything are all right. I could say there were a lot of them, a lot of them. So, I don’t think there’s much we can do about that right now.
CROWELL: Well, I’ll certainly, you know, straighten that out. And, also, I might want to interject a few other—I don’t know if that’s possible or not.
NORTON: Well, we’ll see.
CROWELL: In terms of the shows, we didn’t hit on all the shows that [we did]. Maybe that doesn’t matter.
NORTON: Well, no. It does.
CROWELL: But I would like to say that when I was trying to get up here to visit my folks, and especially my mom in the 90s—well, she died in ’93, so it was the late 80s. Since my dad died. He died in ’83 and she died in ’93. So, there was that ten years of me feeling like I really wanted to try to do more things [in Connecticut].
So I did take some parts in the Ivoryton Playhouse. And I was recognized as, believe it or not, as an Equity. They put me down as an Equity person even though I didn’t have a card. We did Annie Get Your Gun. I didn’t do Annie. I did one of the dancers and I was happy to do that, one of the ensemble. I, also, at the Connecticut River Museum for two falls, did shows. They did [plays based on] folklore having to do with the Connecticut River. And one had to do with a steamboat blowing up and the people who were killed are now, you know, frozen, but they come to life and tell the story of how it all happened. So, I was in that one, which was very moving. We did it outside on the dock, I might add, in the cold. It had a lot of atmosphere to it.
And, then, the other one I did was this Dummerston Vampire. I kind of did this character. The lead character was kind of a traveling salesman who entertained people along the Connecticut River and, you know, it has this weird twist that this Dummerston vampire takes him down. They actually changed the role to a female so I could do it, and they changed the [role in the other play] to a grandma so I could do it. [Laughs.] They’re very accommodating that way. So, that’s been—that was very good. The Ivoryton Playhouse and also the puppet playhouse.
Oh, the puppet playhouse [Stony Creek Puppet House] in Stony Creek, I had the opportunity to do Madame Arcati, which, if you know the play, Blithe Spirit, it’s very wordy––Noel Coward, very, very wordy. And I don’t know if it was my age or what but I asked them if I could cut out some of the lines that seemed redundant to me. [Laughs.] But, anyway, I played that role and that was well received. That was also very challenging, but rewarding, you know, like so many [roles].
NORTON: When were you doing that? I mean give me a little time frame of when it was. Because it was summer when you were kind of going back and forth? Or was summer …
CROWELL: I would be up for the summers. Right. And, so, it had to have been, again, we’re talking the mid 80s—’88, ’87, ’86, right in there, up to ’90, I think. Around there, around there.
NORTON: And, then, shortly, in the early 90s, you phased over mostly to the Erika Thimey Company and, then, 2002, you moved back up.
CROWELL: Right. And some of these acting things, like down at the dock, that’s only been, like, within the last six years I’ve done that one.
CROWELL: I mean all of these, so many of these things have happened since 2002.
CROWELL: I’m still a member of the Sacred Dance Guild. I still do sacred dance. And the U.S.A. ballroom social dance organization, I’m a part of that. And, as I say, I have private students. In fact, I had a cute—I call them my kids, they’re in their 60s. But I call them my kids, because I am about to turn 80. And, so, I’m teaching them social ballroom dance. They just got engaged, so, it’s all good.
NORTON: They need to know, then, for the wedding.
CROWELL: It’s all good.
NORTON: All righty. Well, listen, thank you, Sally. I really appreciate it. Now, what I’m going to do, ahem, is I’m going to turn off the recording first. Okay. [Click] Stop recording. I hope this works. Okay.
END OF INTERVIEW
See Addendum for list of CHAW performances under Sally Crowell.
CHAW THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS UNDER SALLY CROWELL
This list is compiled by Randy Norton from his memory and records and from a review of documents in the CHAW archives. It represents an attempt to be accurate but does not guarantee accuracy.
I do! I do!
February 1977 (St. Mark’s)
1978 or earlier, November 1984, and November 1987
Guys and Dolls
The King and I
Kiss Me Kate
THEATRICAL PERFORMANCES OTHER THAN MUSICALS
Toys in the Attic
The Glass Menagerie
The Dock Brief
The Dreamy Kid
What Every Woman Wants
The Children’s Hour
The Beautiful People
Arsenic and Old Lace
The Dining Room
Twelve Angry Men
Free to Be You and Me
Program of Selected Greek Myths
Sacramento – 50 Miles
The Wizard of Oz
Peter and the Wolf
Summer 1984, 1985, and 1987; February 1986
The Runaway Snowman
February 1986 – 1990
You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown
May 1989 and Summer1989 (production at Ivoryton Playhouse in CT)
Hansel and Gretel
Alice in Wonderland
Babes in Toyland
May 1991 and August 1991 (production at Ivoryton Playhouse in CT)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Showtime on the Showboat
May 1992 and Summer 1992 (production at Ivoryton Playhouse in CT)
Eeyore’s Christmas Present
D.C. in Revue, A Hometown Musical
CHAW’s Musical Revue ’82
CHAW’s Musical Revue ’83, A Salute to Richard Rodgers
CHAW’S Musical Revue ’84
Happy Birthday – Jerome Kern
Remember-A Salute to Irving Berlin
A Silver Salute to the Sounds of the Sixties
1940s Radio Hour
A Musical Tapestry
Rhapsody in Rhythm and Rhyme, A Tribute to George Gershwin