Sometimes we are tempted to refer to our community theater group, The Marco Players, as “The Marco Players and Workers,” and for good reason. The group probably never could have lasted this long had it not been for the fact that many of its members work just as hard behind the scenes with screwdrivers, ladders, paint and a little pain as they do when they’re wearing the greasepaint, so to speak – members of the cast.
It’s a way of life in many amateur theater groups around the world. It reminds us of the song by Alabama, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas, You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band.” Here, if you’re gonna be an onstage player, you gotta have a hammer in your hand.
“The biggest challenge is finding enough people to make these kinds of commitments,” says Beverly Dahlstrom, president of The Marco Players. “It takes 50 people in this theater to do one show of 15 performances.”
Beverly knows the ropes on and off stage. She’s the director of the play that opens Feb. 24, “On Golden Pond.” We talked with her as she supervised the players taking apart the set from the most recent play, “Remember Me.”
“Directing and acting are very different,” Beverly says. “As a performer, being in front of an audience is kind of exhilarating. I love being on the stage, because I love being with the audience. But as a director, you are creating a vision of a playwright’s words on paper, so you have to know the whole play.
“The director prepares about three months out, including helping to design a set. Often, what’s in the playbook is too big for our small house. You have to reconfigure the set and redesign it. You have to do all your blocking, your auditions and casting and more.
“This play, when it was done on Broadway, was two floors. We can’t do that. The play in the book has an extra door that we don’t have, so we had to re-block so it makes sense when you have people coming and going.”
As we talked, 17 other members of the troupe were swarming over the stage and the back rooms, moving furniture, taking down walls and draperies and finding places in the Players’ somewhat cramped quarters for stuff from the play just finished and for the production that looms.
All the action impressed veteran show biz writer and producer Howard Blankman, whose years in the big time arm him with a special insight into the phenomenon that is community theater. He’s familiar with this world, in which today you’re the star and tomorrow you’re striking the set.
“In professional theater, backstage jobs, sets, stagehands, those are powerful unions and those jobs are passed down to sons and daughters. Here, everybody has to do everything.
“Here, you learn that theater is more than just walking onstage. You have respect for all the people involved. The DNA between the actors here and those on Broadway is very different. Here, you want to do everything you can to make it succeed. “There has to be great camaraderie. When you’re producing a show here you take great pains to make it clear that people who are doing the more menial tasks are valuable.”
One youngblood learns the scene, on and off stage
One young member of the Players is learning that lesson, and he’s a fast learner. Joey Byrne is 13, which means The Marco Players already was in its 20th year when Joey was born. He’s in the cast of “On Golden Pond.” On the day we visited, he was wielding a broom on the old set. He’s had some acting experience, but wants more.
“I’m looking forward to working for Miss Beverly,” Joey says. “These people treat me like a grown up and that’s fun. They are relaxed on stage, and so I learn my lines and get the job done. “Miss Beverly has given me several tips, such as to speak up. I had a problem with that for a while. And upstaging, learning not to do that. She tells me what to do and I do it correctly. This role is a piece of cake. I have some good lines. And I get to say bull•••it on stage.”
Next week here in Marcophiles, we’ll talk with more members of the Players about their roles on and off stage, including one actor and stagehand who retired here after a 30-year acting career in New York and other major theater centers.
We’ll look ahead at the hopes and expectations of the engaging people who populate one of this island’s most fun places – The Marco Players.
“On Golden Pond” opens Feb. 24 and plays through March 14, Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets are available online at themarcoplayers.com, by calling (239) 642-7270 or at the box office Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-6 pm. The theater is located in the Marco Town Center, opposite the Crazy Flamingo.
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV, in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Fridays in the Naples Daily News. E-mail: email@example.com.