About the Paw Paw Village Players

PLEASE NOTE: The Charley and Mary Burkett Center for the Performing Arts is NOT Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.

In 1969, a group of 16 people with a love of theater and a desire to entertain got together to form a theater company that has endured and prospered for over 45 years. The original group including such locals as Charley and Mary Burkett, Bob Bennett, Patsy Sunstrand, Felix Racette, Judy and Ron Schincariol and Dave and Jan Wilder received permission from the Community Schools Program to produce plays at the old Michigan Ave School which is now the Freshwater Community Church. Receiving the money to pay for the plays royalties, this small group performed “The Silver Whistle” as their first endeavor. With a positive response from the community for local theater and good, clean fun, the group was off and running.

Although over 45 years have passed, this non-profit community theater group continues to evolve and grow with new talent and some old time wisdom provided by founding members. Plans for fresh and exciting plays are foremost on the agenda for the current Board of Directors. As every new season presents a new schedule of plays, the group effort involved in each production is, in itself, a work of art.

Dear PPVP, I know that Charley Burkett and his lovely wife, Mary, were devoted to the theater from the get-go! Charley directed my play, “Rose’s Passion” in May, 2002 and did a terrific job. He was compassionate, tender, strict and always had an eye for what would make good theater. I was very happy with the results, and also with Mary’s contribution to the work. Paw Paw players staged three of my plays, two one-acts and “Rose’s Passion.” I’m very grateful to these talented individuals who directed and performed in them. Thank you so much Paw Paw.

I have a story about Charley as a director. I went with my daughters for them to audition for “Fiddler on the Roof” in 200?. There were only a few women of the appropriate age there to audition for Golde and I was not one of them, but Charley came over and asked me to read. “Just read. You can do that much.”

Pearl Ahnen, Glenn, MI.


I remember auditioning for “Our Town” for Charlie – I had hoped to get the role of one of the mothers but Charlie asked me if I would be interested in auditioning for the role of the narrator. I was surprised because I had never seen a woman do that role and I’ve seen Our Town a lot! So I said why not – I auditioned – he cast me and we were on the way! It was a lot of hard work to get the dialogue down and to present it in a narrative way but Charlie was always encouraging me and it was a thrill to do the role. I also remember playing the Mayor’s Wife in The Music Man and Charlie made me this crazy crown to wear in the gymnasium scene where Eulalie (the Mayor’s Wife) leads the group in Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. It was great and generated laughter from the cast and the audience.

Gail Somerville, Portage MI


I was always the type who was happy to hide in the chorus and never craved a main role. Because of Charley, I was forced out of my comfort zone and had a fun summer and a rewarding, memorable experience playing Golde.

Bonnie Davidson


Charlie will be missed dearly. The one thing I can truly say about Charlie (and Mary) is that because of PPVP, which they founded, I was inspired to pursue a theatre career that I’ve been in for over 25 years! The fact that it is still in existence today is a testimony to their vision and hard work. The communiy at large owes a great deal of thanks to the Burketts and espically Charlie for all his time and effort in guiding PPVP forward to where it is today. Thank you Charlie and Mary. And thanks PPVP for providing such a wonderful asset to the community.

Douglas Bennett


As founder of the Paw Paw Village Players, Charles Burkett was a friend, mentor and guiding spirit. His loss will be deeply felt, but his vision for nearly 40 years will live on. He directed and acted in more productions than we can count. When the Village Players needed a theater, Charlie saw the potential in this building, originally the First Baptist church. Not only the the Players get a permanent home but Charlie also saved one of the oldest buildings in Paw Paw. It is no understatement to say that Paw Paw will not see the likes of Charlie Burkett again. We will miss you Charlie – in the tradition of the theater we say to you – “Break-a-Leg” !

Sal Compagna


I attended the memorial services for Charley Burkett. I was sobbing and laughing through the whole thing! As a wise man once said, “That’s how you know you’ve got a good show. Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, startle them, comfort them, educate them, just don’t bore them”.

I get the distinct impression that Charley Burkett never spent much time being bored. He had a fascination with life and people, possibilities and potentials. Charley gave his all in whatever he was doing and had a real talent for helping others find ways to stretch and grow. We miss you Charley.

Roger C Henderson

Patsy SundstrandIt was Patsy who went to the Paw Paw Community Schools director and asked for an adult ed course in drama back in December of l968. The group that answered the call met with the director whom the director invited, Charley Burkett, who was delighted to attend.

They wasted no time in letting Charley know that they wanted to put on plays, not just sit around and study them. The play they chose was a recent Pulitzer prize winner, “The Silver Whistle” by Robert McEnroe, a show that called for a large and balanced cast, and called for mature actors. It was ready for production six weeks after the new year: Patsy played the role of Mrs. Sampler, a lively and flirtatious member of a group of residents in a retirement home. She shone like the star she was destined to be, making good use of her training as a major in theater at North Western University.

For the next 20 years, Patsy played at least one leading role every year, in a distinguished list that included “The Desk Set,” “Harvey”. “Everybody Loves Opal”, “Cactus Flower””, “Forty Carets”, “The Devil’s Disciple:, “The Skin of Our Teeth”, “You Can’t Take it with You”, “Ten Little Indians” and finally, “Arsenic and Old Lace”! and those shows were just her on stage participation.

She helped name the group “The Paw Paw Village Players,”, and served as president its second year, while also being the assistant to the director for “The Music Man”, for which she and her husband underwrote the royalty fee.

The group benefited from her energetic involvement on almost every production, including house manager, usher, ticket seller, hospitality chairman, props chairman, and house keeping. Always a member of the Players’ Board, she served on the play selection committee, membership committee, and for 30 years as the group’s historian.

The Paw Paw Village Players were her passion, her pride and joy, and though health problems kept her off the stage during her later years, the Players were always in her heart! Although she died on Feb. 27, 2009, the Village Players are Patsy’s
lasting legacy, and she will not be forgotten…

-Mary D. Burkett