A Look Back: Edith B. Wood

The production A Picasso, which opened May 10, 2013, is being presented as a collaborative effort with the Genesius Guild – responsible for the artistic side (directors, actors, set, tech) – and CTG - providing the venue and ‘front end’ needs (facility, tickets, refreshments, house manager).  For the first time a fully staged play is being presented in the Edith B. Wood Studio.  This space was used as a Fellowship Hall by the Assembly of God Church. CTG’s first use was as meeting and rehearsal area,  furniture storage, and a place to take portraits for programs and our 50th celebration. Eventually it became the domain of our education department.

This large room was called simply the Rehearsal Hall until 2009 when our last remaining charter member, Edith Wood, passed away.  She was one of the committee of 3 who were sent to inspect the Memorial Opera House in 1955 to determine if the new theatre company could work there.  When asked about the experience she said, “You had to watch your step, and you were afraid to put your full weight down anywhere (on the stage).  One whole corner of the floor was missing, damaged scenery was stacked everywhere, And you were wary of the crooked battens hanging on unsafe-looking ropes above your head.”   

A graduate of Northwestern University School of Drama where she had studied and taught technical theatre, her first responsibilities in the newly-formed company were lighting and sets.  The lighting consisted of 3 huge dimmers.  One was either on full or off, the second worked as it should, and the third didn’t work at all.  The picture below shows Edith at the dimmers, and her husband Fred at the ropes.  Flats had to be cut down to size and re-covered for the set.

Her first role was Emeline Randall in Southern Exposure, CTG’s 4th production.  She was on the Board of Trustees for 20 of the first 27 seasons, and served as it’s chairman twice.  At the same time she continued to design lights and sets, do make-up, make costumes, act, and direct.  One of her most inventive costuming jobs was for CTG’s first musical, Once Upon a Mattress (2/64).  “Actors wore draperies and shower curtains, sported bleach bottles as crowns, and balanced headdresses made from bent coat hangers.”  

In 1986 one of our Board members, Steve Holm, suggested it was time to create an award to honor ‘one of us’ for unselfish service to CTG “beyond the call of duty”.  The first recipients of the Community Theatre Guild Board of Trustees Achievement Award were Edith and Fred Wood.

Fred was drafted – as were other husbands – to perform in Stalag 17 (9/57), which needed a large cast of men. For Little Mary Sunshine (11/64), he was the only one tall enough to wear Chief Brown Bear’s headdress.  He repeated that role in 1982, and performed in a few other productions, as well as helping on various crews. 

However, his greatest contribution to CTG was the slide library he began with the 3rd production, The Heiress (3/56).  Dress rehearsal for each production found him seated in the front row with his camera.  It wasn’t until the mid to late 80’s that he had to stop for health reasons, and we lost him to cancer in 1990.  Fred’s faithfulness is the main reason we have so many pictures of our early history.

Edith continued to support CTG financially as well as actively.  If someone needed information about a period costume, “Call Edie!”  If they needed help with a special set design – “Call Edie!”  

L-R: Life with Father (1971-Costumes), Eddie (1981), Light up the Sky (1971-Set design)

In 1991 she helped finance our trip to Scotland creating a special costume so she could go with us, and gave moral support as she watched “her kids” perform in international competition….and win!  

When we held our Encores fund raisers, she always attended, cheering us on when we bought Chicago Street Theatre. In 2007 CTG became more serious about classes and hired our first Director of Education.  The ‘rehearsal hall’ became CTG’s classroom.  When Edith passed away in 2010, her children, Cathy and Chris Wood, donated $20,000 in her name to remodel that area ... hence the name Edith B. Wood Studio. Besides classes, we have held staged readings, readings of new plays, and One Night Jam concerts in that room. 

L-R: Stage area, Office/props/kitchenette (March 2010)

There are still a number for things to improve in order to bring the stage area up to par.  We hope the students will be able to use sound and lighting for their showcases as they learn on their own technical equipment.  Edith would approve.  CTG is honored to present this collaborative production of A Picasso as the first fully-staged play in Edie’s space!  

Photo for CTG's 50th Anniversary Season

-Posted by CST Historian Marcia Burbage