After 19 years, a curtain call for DreamWrights artistic director
Diane Crews doesn't see completing one thing as an ending but as an opportunity to begin something else.
In retiring as artistic director with DreamWrights, she sees just that.
After directing almost 100 plays in the span of nearly two decades as founder and artistic director of DreamWrights, Crews will be retiring. Her final show, "Young King Arthur," opens Friday.
Retiring: "When you've done all you can do in one place, it's time to move on," Crews said.
Crews has written and directed many plays at DreamWrights during her tenure. She estimated that with around five plays per year, she has directed close to 100. She wrote 32 of the plays she has directed.
"Young King Arthur" is her favorite play she has written. It was the first play to be shown at the theater's renovated space, more than 10 years ago. Now it will be her last with DreamWrights.
Reflecting on her time, Crews called doing the plays an "undertaking" that can involve up to 100 people per show. Despite that, she loved doing it.
"It is worth it, wait 'til you get them to opening night," she said.
Crews said with technology, people are losing their imaginations, but with her job she could help bring some of that back.
"There's a lot being lost, and live theater can give that back to people," she said. "It is my quest!"
Humble beginnings: Crews said she left the York Little Theatre almost 20 years ago when the organization decided to have a smaller children's program. After she left, people asked her to continue doing what was done at YLT. She gave in and helped begin DreamWrights with around 70 families.
"I gave it two years; that was 19 years ago," she said.
When DreamWrights first started, there was no space for it. Casts rehearsed at Crews' home and eventually moved on to rehearsing at a basement in a church. The group found another building to rehearse from, which it rented for two years before finally settling in the current space at 100 Carlisle Ave.
“Everything we did was a lot a work and was a lot of fun,” she said.
Crews said after its inception, people showed her that there was a need for DreamWrights.
"Since the beginning, I don't think I've ever auditioned fewer than 80 or 90 people," she said. "That says to me, there's a need." She said they typically audition around 180 people per show.
Memories: Crews had so many good memories it is hard for her to pick out just one as her favorite.
"It's all the people," she said.
She said she enjoyed seeing the actors grow up, physically and emotionally.
“To watch anyone of any age grow in those ways is such a huge gift,” she said.
One memory stuck out in her mind and that was of a man with special needs who was introduced to DreamWrights through a program for people with special needs. He eventually got more involved with the productions, going from backstage help to acting on stage.
"He remembered everything I had ever said about theater," she said. "He grew so enormously."
He died around two years ago, and before his death he had been saving money.
"In his will, he left it to DreamWrights," she said. "He gave even after he was gone."
Impact: Last week, the performers were rehearsing for their upcoming show. Actors were on stage rehearsing in front of Crews and fellow cast members, while other cast and crew members were spending time outside the theater, waiting to go out for their scenes.
Tyler Klinedinst, 13, of West York, was waiting in the hallway waiting for his scene. Tyler is one of two people playing young Arthur, and it will be his fourth time performing with DreamWrights. Tyler said he was honored to be a part of Crews' last show.
Tyler liked that Crews was able to provide constructive criticism as well as let the cast have fun.
"To me she's more than a director, a mentor, a teacher," he said, adding that she has been a person who guided him through his life. He said she even attended his grandfather's funeral, as a friend of his grandmother's and to see how he was doing.
Jacob Whitacre, 15, of West York, now in his 17th performance with DreamWrights, has known Crews since he was 9.
"I started coming here, and she helped me come out of my shell," he said.
"Since this is her last show, I'm really hoping we can make this the best show," he said. "I'm very happy to be a part of this."
Atom Weiler, 13, said Crews helped him come out of his shell as well. Atom, now in his seventh show, has learned a lot from her.
"She's taught me how important it is to be dedicated to something," he said. "It's really sad that it's the last play because I cannot imagine doing it with anyone else."
During a break in rehearsal, Carol Oldenburg and her 23-year-old daughter, Kara Gonzalez, both of York City, took a few minutes to talk about their experience with Crews. The two of them have been involved with DreamWrights for over 10 years and they are both acting in "Young King Arthur."
Oldenburg said it is her 11th show, and she has either acted or helped design sets in the shows she has participated in. When she first started with DreamWrights, she hadn't acted since 20 years earlier, when she was in high school. That wasn't a problem for Crews.
"She is inspiring in her patience in working with everybody," Oldenburg said. She said Crews always reassured her, frequently telling her, "You'll be fine!"
Oldenburg noted how Crews always wanted to help. She said one year Crews helped arrange a fake prize raffle that Oldenburg's sister won, and her then-boyfriend proposed to her when she went to accept the "prize."
Gonzalez has known Crews for much of her life, starting with DreamWrights at age 7. Similar to Atom and Jacob, she said DreamWrights and Crews helped her out of her shell.
"Oh my God, it's going to be so emotional on the last show," she said.
Gonzalez said Crews made every role, no matter the size, feel big.
"I'm just proud that I can be part of this memory," she said.
What's next? When Crews was told about the things people were saying about her, she was glad.
"That's my quest, right? So I'm doing it," she said.
Despite stepping down from her position with DreamWrights, she still intends to do similar things.
"I love what I do, I love my work, I love people, I love to write, I love live theater," she said. "Those are the things I will be doing, in some capacity."
In her absence, Crews has faith DreamWrights will succeed.
"It can go on, I hope, forever," she said.
Crews said leaving is a little sad but also exciting because she can do something new.
"It's a little bittersweet, I'm a person who firmly believes when one door closes, another door opens," she said.
"Young King Arthur" opens at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Shows run at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 24.
Tickets can be purchased at dreamwrights.org or by calling 848=8623. General admission is $10 and reserved seating is $14.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com.