Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Pat Clanton

Patricia Clanton of Covington has been involved in a number of community activities over the years, among them Playmakers, the Chamber of Commerce, and even city government as a member of the city council. 


Pat Clanton at an early Alvin Awards Playmakers program

In 1988, the Times Picayune ran a feature article about her, focusing on her many interests and preservation efforts, but especially on the 175th anniversary of the founding of Covington.

Here is the article from 31 years ago, click on the image to make it larger and more readable. 



Playmakers Comes To Covington

Her work with Playmakers Inc. community theater started early in the group's history, and in a recent interview she shared some of her earliest memories of that organization.

"Evelyn Chalaron was a wonderfully talented and imaginative  person, capable of making things happen in the community," she said. "She came to think that there should be an acting group in Covington." In 1954, Chalaron and the group of fledgling actors put on a play called "Too Many Husbands" as a fund-raiser for the PTA. It was performed in a school gym.

Pat played the French maid in that production. When asked why the group chose that particular play, Clanton recalled that "there was a crew that Evelyn had gotten together, and they read this and that and came up with that play, and it just clicked."

The play was a "farce," and there was "nothing polished about it. The actors had a lot of fun with it," she said.  Lester Landon had the lead role in the production. 

She then showed a list of all the people who were "charter members" of Playmakers, Inc. 

The Charter Member List

It was decided by the group that they would continue right away with a second play.  "Everybody was so enthusiastic," she said. "They just couldn't wait to get back on stage and make a fool of themselves."

The Curious Savage

 The second play was "The Curious Savage." She played the part of Mrs. Savage, so she was a 20 something year old young woman playing the part of a 50 something year old lady. "Twenty five years later, I got to do that role again, and I had sort of grown into it by that time," she noted.

 In the early days, the group would meet at various homes and it was eventually decided to officially form a community theater group with a charter. A lot of different names were suggested, but the name Playmakers stuck.

So then the group started looking for a building in which to hold its plays. "The barn was discovered in the Sans Souci Forest," Clanton recalls, " and it belonged to Alvin Bertel. It took a massive group effort to fix it up. "It was a wonderful time, every Sunday, and many Saturdays, everybody brought a picnic lunch to the barn and worked together."

The community had a need for "live theater," she said, and Playmakers provided the outlet. "People were just moving into Covington, and they became involved. They didn't mind working, coming out each weekend and fixing up the barn."

Let's Put On A Play

"It was so much fun, painting, hammering, sawing: some of the cow stalls had to be torn down, there were no rest rooms. There was so much laughing and camaraderie among strangers who had come together for this new thing. We built a stage, and we got chairs from some place... it was so exciting."

The Barn  

 "It truly was just like a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie, hey folks! We found a barn, we're fixing it up, we're going to put on a play! Come see us!," she laughed. "That is exactly what it was like."  

"I have to say, those first plays in the barn, the accommodations were primitive," she admitted, describing the restroom facilities, or lack thereof. 

The first play on the boards of the barn was "Kind Lady."  That was in February of 1956. 


One of the first plays
 
While a few experienced actors were among the group, most of those involved were amateurs, she said. "There were many wonderful couples, airline pilots, all kinds of people, a motley group." The original group numbered about 25 to 30 people, she said. The barn work crews got up to 50 people.

Off To A Good Start

"The first season went very well, and when we were trying to sell the first season, the Southern Hotel allowed us to sell tickets in the lobby," she explained. 

The first few seasons the plays ran for three nights over one weekend. "Lots of people came to see the plays, and we had to bring in folding chairs from wherever we could find them," she said. "We were constantly trying to improve, everybody took turns directing,  and they were proud of the fact they had local people, non-professionals, directing the plays."

That Playmakers used non-professionals to direct the plays was a point of pride and a selling point for getting involved, in fact. 

@!#*@!&

She remembered the discomfort of local audiences when Playmakers presented its first play with cursing. "And there was quite a bit of cursing in this play," Clanton recalled. "That really caused the town to rock. The play was called 'Light Up The Sky.' When the on-stage cursing started, there were a few people in the audience who got up and left."

Officers were elected, four plays were presented a year, and a reading committee keep busy checking out the possible plays. "The King and I was a popular play, one of the first musicals," she recalls. It even had choreography which was handled by her sister Rosemerry Fuhrmann Hanian.

Another group of dedicated folk were the set designers and builders, she recalled. "And they worked like dogs every production." 

She began naming names of the many local residents active across the years, names like Nikki Barranger, Elizabeth Malone, Robert and Katherine Lobdell, Charles O'Brien and many, many others. 

She became business manager for Playmakers in 1970, and she started designing and mailing out brochures and running ads. "I was there every night of every play," she said.

"It was a joy to be a part of that," she remarked. She and her husband Dick Clanton stayed a part of Playmakers for many years, and it was great part of her life, she said. She would have liked to have been on stage even more than she was, but her day job and family life sometimes called for cutting back her Playmakers involvement.

The people who devoted so much time and effort to the success of the community theater were dedicated individuals, she said. With the rehearsals, "To be in the play, you were giving up six weeks of your life," she recalled. 

The Dedication and Recognition

One of the most fun productions of the year for Playmakers, however, was the Alvin Awards program, and Pat Clanton put together the very first one. A lot of people were recognized over the years, but the idea for the Alvin Awards itself came with a lot of controversy, she said. 

"There were some who thought we should give not give out awards, because it might become too competitive," she recalled. It also called for impartial judges, people who had to pledge to see all the shows of the season. The awards program itself took a lot of work, but was a lot of fun, too, given the songs and skits. 

How has Covington benefited from Playmakers? "I think of Playmakers as a little jewel in the crown of Covington," she said. "It has brought many different people from many different walks of life together and resulted in lifetime friendships that even carried over from one generation to the next generation.

"It goes on year after year with great spirit, bringing people together, no matter who they are and where they are from, because it's an art. So many people are drawn to this whole parish who have art in their veins, not just painting, or acting, or singing, but directing, stage design, advertising: there are so many different talents called for in Playmakers. 

"There are the different kinds of plays, the comedies, the dramas, I think it definitely had a place in this community. From its beginnings in 1955, it has evolved over the past 60 years in a remarkable way."

Playmakers has survived some serious challenges: the 1979 fire that destroyed the Barn, the flooding of the new theater a few years ago. "And it kept going," Clanton stated. 

Over the years, there is no telling how many people have personally benefited just by being exposed to the "can do" spirit of the Playmakers experience. "I think working together with Playmaker's dedicated group of volunteers has helped many individuals," she went on to say. 

Live Theater Lives

"Live theater is very well represented by Playmakers in Covington today," she stated. "A lot of people don't realize how much an actor, or musician, or performer is giving to the experience because people come into the theater with their own problems. They come there to relax, and once the curtain opens, they become  transformed for the next hour and a half, setting aside their own problems for that time to enjoy the play. 

"For the performers, that live audience is what makes it all happen," she stated. "Dress rehearsals can go terribly wrong, and you start to think this will never come together, but the ingredient that brings it together is the audience. It is so totally different with a live audience." It's great when they laugh, or cry, or applaud at the appropriate time. 

Applause

There's nothing like applause, she remarked. "Applause just fills you because you've done something that has pleased people. It is everything." The desire to act and belong to an artistic community gets people involved, but the applause certainly helps keep them involved, she felt.

Click on the images below to make them larger. 

  

The 1970-1971 Season


 Come Blow Your Horn, 1971, Pat Clanton at right


The 1971-1972 Season 
Season tickets for $10


The 1972-1973 Season


A Starring Role


Award Winners

She has been active with many different organizations and projects over the past several decades, and she loves to talk about Covington, its attractions, its history, but most of all its people and promise. 

Her Message To Young People

She has a talk that she gives to community groups that's entitled "The Path." In that presentation, she tries to share with young people the importance of their very first summer job. "No matter what the job was, it was the opportunity to learn something about themselves, something they can bring into the next job they have," she explains. "I love giving this talk, because it shows how each job you have brings you something that can help show you your path in the future."

"Everything I did in the past helped me whenever I got a new job," she said. "My sister and I did a lot of stuff, a lot of community service involvements when we were young, particularly working with our father and his motion picture theaters and community promotion work." 

Her father, Charles Sidney August Fuhrmann, operated Covington's first movie picture theaters. Growing up in local show business helped her develop her people speaking skills, a talent she has put to good use throughout her career. 

She remembers as a young girl she and her friends dressing up in Antebellum costumes and serving as ushers for the showings of Gone With The Wind. "People were excited about going out to see it," she said. "They talked about it for weeks before it came. It was really special."
 It pleased her greatly that the new city hall's auditorium was named Fuhrmann Auditorium in honor of father. The facility is now used by visiting performances, by schools, and other groups.

Prior to Playmakers, in the 1920's and 1930's, there was a acting group organized by her father for his theater. He also went to New Orleans and brought back live theater groups to perform for the local audiences. There were also traveling groups that would pass through town and give performances in canvas tents, often on the northwest corner of Columbia and Rutland Streets. 

Chamber of Commerce Director

Pat Clanton's long career in Covington included many job assignments that called upon her public speaking and organizational skills. In 1978, she went to work for the Greater Covington Chamber of Commerce and for several years organized ribbon-cuttings, community promotion efforts, and was liaison for many civic clubs working together for various projects. 

  


Speaking at a Veterans Day Program at the Courthouse

  

Speaking at a Martin Luther King Day Program


Emcee at the 4th of July Program, Bogue Falaya Park


Shopping Center Events Coordinator

Pat Clanton also served as Promotions Coordinator for the Bogue Falaya Plaza shopping center, putting on Boat Shows, Car Shows, Fashion Shows, Art Shows, and Dance Shows and bringing in Santa at Christmas time.   "We had different contests as well, band concerts and battle of the bands. There was a whole week dedicated to senior citizens, and we brought in plays, singing groups, and music presentation, accompanied by cakes and punch," she said.

Bicentennial Program Speaker

She was also asked to take part in the area's 1976 American Bicentennial Festivities. To listen to a WARB radio broadcast of that event, CLICK ON THIS LINK for a YouTube audio file.  Among the voices heard on the recording above are Rick Webb, Bill Stubbs, Pat Clanton, Rev. Baxter Pond, and Dorothy Kehoe.


Pat Clanton receives award from Covington City Council 

 
Footpaths and Footprints

Her favorite saying is "The Footpaths of the Future Are Guided By The Footprints of the Past." In 2016, she was a guest speaker at the Louisiana Annual Preservation Conference held at the Southern Hotel in Covington, where she spoke on "Reclaiming and Rebuilding Public Spaces."


She was recognized for her work in encouraging and bringing about the restoration of Columbia Landing as a public park and concert stage area.


Click on the images to make them larger and more readable
 


What has this lifetime of involvement taught her? Well, "In some ways I have learned how to be patient. I can be very patient with people I work with, and I have learned that showing respect to others is so very important. I also know that sharing the credit with others when something is accomplished is important," she explained.

"I have been a seed planter, and other people have come in and helped bring it all to reality," she concluded.



See also:

Cemetery Ceremony 1994

Clean City Golden Broom 1967

Fairgrounds Entrance Gate

The Covington Poem

The First Theaters In West St. Tammany

Columbia Street Landing

The Columbia Street Landing Archway