Stageloft founders’ retirement ushers in ownership change


Christine Taylor poses with Stageloft Repertory Theater owner and artistic director Ed Cornely during the annual Stageloft cookout this summer.

After 20 years of ceaseless – and successful – striving to bring top-notch live theater to the Sturbridge area, Stageloft Repertory Theater co-founder and artistic director Ed Cornely and wife Ellen will hand over the business at year’s end.

The new owners-to-be, Christine and Scott Taylor of Auburn, will officially take control on Jan. 1, 2015. Patrons can count on the same high-quality show selections and talented casts going forward, however: Christine is a longtime Stageloft presence as an actor, director and costume designer.

“The thing that really convinced me that Christine and Scott were the people to take over the business is that they have same values I do,” said Cornely, who intends to stay involved with Stageloft. “They’ll create an environment where actors can grow, and they’ll care and respect patrons. That’s how I’ve always felt about people, and I wanted that to continue.”

“Ed has been really terrific about giving me a front-row seat this year to all of the challenges and the rewards he experiences running Stageloft, including directing two productions and occasionally running the box office,” said Christine.

‘(The Taylors) will create an environment where actors can grow, and they’ll care and respect patrons.’


Taylor added “director” to her Stageloft resume by helming the successful March production of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” She’s also directing the final show of the Cornely era, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which runs for three weeks in December.

The Taylors met “almost 20 years ago while we were both singing with The Salisbury Singers in Worcester,” Christine said. The couple has three children, ages 15, 12 and 9, “and, luckily, all possess an interest in either the performing or technical aspect of theater, and have been very supportive of mommy going back to work ‘full time.’ “

Christine, a University of Massachusetts at Amherst graduate, founded the Auburn Community Players in 2011.

“ACP has taught me the value of having a good team I can rely on for each production, and the importance of delegation, organization and communication,” she said. “Everything I’ve learned running ACP will be put to use at Stageloft.”

Scott, her husband of 17 years, has chipped in as a Stageloft set-builder par excellence, and will also put his background in IT to good use as the Taylors expand Stageloft’s ticket-ordering options.

“He’s an outstanding craftsman,” Cornely said, musing that “oftentimes, we’ll tease Scott that he takes so long (to construct set designs) because he’s such a perfectionist.”

‘It gave me a new direction to go in my life. I felt saved by it. I had lost so much, and to get something new … I was sort of reborn. I’m not the same person I was before.’

on her time at Stageloft

As its time winds down, the Cornelys’ ownership has left its imprint in ways that go well beyond theater management. People have always come first.

Just ask Marie Daley, who nervously arrived at a Stageloft audition for “Romeo and Juliet” four years ago during what she called “a dark period in my life.”

“I had just turned 50, and had a lot of things change in my life that I didn’t necessarily expect or want,” she said. “I thought, ‘Here’s something that’s totally new.’ That was just what I needed. I felt welcomed by Ed, and that’s not something you get at all theaters.”

She earned a small role in the Shakespeare production, and “it was just what I needed. It gave me a new direction to go in my life,” Daley said. “I felt saved by it. I had lost so much, and to get something new … I was sort of reborn. I’m not the same person I was before.”

From that humble beginning, Marie has become one of the key faces at Stageloft. Patrons have gotten to know her as Ed Cornely’s primary backup at the front desk on show days, as well as her many on-stage roles – including a breakout performance as the weary-but-fierce Ma Joad in Stageloft’s production of “The Grapes of Wrath” in 2013.

Behind the scenes, Daley excels as a stage manager. Most recently, she kept the trains running on time for September’s acclaimed staging of “The Porch,” and will also stage manage “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“Ed always says he wants people to come and learn, get their feet wet. He likes teaching, having new people involved and getting them involved in theater,” she said.

“Christine is very open and giving, so I think it will work out well. I’m very hopeful about how things are going to go,” said Daley of the coming transition. Yet “I’ll always be glad I had the experience of being part of the Cornely (era) at Stageloft. The patrons always feel that Ed is going to take care of them.”

Cornely, who’s approaching age 70 and has endured some medical issues in the past few years, will happily hand over the daily grind of running the theater — but expects to remain a familiar face at Stageloft.

“I’d like to direct a show or two a year, and stay involved with the kids,” said Cornely, the latter a reference to the spring and fall Stageloft Youth Theater productions for ages 6 to 16 that he traditionally directs.

“I’m thinking of doing some tutoring and teaching” on both the college and high school levels, he added. “I also very much want to develop a mini-course to coach and consult people on how to develop a Shakespeare-themed garden” like the one he nurtures in the backyard of his Sturbridge home.

Cornely plans on continuing two other Stageloft-related traditions: The almost-monthly Murder Mystery dinners held at the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield — he pens a new “whodunit” script each year — and the annual “Christmas Memories” show.

“I want to do more volunteering,” he added.

Cornely will spend the last night of his ownership overseeing Stageloft’s annual New Year’s Eve variety show for charity. Last year’s vaudevillian take on “The Gong Show” raised $600 for a Sturbridge-based food pantry.

‘Although Scott and I hope to try some new things, we’re not planning on altering the basic values and culture of the theater.’


Ellen Cornely, who’s been through it all with Ed since Stageloft’s debut in the summer of 1994 in a barn behind Sturbridge Country Inn, has been asking her husband to scale back his involvement for awhile. She finally got her wish.

In addition to spending time with their own children (especially more frequent trips to Maryland to enjoy the grandchildren), the Cornelys received some good news recently that coincides with their Stageloft retirement.

Their son Dan accepted a job as a Grade 7 mathematics teacher in Ludlow, and settled in East Longmeadow — which happens to be Ellen’s hometown. Said Ed, “He’ll be much more accessible, and there will be more times when we can connect.”

There have been no last-minute regrets about allowing the Taylors to take over.

“My subsequent health issues made it much more apparent that I had made the right decision,” said Cornely. “I’m noticing my body reacting to the stress again. The summer season is always the most stressful.”

Long after the handover, Ed and Ellen Cornely’s deep well of theater expertise will continue to be tapped when necessary.

“Christine and I have a good-enough relationship that she’ll feel free to pick up the phone and bounce something off of me,” he said. “I’m trying to recognize those wrinkles I’ve known and (demonstrate) to her how I solved the problem.”

“Although Scott and I hope to try some new things, we’re not planning on altering the basic values and culture of the theater,” Taylor stressed. “We look forward to meeting the Stageloft audiences, old and new, in January!”