Then & Now: Catching Up with Four 1980s Academy Playhouse Stars

The backstage stairway walls of the Academy Playhouse in Orleans are plastered with signatures of performers from the theater’s 44-year history. Decades later, we track down four major players from the 1980s to answer: “Where are they now?”

By Claire McCarthy | Pictured above: Stephen Russell on stage in 2013.

In the 1980s, Cape theatergoers, especially those supporting the Academy Playhouse in Orleans, knew the names and work of Judith Partelow, Stephen Russell, Bob Seay and David McCarron. Each thespian brought not only acting talents to the stage, but also writing, directing, set and sound production as well as theater board leadership. Thirty years later, they continue to work in the public arena—two on the Cape and two in the Boston media market.

STEPHEN RUSSELL

Divides his time between Wellfleet and Mexico

Photography by Michael and Suz Karchmer

Russell performs at a Yuel for Fuel concert in 2015 at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater.

Then: Started children’s division at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater and co-founded the Cape Cod Performing Arts Workshops.

Now: Works on voiceover projects for popular video games on Xbox and PlayStation platforms

Stephen Russell arrived on the Cape in 1981 from western New York state, when his wife, Elaine McIlroy, was hired as the director of the Wellfleet Public Library. During the day, Russell operated Twice Sold Tales bookstore in Wellfleet. Several years later, he became an active member of the Lower Cape community theater scene.

In 1987, he and Judith Partelow co-founded the Cape Cod Performing Arts Workshops (CCPAW), with Stephen writing and Judith directing. Early collaborations included his adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Home for Christmas,” based on the 1947 film “It Happened on Fifth Avenue.”

Stephen Russell, center, on stage in a WHAT for Kids! production in 2014.

“What amazes me now is that I was allowed to pitch this idea and get it accepted by the Academy, having never written a full-length play for adults before,” says Russell. “It’s part of the reason I’ve often referred to the Outer Cape as the Land of Yes—a very encouraging place for artists and writers of all types—even those just starting out.”

In 2002, he started a children’s division at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, where his scripts have been produced for 16 seasons. He earned the coveted Equity union card by acting in more than 25 plays at WHAT, which helped him land off-Cape roles at the Huntington, Stoneham and Lyric theaters. He even traveled to Scotland in 2000 to perform in a Kevin Rice play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival. Rice, one of the six original founders of WHAT, is now the artistic director of Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro. Along the way, Russell auditioned for a voiceover project that turned out to be the first entry in the “Thief” series of videogames for Xbox, PlayStation and Microsoft Windows platforms.

The couple now splits their time between Wellfleet and San Miguel, Mexico. Children Robin and Peter are both actors, writers and musicians.

Visit stephenrussellvoice.com to hear his voice acting credits for popular games such as “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” and “Fallout 3 and 4.”


BOB SEAY

Of Eastham and North Attleboro

Then: Performed in productions in Chatham, Harwich and Provincetown and the Academy Playhouse; longtime morning radio host on the Cape station WQRC in Hyannis.

Now: Host of WGBH’s edition “Morning Edition” on NPR until summer of 2017; currently a reporter/producer for the news station.

Many of us started our weekday mornings with Bob Seay for years. Indeed, Seay has been a “morning news guy” for almost five decades. From 1980 to 1997, he was on the Cape station WQRC in Hyannis. Until the summer of 2017, he was host of WGBH’s edition of the NPR show “Morning Edition.” Today, he gets to sleep in a bit, enjoying his current role as writer and producer.

Back in the day, rising early as news director of WQRC, Seay extended his days into long nights performing in theaters Capewide. With his radio production background, he found it easy to transition into sound and lighting production for Cape plays.

Acting, not radio, was his first calling. He was in the drama club at Westfield High School in Westfield, New Jersey. Professionally, in 1970, he worked at Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia, “where unknowns Morgan Freeman and Danny Devito” started their careers. A year at Trinity Rep followed as he worked with set designer Eugene Lee.

On the Cape, in around 1986, he worked with Judith Partelow and went on to perform in productions in Chatham, Harwich, Chatham and at the Academy Playhouse. His favorite memory? Playing himself as a newsman in “The War of the Worlds,” set on Cape Cod, with martians landing in the Stop & Shop parking lot. He burst through the fire exit door at the Academy and recounted the utter destruction, ending with the line, “And now, back to more beautiful music with WQRC.”

In 1997, he managed Provincetown’s WOMR while freelancing at Boston’s WBUR to learn “the NPR way.” From 2006 to 2010, he hosted “Morning Edition” in Providence, Rhode Island. Making Baby Boomers proud, Bob was recruited by WGBH at age 65 in 2010 to be a one-man band for its news operation. It is rare that one person can manage every aspect of a multi-hour show. He helped grow the current 60-person staff while hosting “Morning Edition.”

Today, he is enjoying more family time with wife, Josie, and son, Maxwell. As president of Nauset Fellowship, he is heading up efforts to renovate and restore the historic Chapel in the Pines in Eastham, longtime home of First Encounter Coffeehouse.

As far as acting in retirement? “Never say never,” says Seay. “Deciding when to retire is more challenging—probably never for that either.”


JUDITH PARTELOW

Of Dennis

Photography by Michael and Suz Karchmer

Then: Co-founded the Cape Cod Performing Arts Workshops; taught at the Academy of Performing
Arts School.

Now: Worked as an extra on major film productions, including “Stronger” and “Daddy’s Home 2.” Her play, “A Woman’s Heart,” will be staged at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth this summer.

Judith Partelow came to the Academy in the early 1980s as an accomplished Equity-card holding actor with New York credits. Along with performing, she was a sought-after acting instructor at the Academy of Performing Arts School, where she taught privately as well.

In the late 1980s, Partelow set her sights on writing and directing. She teamed up with Stephen Russell to found the Cape Cod Performing Arts Workshops. She made her directing debut with “The Telephone Play,” a one-act play with two actors, produced at the Academy. This was followed by directing Russell’s two scripts, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Home for Christmas.”

In 2016, Partelow retired after 20 years as a secretary at Cape Cod Hospital. Throughout that time, she continued to act, write, direct and raise three children (all musical performers), who have since given her six grandchildren.

Newspaper clippings from The Cape Codder in 1987 show Judith Partelow in local productions. At far right, the author of this feature, Claire McCarthy.

These days, it’s no surprise she’s concentrating on poetry. After all, Partelow started the Scargo Poets Workshop, participates in the Chatham Writers group and is on the board of the Cape Cod Writers Center. “I’ve amalgamated my writing, acting and directing with my play, ‘A Woman’s Heart,’” says Partelow. It was produced three times last year in Dennis and Provincetown and will be staged at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth this August and at Cotuit Center for the Arts in 2019.

As a Screen Actors Guild member, Partelow is often given minor speaking roles when hired as an extra in film and TV productions. Last year, she was involved in major film productions including “Stronger,” “Daddy’s Home 2,” “Equalizer II” and “Castle Rock.” On screen, Partelow was a featured character in the Amazon Prime cable TV miniseries, “Offseason,” in 2015. She is happily married to Thom Slayter, a writer and addictions counselor.


DAVID MCCARRON

of Boston, formerly of Dennis

Then: Performed in classics such as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and Elizabeth the Queen” in theater companies on the Mid- and Lower Cape; studied under Robert (Bob) Eldred Sr. of Eldred’s auction house in Dennis.

Now: Longtime appraiser of “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS.

Fans of the WGBH-produced mega-hit “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS will recognize David McCarron as the “always charming and knowledgeable,” to quote Stephen Russell, and “a fan favorite appraiser,” according the show’s producers.

The accolades will come as no surprise to those familiar with McCarron in the 1980s. By day, he studied under the tutelage of Robert (Bob) Eldred Sr., who helped him perfect his skills as an antique appraiser and an auctioneer with the world-renowned Eldred’s auction house in Dennis.

Performing on the auction stage came naturally to the veteran actor of such classics as “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Elizabeth the Queen,” in which he played Sir Walter Raleigh. McCarron performed with theater companies on the Mid- and Lower Cape and he enjoyed informally helping out behind the scenes. He was also on the board of directors at the Academy Playhouse.

McCarron could often be seen eating breakfast at Jack’s Outback with Yarmouth Port curmudgeon Edward Gorey, already a PBS celebrity-of-sorts as illustrator of the animated credits on “Masterpiece Mystery!” McCarron loved hosting parties at his rented Dennis Village residence, where some would call him “the Mayor.”

Then Sotheby’s called. First stop: New York City, where he continued to dabble in theater. Extended gigs in Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia saw his star rising in the auction world. In 1997, his stage-performing days ended when WGBH launched “Antiques Roadshow,” which landed him spots on Oprah and CNN.

Reviewing two decades of his life now, he good-naturedly says, “Realizing that in some seasons up to 20 million households per week tuned in, seeing oneself in the third person can aid sanity.”

 

Setting the Stage for Tomorrow:
The Academy Playhouse in Orleans, in its 44th consecutive year of offering live theater productions, is undergoing a $4 million capital campaign. For more information, email academyplayhouse@comcast.net
or call 508-255-3075.

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