MARCO ISLAND — Years ago in Washington, we used to joke that our friend and co-worker at ABC News, Sam Donaldson, wanted to “perform” on TV so much that if there were no such thing as television, Sam would go door to door reading the news.
We get the feeling that a lot of members of the Marco Players would do the same — go door to door to perform if the amateur theater troupe did not have a home at Marco Town Center.
In a sense, the early history of the Marco Players, now in its 34th season, was almost that way. The organization seemed the entertainment orphan on the island. They moved venues more than some nomads.
Among the places that played host to the Players through the years were the Hilton, Marriott and Radisson hotels and even the Paddle Room of O’Shea’s restaurant.
The troupe even had an earlier, short-lived home at Town Center before heavyweight boxer Buster Douglas TKO’d that situation by taking over the space for a private training center. Mr. Douglas’s real first name is James, but was nicknamed Buster by his grandmother because of his spunk as a child.
He has long since left Marco but if spunk means grit and determination, the nickname Buster could apply to the Marco Players as well.
“We were like the red-headed stepchild of the American Theater that no one wants to own up to,” says a former artistic director, Richard Joyce.
Other space eventually was found at Town Center and the Players moved to the present location about 10 years ago.
Jump ahead in time to present day, as playwrights might say. The theater is small, with 83 seats and somewhat cramped off-stage areas. But if capacity is low, morale among the Players is high.
The troupe is a mix of strictly amateurs, eager and motivated, learning as they go, and some seasoned Players. A great example is Michael Hennessey, who will play Norman (the Henry Fonda movie role) in “On Golden Pond,” opening at The Marco Players tonight (Wednesday).
Michael talked with us, a crowbar in his hand, on a short break from striking the set of the most recent production, “Remember Me.”
“I spent most of my life in New York acting, roughly 30 years, and then retired here from Actors Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA (a union for TV and radio personalities) and I’ve been working with the Naples Players and The Marco Players. No, there’s no money involved in this.
“In whatever place and situation, I find a great similarity in that the effort and the camaraderie are always the same. Believe it or not, in my 30 yeas in New York and Los Angeles, my agent dealt with the money, I never had to. It was a nice living but the importance was the art.
“My most enjoyable times go back to college when you did everything, you learned back stage as well as the front of the house. The camaraderie is enhanced by doing both. I don’t do lot of the technical things because I’m so involved in acting but I do what I can. For example the dressing table in the dressing room, I built that over the summer. It was badly needed.
“As an actor, I have driven a cab in New York City. I have tended bar, waited tables, built cabinets, all sorts of things. Its’ a must if you’re going to be in the theater.”
Michael has stories to tell that someone could incorporate into a play.
“If you forget your lines, the other actors help you. One New York actor was famous for forgetting lines and he would stare at you as if it was you who forgot your lines. And of course you’re a nervous wreck. The audience never thought it was him.”
And was there a theater-related event that tops everything else for Michael?
“The wildest thing that ever happened was at Central Michigan University. I had on a costume made of asbestos and I was set on fire (as part of the show), but the liquid fire dripped down onto my pants and I was running for real. They rolled me around on the grass to put it out. That was scary.”
Donna Blankman is another pro, a longtime dancer and accomplished entertainer who enjoys her work with the Players.
“People are receptive and like having an expert or someone with professional knowledge rather than someone who is inexperienced telling them what to do. It’s elevates their expectations. Especially in the Marco Players, everyone is willing to do what it takes to get a good show on the boards.”
So what does the future hold for the Players?
“We want to continue to do what we’ve been doing, put on quality productions,” says one of the groups’ key players for years, former President Judy Daye.
“We want to keep our prices low so people in the community can come to see us.”
Donna Blankman wants more Islanders and others to join the work and the play involved in the Players.
“I would like to see more people who are interested in theater but are skittish about getting involved. They say, ‘That looks fun but I don’t have any talent.’ Everyone has something to offer. If you sit in the box office, that’s important, because we can’t put on a show unless you sell tickets. Painting a set. You can’t have a play without a set.”
We want to thank all the Marco Players who put up with us being in their way as they worked to prepare for On Golden Pond — those mentioned in these columns and photos, plus Vickie Kietz, Jan Weiss, Angela Hinton, Jinny Kane and Tiffany Aldrete.
On Golden Pond opens today, and runs 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 until 6 p.m. The theater is located in the Marco Town Center opposite the Crazy Flamingo.
A reminder of two wine-related evenings this week
People curious about some award-winning wines from a winery owned by long-time Marco residents might want to get a peek at the products this week.
On Thursday, diners at Cafe de Marco, and Friday at Bistro Soleil, will have a chance to find out for themselves about wines from Keswick Vineyards near Charlottesville, Va., owned by islanders Al and Cindy Schornberg.
It’s not a wine-tasting as such, but the Keswick Vineyards winemaker and Schornberg’s son-in law, Stephen Barnard, will be chatting with people who are having dinner and may offer small samples of some Keswick wines available at the restaurants.
Cindy says Keswick wines also are for sale now at the Summer Day Market and Cafe in Marco Town Center.
“It’s great-tasting wine,” says Jessica Valencia, whose family owns Summer Day. “I’m going to start taking Keswick wine as hostess gifts”.
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.