Once a year the Bedford Community House assembles under its roof an ensemble of community members to put on such productions as Annie, The Wizard of Oz and this year Oliver. "The idea being that we start out as just recruits and we turn into a team, says Costume Designer June O' Neill, “so that by the time the show goes up we're all depending on each other just the way a baseball team is."
Ms. O'Neill also shores up the team concept that the Community House tries to promote, but keeping it in the family goes along way to solidifyingthe cohesion necessary to pull these musicals off. The plays provide a unique opportunity for families to get together under one umbrella as part of the same activity.
"Your kid can be in soccer and you can go watch the soccer game, but you're not in the soccer game," says Production Manager Laurie Lewis. Her whole family has taken on the play and since most of the town's recreational activities involves sports, the community's response has been nothing but positive to this artistic alternative, according to Ms. Lewis.
For the both the town and the families, it comes without the high price tag that many activities for kids involve. The town picks up the tab for expenses on the actual house and provides a budget for expenses, while the twelve dollar ticket prices helps pay for the rights to the music and the plays. And each performer, unless its not within their mean, pays a 50 dollar costume fee, which probably pales in comparison to the average Pop Warner getup.
It didn't seem to be a concern of 15 year old Kyle Lewis of John Jay High School as he took in some calculus between transforming into the Artful Dodger. He says he loves theatre and loves to perform, but wasn't sure if this would lead him some day to bigger stages. Even so, he says, "There's so many ways to use whatever skills you develop in acting.”
Michael Pasieka, who plays Sykes in the play and makes a living as a programmer, seems to have taken his young counterpart's insight in reverse. Acting in a musical "has been a dream for the past twenty years," he says, "but time constraints and life sometimes gets in the way."
As for the stage fright he might experience on opening night, he says he's putting that
"You're never going to see me on the stage," says Production Coordinator Diane Brandsell, while her 11 year old daughter has landed the part of Beth. In that role, Ms. Brandsell wears many hats and fits the self proclaimed profile of any community theatre participant.
Besides pulling strings from behind the scenes, she put together the playbill, coordinated graphic design items and supervised with props. In keeping with keeping it in the family, she often enlists her husband Bill to save the set design issue of the day. For the wizard of Oz, Mr. Brandsell had to make it snow and has recently been put on notice by his wife that a bridge has to be built and he needs to figure out how to do it.
She jokes that she drags him from home and into the house, but in reality she says he loves implementing the set designs for the plays. Working together with his wife and between one and four daughters at a time has a nice ring to it for him. Younger sisters Hannah and Alex have come into paint and help in any way possible, while four year old Charlotte loves the opportunity to come in and see all the goings on.
Ms. Brandsell finds this kind of participatation to be common to many of the younger siblings attached to the production and she welcomes what an effort like this does for the self-esteem of the children involved. And when other local kids see their own on stage instead of some Hollywood hotshot on Silver, the momentum grows as they realize, according to Ms. Lewis, “anybody can get up and do it and give it a try.”