College Light Opera Company

College Light Opera Company sets the stage for the next generation of performance artists

It’s been 50 years since the College Light Opera Company was opened by a group of theater lovers, dedicated to putting the struggles, delights, madness, humor, folly and passion of life onstage for all to experience. Every year, emerging young artists have the unique opportunity to learn from talented professionals and contribute to the rich tradition built by the musicians, directors, designers and performers that have come before them—and the community of the Cape and Islands has the unique opportunity to be entertained, perhaps even informed, by these gifted individuals.

Previously home to Oberlin College’s Gilbert and Sullivan Players, Highfield Theatre, located in a section of the sprawling Beebe Woods, became the training ground for the College Light Opera Company (CLOC) in 1969 when Oberlin College ceased their operations. In 1974, the company moved housing from the condemned Tanglewood Estate, also located on the Beebe property, to the old West Falmouth Inn on Chapoquoit Road, where it has remained to this day. “Falmouth is a very interesting community in that it’s well-situated to support something like this program. This program could not exist in just any town in America,” says Mark Pearson, producer and artistic director for CLOC. “When you’re trying to train young performers, you have to have an audience. The community provides an essential training opportunity.”

Pearson and his partner, CLOC Executive Director E. Mark Murphy, took over as producers of CLOC four years ago. The previous producers ran the company for 47 years, and if Pearson and Murphy’s dedication to theater, and to CLOC itself, is any indication, they may one day challenge that record. “It’s a really special place, and I think, going through it, you realize how life changing it can be and how important an institution it is,” says Pearson, who spent many of his own summers as a student with CLOC.

CLOC puts on nine shows a season at Highfield Theatre. That means company members have just 11 weeks to perfect nine different productions, and that includes auditioning for roles in each of these performances. “It’s like watching a juggler,” jokes Pearson, but the rigor of the program is truly to the benefit of the students. “We are primarily an educational institution,” he says. “The theater that we produce is obviously a very important part of what we do, but it’s almost a by-product of what our mission is—to provide a training ground for young artists.”

The application process for the summer season is equally as competitive as the program itself, and the result is a talented company of young theater lovers, eager to refine their craft and excited to entertain their audiences. “Students should use the summer to really think about this career. Is this the career that they want?” says Pearson. “It’s an important decision to be able to make early, and I think CLOC provides the opportunity, in a nurturing environment, to become more informed toward making that decision.”