BY DOROTHY SCHULTE
Old Fort Players
FORT MADISON – We’ve had such a rollercoaster of the last year and a half, that we thought it was time to stop, re-group and start up again. And also say a big thank you to those who hung on to the safety harness and listened to us scream as we went around the curves. This party will say thank you as much as it will launch the “40+1” Anniversary Season. And since we want to make the opening official, we thought we’d make it a little “grand” while we were at it.
The time off hasn’t been a complete bust. We did manage to put on two shows earlier in the year despite Covid. But the first show especially, “The Queen of Bingo,” was subdued. We were all just barely stepping out into the world with restrictions firmly in place. We were eager to get back to our lives, but hesitant for the other shoe to drop. So when the show was over, the usual cast party was postponed.
It may not sound like that big a deal for a few people to sit around and chat and laugh over a slice of pizza or a crockpot of chili, but strangely, it is. We tease each other one last time about stepping onstage wearing only one false eyelash or a Wisconsin accent taking a sudden detour south of Atlanta at the end of Act Two. We relax and wonder what we were so nervous about on opening night.
After “Leaving Iowa” was such a success even by pre-Covid standards, our board of directors made plans to get back into the swing of things for the fall. But we weren’t sure we could do it. We had a cast of 17 for the May show, and a great audience turnout. But was it a fluke? We were the only local live theater open at the time. Did we just get lucky?
We contemplated how to get more people involved. Which quickly begs the question, why does anybody join a small town community theater anyway? It’s certainly not preparation for a career in show business. We’re not starry-eyed dreamers who imagine some talent scout is going to pluck us out of obscurity and into fame and fortune. Every community theater I’ve volunteered for or was a regular patron of from California to Florida has been the same. Real people with real jobs who spend some of their free time away from their families to entertain perfect strangers.
It’s an odd phenomenon. What prompts that nice, helpful woman behind the cosmetics counter to don a tie-dyed t-shirt and transform into a hippie at a roadside fruit stand? For what reason does a metallurgical engineer practice for weeks just to seem perfectly convincing as a wife murderer? Why would an electrician who moonlights as a musician consent to memorize hundreds of lines – most of which are just half a conversation with a six foot tall, invisible white rabbit? Why would a sane person do that?
And especially after the Covid lockdowns, a lot of people’s priorities changed. Those of us at Old Fort Players know we aren’t saving lives or saving souls or even saving stray dogs from a life on the street. We’re just trying to save our sanity with a rather unusual hobby. Instead of playing bingo or euchre, fishing or cruising on a motorcycle, our idea of stress-relieving fun is to step into the footlights and risk forgetting our lines, missing a cue and tripping over furniture. Why?
Why is there a massive walleye mounted on our family room wall? So that every now and then when my father was still alive he could look up and say, “I did that.” And that’s not something just anybody can say.
So why do theatre people do whatever it is we do? Because when we take our cue and remember our lines, someone laughs. Another gasps. And when the curtain closes, people applaud.
And we can say, “I did that.”
And then there is a second, more enigmatic breed of theater people. They are those who seem to find joy behind the curtains the rest of us keep stepping in front of.
Why does a city employee who gets called in at the last minute to drive a snow plow so we can get to work in the morning, drag himself into the theatre after his shift to build a set for a show he’s not even in? And the mom who’s driven her child to every rehearsal, why does she volunteer to sell concessions for all six performances, when she’d much rather just sit and enjoy the show? And the person who pays the bills, tracks down grant money, checks the voicemail, vacuums, scrubs the toilets, rallies the volunteers, sends thank you notes to our donors and pretty much everything you knew somebody must do? Who is she?
And what about the third kind of theater people? They don’t work behind the curtain, they’ve never looked behind the curtain. But the curtain wouldn’t need to be there if they weren’t. They are the loyal faces we look for in the audience. They’ve never felt the need to get applause for themselves, only to give it. They come to every show. They buy popcorn and raffle tickets and laugh in all the right places. They smile and say ‘Great job’ and shake your hand on the way out of the theater. Why? Because for a couple of hours they got to watch their dog groomer and their grandson’s school teacher dress up as nuns who run an illegal winery to raise money for orphans. And not just anybody can say that either.
These are all the people we want to thank. Please join us in expressing your gratitude for all our theater people no matter on which side of the curtain you might find them. See you at the theater on September 26th. We plan to cut the ribbon at 6pm.
The theater is located in downtown Fort Madison at 725 Avenue G. Send a Facebook message, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 319-372-9559 for more information. Like them on Facebook (Fb@oldfortplayers) or visit www.oldfortplayers.com for dates and descriptions of all the shows in the upcoming season.