Rob Crouse is a pretty emotional guy by his own admission.
His colleagues with the Capital City Players like to kid him about it from time to time.
But if you get to talk to Crouse, the president and founder of the group, for very long at all, you quickly discover that the good-natured ribbing of friends is grounded in fact when he is talking about the success he and his friends have had in the Jefferson City community.
"It's pretty unbelievable getting to live your dream to begin with," Crouse said with a bit of a lump in his throat. "How many people get the opportunity in their lifetime - which I never thought I would get to have - to do that?"
But it makes sense why Crouse is so vested in the group he started almost 20 years ago.
Crouse, a native of Mound City, explained that the Capital City Players may have officially started in 1991 after a successful stint acting and directing with The Little Theatre of Jefferson City, but the genesis for the group dated back much further.
"I always loved dinner theater and there was nothing like that happening anywhere around here," Crouse said. "And so, as I directed and acted in productions and made a lot of theater friends, I kept talking to them about doing dinner theater."
All of the talk turned into action when the Players put on their first performance at the former Ramada Inn. To get the kind of attention he felt his group needed and to bring something to Jefferson City like nothing before, Crouse decided to present what he described as the somewhat-controversially named "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" for the inaugural show. And it soon became clear that Crouse had found a niche in the Capital City.
"We ended up selling every performance pretty much immediately and I kept going back to the cast and the orchestra and everybody and saying "Well, could you work your schedule and do one more?'" Crouse said. "I think we ended up doing like 12 performances. We just kept adding."
And so it went for almost 15 years, with successful shows, including the local premieres of "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Ragtime" and "Footloose." But as the group's popularity and the challenges of working with a hotel's schedule, it became apparent to Crouse that his group needed bigger accommodations.
Luckily, that is when Jefferson City Director of Parks and Recreation Bill Lockwood entered stage left in Crouse's world with the opportunity to upgrade Shikles Auditorium. But, as Crouse pointed out, it did not start out as the most ideal place to host dinner theater on a regular basis.
"It basically was a wood barn with concrete floors and wood paneling and nobody thought, from a theater standpoint, that you could do anything in the room because it was like a huge echo chamber and the acoustics were absolutely horrible," Crouse said.
Slowly but surely, however, Crouse and his cohorts helped transform the space into a home of their own. Crouse was able to overcome the acoustics problem by covering the walls with old curtains from the stage at Westminster University - his current employer. Chandelier lighting and carpeting were donated by Rich Samson, former owner of FAB Building Center. Bob Robuck, former Central Bank president, also made a substantial donation because of his belief in Crouse's company.
Still, more needed to be done before the curtain could go up in the Players' new home. That is when Crouse and his wife, Chris, showed just how dedicated they were to the cause.
"We ended up taking out a second loan on our house to come up with the money to make this happen," Crouse said.
And with that, the way was cleared to go "lights up" for the first show in Crouse and company's new home. Just as he had done almost 15 years before, Crouse kicked things off with a bang by putting on the first Mid-Missouri production of "The Full Monty" - a show the players will revive in celebration of five years in Shikles.
There have still been challenges for Crouse and his band of players since setting up shop in their new accommodations: Crouse said funds are always a little tight since all proceeds from the productions go toward keeping the lights on, paying the bills and buying supplies for the next show. But he feels there is one thing makes it worthwhile to keep going back day after day and spending much of his free time in the same place.
"We are family," Crouse said. "People that aren't involved in a play will drop by rehearsals at night just to visit, just to see what is going on.
"It a home and it's like nothing I know."