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Curtain Call Theatre in Braintree celebrates 50th anniversary

The tightknit group that is Curtain Call is celebrating 50 years of theater in Braintree

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Curtain Call Theatre members (from left) Johnathon Young of Braintree, Peter Kates of Norwell, Jonathon's wife, Meg Young, and Mark Anderson of Milton

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Young works on painting a set.

Jonathon Young likes to joke that he joined Curtain Call Theatre in Braintree so that he could see his wife more often.

His wife, Meg, joined the theater in 1979, and it wasn’t more than a year later that he, too, was hooked, performing in plays, working behind the scenes, eventually bringing along their two daughters to work on plays along with them.

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Theater became a family affair, the members coming together within the intimate community that makes Curtain Call unique.

“There are probably four families at least that are still involved with this group - parents and children,’’ Meg Young said. “It’s exciting, and it’s amazing that it does happen that way, because we don’t do a lot of shows ‘for children.’ . . . But they are still involved.’’

The feeling of community and the multiple generations that participate in shows has kept people dedicated to the theater for decades. And as Curtain Call celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, the dedication of its members has become even more important.

“We do have some people who come and go from group to group, but the vast majority want to be involved with Curtain Call regardless of what Curtain Call is doing,’’ said Stacey Shanahan, the theater’s president.

A core group that has ranged from 25 to 80 members over the decades has volunteered in every sense of the word, working on the board of directors, managing backstage, handling ticket sales, directing shows - everything from the mundane to the magnificent.

In fact, according to Cathy Venti, an 83-year-old Braintree resident and former Curtain Call president, this is the way the theater was envisioned from the beginning, with members hoping to participate in any way they could.

“Those of us who became members weren’t there just to act. A lot of people now just go group to group . . . but for Curtain Call we’ve had a core,’’ said Venti, who has been with the theater for 49 of its 50 years. “We did more than just acting or basic performing. That’s what enabled it to survive and be what it is today.’’

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Kates paints a ceiling.

But surviving a half-century has also required the theater to adapt to changing times.

Early productions of Curtain Call in the 1960s were at Braintree High School, and each member of the cast was charged with finding 10 people to attend the free shows.

The theater has come a long way from those early days of borrowing space and begging for an audience, with shows now performed at Curtain Call’s rented home on Commercial Street and frequent full houses of paying customers.

The members also warmly welcome nonmembers, also called “friends,’’ to audition and help out, an aspect that Shanahan said strengthens the organization.

“They bring a lot of value to Curtain Call when they come to do a show,’’ she said. “If you worked at Milton Players and you can share with me what Milton does well, that’s fantastic. I like having a mix. It’s a nice culture to the theater. But it used to be more of a club, and now it’s more of a theater.’’

Additionally, the theater hopes to employ new technology such as social media, and to incorporate newer shows with the oldies-but-goodies.

“As we move forward, we try to embrace the new, but not forget the old,’’ said Shanahan. The theater hopes to start using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public and membership, she said.

However, one key feature hasn’t changed at all: The company still performs a comedy, a drama, and a musical every year.

The diversity of the shows is one of the main differences between Curtain Call and surrounding theaters, and is something members take significant pride in.

“People are saying Curtain Call has something to offer,’’ Meg Young said. “A lot of groups stay with the musicals, . . . but we like to stay artistically validated and put ourselves out there for different kinds of shows. We’ve finally started to become known for that, and have a following of people who appreciate that and know that. It’s helped us in the last few years.’’

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Young works on dismantling scaffolding.

Curtain Call has also survived because it has never stopped performing good theater, members say.

“The production level has remained high through good times and bad,’’ said Martha Sawyer, a member since the 1970s who met her husband through the theater. “There are years when we were thinking, ‘How can we afford to do this?’ For an organization that is 99 percent volunteer, it’s amazing what we do.’’

Also amazing is that all of the productions, since the group began renting the Commercial Street space from the Puritan Bridge Club in 1972, have taken place in a 75-seat theater.

“We found we don’t need 1,000 or 400 seats, or such a big venue to put on very good theater,’’ said Molly Pierson, who has been with Curtain Call since 1977.

“It’s been a revelation early on. The club never thought we could have just 75 seats and be happy. It’s a much more intimate venue. . . . You can put on small-scale shows that would have gotten lost on some larger stages,’’ she said.

That intimate experience may have helped the theater welcome a new audience during the recent economic crisis, ushering in locals who couldn’t afford larger, flashier productions in Boston or New York.

DEBEE TLUMACKI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

At Curtain Call Theatre’s rented space in Braintree, Peter Kates, Mark Anderson, and Jonathon Young move scaffolding on the stage. The company relies entirely on volunteers for all tasks.

“The price of going to community theater is much more affordable. And people saw the value,’’ Shanahan said. “It’s good-quality theater. It’s not the derogatory community theater people think of; it’s excellent direction and sets and directors. And people will come back to us again because they enjoyed us.’’

When asked, many said they expected to see Curtain Call around for another 50 years, for all the same reasons it has lasted this far.

“The fact that we’ve managed to survive for 50 years, against all kinds of odds . . . is pretty good,’’ said Peter Kates, a Norwell resident and former theater director at Marshfield High School.

Yet for Kates, who has been a Curtain Call member for 3 1/2 years, the beauty of the theater is not just its history but what lies ahead.

“My concern is more the show that we’re doing than the years that went before,’’ he said as he recently hammered a nail into the stage, prepping the space for another production. “But I’m old-fashioned.’’

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