I wondered last week what kind of extra treat was in store for those of us going to the Black Maria Film + Video Festival at Richey Suncoast Theatre when I saw about a dozen young people wandering around the theater in various costumes, looking excited. Would we see a live show in addition to the short films in the festival itself?
Turns out they weren't part of the super-wonderful Black Maria, but those kids (and some others) are a big reason that recent productions at Richey Suncoast have gone smoothly and will probably do so in the future.
The story starts in the summer of 2009, when the small water pump attached to the air-conditioning unit on the third floor of the building went on the fritz and let the condensation back up and flood the upstairs storage rooms.
Costumes were soaked and floors were soggy, with scant weeks left before the opening of the musical Li'l Abner.
To the rescue: A group of students from Marchman Technical Education Center, who descended on the theater for a day of cleanup and organization.
"They just saved us," said Marie Skelton, who was in charge of costumes for the upcoming show. Regular theater volunteers pitched in, but the Marchman kids did a lot of the grunt work in the three crowded rooms and two lofts that serve as Richey Suncoast's costume storage areas.
"Oh, we couldn't have done (the cleanup) without them," Skelton said.
Of course, in the rush of two busy theatrical seasons and scores of special shows since that day, the theater costume rooms again became, well, a tad untidy.
To the rescue: 11 Marchman kids, including two graduates who just had to come back for the fun.
They separated the costumes and lined them up: this rack for carnival clothes; another for Elizabethan outfits; three full racks of men's suits, jackets and coats; a huge plastic storage box full of crinolines; another full of all styles and colors of men's pants; shelves lined with hats from every era; hooks for women's handbags of every fashion; even bags full of yard goods for future costumes or set draperies.
At the end of the project, the kids had only one request, Skelton said.
"They asked if they could wear a costume to the Black Maria Festival," she said.
And that's explains the 11 kids in sparkling red top hats, tails, princess costumes and slightly scruffy band uniforms (hey, you can't see the frayed cuffs from the audience) at the Black Maria.
When it's okay to talk back to cast and crew
One of the most enjoyable things about seeing a really good play or musical is talking about it after the show.
That's one reason I always enjoyed the recently closed Avenue Players Theatre productions so much — the audience often gathered around the stage after the shows to talk with the director, actors, crew and each other about what they'd just seen.
It's almost like a really good college seminar, only without the pop quizzes or term papers. Gee, it's almost like being a newspaper theater critic, only if you say something stupid, people quickly forget it, and nobody writes nasty letters to the editor about your opinions. All the fun and none of the guff.
I thought about this (again) as I left Lost in Yonkers at Stage West Community Playhouse on opening night. This excellent production (it plays again tonight and Sunday) just begs for discussion — a "theater talk-back."
What did the young people think about Grandma Kurnitz's behavior toward her family? How might that contrast with the real grandmas, some of whom had been through experiences like Grandma Kurnitz's?
And how did director Dan Brijbag prepare himself to pull the performances he did out of his cast?
What kind of research did costume designer Barbara Brady do to make clear the time frame of the show and the financial circumstances of the family? (The slightly too-short sleeves on actor Jonathan Linstad's suit said volumes.)
And wouldn't it have been something if the man who directed Brijbag's performance as young Jay in the same show 14 years ago, Saul Leibner, had been there to talk about that production and how it compared with others he had done (four of them with Brijbag in the cast) over the years?
Stage West is establishing itself as this area's destination for thought-provoking theater — Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Shadow Box, The Secret Garden, Veronica's Room, Everything in the Garden, Master Class, Agnes of God, Night of the Iguana, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, next year's Streetcar Named Desire — as well as classics such as Arsenic and Old Lace, Gaslight, Witness for the Prosecution, All in the Family, and The Man Who Came to Dinner.
Even those shows that don't quite hit the mark (we'll leave those unnamed) are fun to talk about, especially when cast and crew can chime in with their say.
I know by the phone calls and e-mails I get that I'm not the only one who loves to talk theater. Maybe Stage West could drag out the leftovers from the opening night buffet and make it a real party.