Diane Crews' last act at York DreamWrights
Diane Crews, founder of DreamWrights, prepares to direct her last play before retiring from the theater.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in April 2016, and is being revisited as Diane Crews, founder of DreamWrights, prepares to retire at the end of this month.
Diane Crews scurries across the floor of the black box theater inside DreamWrights.
She speaks to a cast member, then arranges three of her actors for a publicity photo, adjusting their costumes, and then, she's off again, scurrying across the theater to calm a nervous young man who, it turns out, is playing the lead in "Young King Arthur."
"Just breathe," she tells him. "You'll be fine."
Then, she's off again, helping cast members move pieces of scenery in place for rehearsal.
She turns to another of her actors and says, "Give me a hug. You guys are so wonderful."
Another actor walks away and Crews calls after him, "Where art thou going?" He turns and comes back.
And then, Crews scurries off to talk to her stage manager.
"I don’t know how she does it," said Steve Brown, a retired computer systems analyst. He has worked with Crews for 22 years, ever since he played Friar Tuck in a production of "Robin Hood."
She just does.
This is her last play at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theater. It won't be her last play; she has plans. And she will be working at the theater through the summer, helping to arrange costume, pro and scenery sales, before retiring from the theater that she founded 19 years ago.
"This one's hard," she said later, seated behind her desk in her cluttered office.
She almost wishes the theater's play committee hadn't selected "Young King Arthur" as her swan song. It is appropriate. She wrote the play so it's a tribute to her. It has special meaning to her. In the play, Merlin leaves young King Arthur as the boy ascends to the throne, his teaching complete. It's a bittersweet moment.
"Merlin leaves his student, and I'm leaving here," Crews said. "I have trouble with that scene. I have trouble reading it. They didn’t make me cry yet, but they will."
DreamWrights is her theater. She founded it in 1997, an offshoot of the children's program at York Little Theater, which she directed. The theater started in a church basement. Rehearsals used to be held in her home. The theater moved to several locations before settling in a former sewing factory on Carlisle Road, at West Philadelphia Street. And in the next year, DreamWrights will embark on a massive renovation of the building to add a second theater.
The old building is stuffed with memories. She has worked with hundreds of young actors there. One, Paige Hoke, has returned to the theater to direct. Another, Austin Durant, went on to study theater at Yale and is now working on Broadway.
She doesn't have much time for reminiscing. "There's a lot to do between now and September," she said.
She's 69 now, but doesn't feel it. She remembered being asked once, "What is old?" And she answered, "When you stop dreaming. I hope that'll never happen."
Back at rehearsal, she sits at her table, to the side of the stage, which runs through the center of the theater, eating her dinner, yogurt with blueberries and slivered almonds. The actors are going through their paces. They are just "off the book" and some often have to call for lines.
"They all know what they need to do," Crews says, watching and making notes on her copy of the play.
As the rehearsal winds down, she tells her cast, "I am so proud of all of you."
And then, she scurries off to see to another matter.
If you go
DreamWrights will perform Diane Crews' play "Young King Arthur" a dozen times in April.
Dates are April 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 6:30 p.m. and April 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, $14 for reserved seating.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit dreamwrights.org or call 717-848-8623.