Sunday, September 29, 2013

Painting Courage

Although I had been contemplating this for a while, sometime in the middle of the summer I decided that I was going to paint the living room.  I didn’t have much of a plan in mind except that I like blue and that I wanted to get rid of the stencil I put on the wall about 25 years ago.  So, I went to the hardware store and chose some paint colors.  I showed them to my cousin Janice who was visiting.  She told me they were too bold and to modify them, but was very encouraging.  She told me to go for it and have fun.  When I told my sister that I was going to redo my living room and that I’d noticed that it was a bit drab, she said she just thought I “didn’t care” which I am assuming translates into saying that she figured I was content with not having house beautiful.  In reality, I just hadn’t given it much thought.

At any rate, I have to thank my involvement in theater for giving me the courage to paint.  I have been painting sets for years.  Mind you, I haven’t done the fancy stuff, but I’ve painted plenty of flats (that is the term for the “walls” in theater) and even some fancier stuff with lots of instruction.  So, with that under my belt, I felt “courage” to paint my own walls, and theater set painting has armed me with lots of simple “tips” to make the job easier.  Plus, I already have lots of paint clothes.


Theater has taught me a number of things.  The most useful one is that you can make mistakes.  I can think of a number of mistakes I’ve made painting sets, and lo and behold, if you mess up, you can paint it over again or fix it.  One of my favorite painting stories was the time I was painting shingles on the front of a house, which consisted of drawing dark lines equal distance apart onto the base color.  One day, I dripped, and a drop of the darker color fell on the white of the house.  I couldn’t do much about it and I figured, in my creative fashion, that every house needs a bit of bird poop on it.  Well, the rest of the story is that the next day I came back to find that someone had painted over my “bird poop” and the house was white again.  Presto!  But, back to my own house, I’ve definitely learned the art of practicing and fixing mistakes. 

Another thing that theater has taught me is that “good enough” is okay.  Behind the scenes of a show, we have a mismatch of paints to choose from and often “make do” with a particular color, for example, or slap on some yucky paint as a base coat before we fancy it up with other stuff.  Certainly there are occasional places where the paint job is not perfect, but on stage it is generally “good enough.”  My motto is that if the audience notices that a little bitty line is crooked then the actors aren’t doing their job.  The way this translates to home is that I’ve decided that “good enough” is good enough for me.   I don’t really need house beautiful, but I do need a fun and creative outlet, which this provides.   

There are definite differences between painting at home and painting in the theater.  If there are holes in the flats, we generally cover them up with tape whereas at home, I’ve learned (and like) the art of spackling and sanding.  Also, when you paint a flat, you lay it horizontal on the ground and take the roller on a long stick and go over it while standing up – pretty darn easy and fun.  At home, most (or rather all) of the walls are vertical, making it a bit trickier to paint, and you can’t run over the edges with the roller (like with a flat).

It will be no surprise to anyone that once my walls were painted, my furniture looked drab.  I hadn’t thought much about what would happen after the paint, unlike with a set, which is very well thought out.   So, I’m making it up! I have been adding furniture, curtains, pillows and accessories in a rather spontaneous, although thoughtful, way.  I don’t know how it will turn out, but I’m having a blast.  And, I realize that the paint on the walls simply creates a palette for the creativity that will ensue.  This whole project has turned me into an art nut.  With my new-found courage, I’ve given up my old ways of debating about what should go where which leaves my walls bare, to buying and covering my walls with beautiful art that I like.  I can’t get enough of art shows. Surrounding myself with beautiful art is exciting, and I’ve created my own set right in my living room!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saline Area Players.... the beginning!

At Cabaret Gala
I recently returned from a delightful afternoon talking with Rose Carol Toth, one of the founding members of Saline Area Players.  This is our 40th year and we’re celebrating with a Gala on June 22 at Liberty School Auditorium, which used to be called the Middle School Little Theatre, and was the first auditorium in which the Players ever performed.  Rose Carol talked about how the group was formed….

It began when a local resident, Betsy Wellwood, had an idea.  She put a small article in the Saline Reporter asking if anyone was interested in starting a local theater group in Saline.  The meeting took place on Monroe street in what had originally been a Catholic Church, but was at that time a UAW hall.  Not sure what it is now.  They met in the basement.  In Rose Carol’s recollection, about 12 people attended that first meeting, most of whom didn’t know each other.  Some of the people she remembers, along with herself, were Ralph Swenarton, Norma Keller, Russell and Marilyn Ellis, Betsy Wellwood, Leroy King, Dottie Barnes, and Christine Horn, whom she describes as young, and the only person there who had ever done or studied theater.  It was from this meeting that they decided to put on the first Saline Area Players show, “Was this Murder?”.  Rose Carol was in it along with many of the founding members of the Players.  I looked at her program of the show, and I was impressed at how well-supported the show was with local businesses.  Rose Carol remembers that her husband, Ted, and Bob Barnes, were some of the first set builders. 
Queen in Once
Upon a Mattress

With that first production, and many of the early ones, she says that people pitched in and did everything.  At that time the theater didn’t have any lights like it does now so they had to make them using large coffee cans.  They also had to figure out a way to hang them.  They moved them in and out of the theater using large crates.  When not in use, they were stored in various garages, including that of the Toth’s.  The biggest storage area, however, as time went on, was over Big Daddy’s (which is where Mangiamo’s is now).  She reports that Big Daddy’s was very generous, letting them store things there on the upper floor for free.  Unfortunately, there was a fire in the building causing damage to Big Daddy’s, and the Players lost much of their stuff.  So other storage areas were found and that may be when the Players moved to the Saline Depot.  For awhile, the depot was used for storage and for rehearsals, but later was turned back to the historical society.  I personally remember being there for auditions in the first SAP show I auditioned for, Carousel. Over the years, SAP has stored things in people’s barns too, including Bill Burnette and the late Dave Strait, to name a few.

Not long after the group got started, they decided to write bylaws.  Although Rose Carol wasn’t the first president, she was when they wrote the bylaws, which she describes as a tedious process.  They used other groups, like Ann Arbor Civic Theater, and CTAM (Community Theater Association of Michigan) for help.  She says that Dottie Barnes, also on the board, did a lot of work on this project.  Rose Carol stayed on the board for years, and if she wasn’t on it, her husband Ted was.  They were never on at the same time since one of the rules was, and still is, that two people from the same family cannot be at the same time.  (In my opinion that was a great rule because you could give a spouse a break but they are still roped in by the one who IS on the board J ). Rose Carol notes that when they did Oklahoma, their first musical, into the beginning of the second year, they generated a lot of interest, and the families came out for that.  She describes it as a “huge community production” and described this as a big boost for the new group.

In the early days, play reading was a group activity.  The chair or co-chair of the committee would find out about plays through hearsay, CTAM, or perhaps research, and they would suggest that the board read them.  Everyone would sit around and read through the plays, taking the different parts.  It was from these readings that the plays were selected.  Then the season was developed and they put out advertisements for directors.  She remembers that Roger Wertenberger from Ann Arbor Civic directed and Jim Posante choreographed South Pacific, a huge musical production for SAP.  They were well known in the community.  At that time, the artistic and the music directors were the only ones paid.  The rest, pretty much like it is now, were volunteers!

Ted Toth
Rose Carol’s husband Ted was one of the main set builders for SAP for years.  Although a pipe fitter for General Motors by trade, he was in the Air National Guard and through that erected buildings and made temporary sites.  He learned a lot about building from that, and also worked a bit with Ann Arbor Civic Theater where he learned about set design and painting.  Rose Carol said that he always carried a small pad of paper and a pencil in his pocket, and every time they traveled, he would sketch things he saw, like buildings, towers, etc. hoping to use some of these drawings in the future on a set.  While visiting her, I had the honor of viewing many of his pieces of art throughout her home.  We were incredibly lucky to have Ted beyind the scenes.  (And, occasionally, we’d be able to get him on stage, but only for a cameo role). 

Currently, one of the best things about being part of the Saline Area Players are the parties.  It is fun to work hard on a production and then get to enjoy everyone at a party.  I didn’t join the group until 1984 but was able to participate in some very late night parties.  But evidently, they weren’t as late as I thought.  According to Rose Carol, the cast would frequently go to Big Daddy’s after a rehearsal.  The grill would close by 1:00 (a.m., that is), so they would make sure they got their orders in by then.  She remembers the occasional person who had to rehearse later shouting out their order as others went out the door.  The restaurant would stay open later, though, and she remembers staying until 2 or 3:00 a.m. until they closed.  She thinks those were on the weekends.  For the cast parties, everybody would come dressed up, in long dresses (the women, that is).  She remembers that the parties went late into the night, sometimes until 6:00 a.m. After the party broke up, the cast would go over to what was the Big Apple at the time (now Saline Inn) and have breakfast.  That was before my time!  She also remembers the annual picnics at the Barnes’ home where they have a pool.  Dottie would make most of the food, often spaghetti with garlic bread and salad.  She says that the parties were so cohesive with no squabbles…just fun, fun, fun!!!

As we talked, I realize that not much has changed.  People come together to create a play and become part of the group.  The people come from all walks of life and often don’t know each other ahead of time.  Families are very much involved and often share the experience.  Publicity, finding an audience, getting enough funding, and keeping up the enthusiasm remain ongoing challenges.  And, certainly, we still like to have parties, but sadly, they don’t go until breakfast anymore. 

Come learn more about the Saline Area Players and celebrate with us at our 40th Anniversary Gala on June 22.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Interview with the director of WIlly Wonka

Ever wonder what it would be like to be in charge of the artistic direction for a show?  Every director is different in how they approach a show and what innovations they add.  I caught up with our director for Saline Area Players’ production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, Tami HIndes, and here is how she answered some of my questions.

What is your vision for the show?  I loved the original Willy Wonka movie as a kid so when the opportunity came along to direct the stage version, I jumped at it.  Willy Wonka is a colorful, bright, sparkly show.  The factory is what kids might imagine being their ultimate place of business, full of chocolate, candy, and foil wrapping.  In fact, I can imagine that maybe it was Roald Dahl’s ideal job when he was a kid.  This is all in the imagination and the workers (Oompa Loompas) are fantasy characters.

I wanted to make it a family friendly, non-creepy show.  Willy Wonka can be creepy and several have done it like that, but I didn’t want him to be a scary Wonka – I wanted him to be somebody we would want to be.  I also wanted the show to be accessible to younger kids and not to scare them.

What have you learned?  There are meanings to this show that I hadn’t thought about until we got into it.  It seems like there is an underlying message of being responsible and owning up to mistakes.  It’s about saying we’re sorry when we do wrong.  And believing that goodness does pay off in the end and even the little guy can win.

What do you like about directing this show?  It is fun.  The staff has been awesome.  They all jumped in and fulfilled roles, did things ahead, kept up great communication and have decked the show with sparkles. 

The cast has been great to work with - lots of energy and happy faces at every rehearsal. Everyone seems to pitch in and help whether it's moving a prop or reading a line for someone who's not there. 

Tell us a bit about the process of directing this show?  I like to listen to what the actors have to say - especially the kids, because they see things differently and a lot of times, I think, “Wow! that's an awesome suggestion.” I want the actors to "own" this show and I hope they feel I value their input. A few years ago, I wouldn't have felt comfortable using the actors' suggestions. So I think I've matured as a director too. I'm not such a dictator any more. 

Sometimes things happen accidentally during the rehearsals and they end up being used in the show – that’s fun.

It's been another fantastic experience with the Saline Area Players. I've learned a lot about directing, being flexible, but also sticking to my decisions.

What’s rewarding to you?  I look back where we started - 50 plus individuals, and now, we're all pulling together and we've become a complete unit. I've seen lots of friendships blossom. One young lady has been "bitten" by the stage bug and recently auditioned for Varsity Blues - I'm not sure if she would've done it before this show or not, but she did and made the group. I think for a lot of the kids, theater gives them direction and structure while letting them be creative. 

Why should people come to the show?   First of all, one of my trademarks as a director, I guess, is I like the audience to interact with the characters. Before the show, the Oompa Loompas will be greeting the audience and the Candy Man will have his cart out front actually selling candy. 

This version will be a bit different than other Wonka shows because I've added some pre-show/opening fun - once again probably becoming one of my little quirks as a director - where I can have some unlimited creativity. I've really worked to make this an intergenerational show, where the kids will enjoy it on one level and the adults will on a different level. 

Plus we've added in some special treats that I can't discuss here under my magician's oath. People will just have to come and see the show. People will leave humming the songs and my goal is for everyone to walk away feeling like their dreams can come true. 

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka is on April 19 & 20 at 7PM and April 20 & 21 at 2PM at the Ellen A Ewing Performing Arts Center at Saline HS.  To order tickets and for additional information check out the Saline Area Players' website!