Open Door History

For over 40 years, Open Door Theater has provided family-oriented entertainment and theater experience to hundreds of families.

How It Began
While waiting for their children at a school bus stop, Penny Pitts and Nancy Carroll conceived of the Open Door Theater. Penny was a puppeteer new to Acton who embraced Nancy’s vision of a community theater with “open doors” for anyone, especially people not usually included in theater.

From the start it was a community affair. The first production, Oz, involved ladies from a Littleton nursing home — some as old as 95. They constructed the life-sized puppets Penny designed, and then manipulated them during the performance as the Citizens of Oz. The Friday Night Fun Club, a social club for people with special needs, painted sets in Nancy’s basement on weekends.

No one knew then how well this great idea would persevere.

The Early Years
Money was tight and sets were scarce during the first season (Oz). With no storage space to keep them, sets had to be transportable, and had to be brought to every rehearsal and performance. Used furniture boxes became a staple of the first show’s set.

By the third show (Pinocchio), the troupe took a scaled-down and improvised version of Pinocchio to the Gates School in Acton, and also to the children’s unit of Metropolitan State Hospital (at the time a locked unit for children with mental illness). With a small cast and lots of costumes, the troupe acted out the main plot, and when more characters were needed, they asked children in the audience to volunteer, bringing community theater to a locked ward of a mental hospital.

The Middle Years
Like any organization or family, Open Door evolved as it grew. There was far more interest in being in the show than there were parts available, and so the concept of a “chorus” grew. Auditionees not selected for the main show were invited to be in the chorus, which prepared one or two songs to be integrated into the show or as a pre-show, and also provided some theatre workshop opportunities. Occasionally additional workshops, not linked to a show, were also offered. People came to the shows “to bring their kids” and left feeling like they had seen something special — a community on stage.

Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan were two memorable shows from the middle years. With Alice, Open Door returned to the idea of traveling a show, and took it to a rehab center in New Hampshire. With Peter Pan, there was the high-flying excitement of the show — literally, as Open Door brought in a well-known theatrical company to fly the lead role.

Over the course of time, families came and went, but many came and stayed. There are families still involved with the shows today that have been involved for over a decade. Adults whose kids have gone off to college still return to be a part of Open Door family.

Open Door Today
Open Door shows today may have more technology than their original counterparts, but we still are here to celebrate quality family entertainment. Open Door has grown from a 20-person cast in Oz to over 100 people in some years. However, Open Door’s goal of including young, old, disabled, experienced, and inexperienced people in a unique community theater continue.

Adapted with permission from work by Ann Seamans for the 25th anniversary show.