It’s finally summer! Now that June is here, we should be expecting much warmer weather than we have had these past few months. There is a lot going on art-wise around these parts! Seussical Jr., a musical set to stage by The Penguin Project, was a roaring success at the Gettysburg Community Theater. The Totem Pole Playhouse began its season with the premiere of Lovesick Blues, a huge crowd favorite, and Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks just recently began on May 27. I highly recommend checking it out! David Engel, an established Broadway actor, plays one of the main roles, and Loretta Swit, who played Margaret Houlihan on M*A*S*H*, is the other lead character. Come out and support the community!
Last October, I wrote about the Thurmont Thespians, which introduced the group for some of our readers. Nonetheless, they have been performing a variety of plays for over 17 years. But there is some bittersweet news to report this month: the Thespians will be putting on their last performance this coming July. Sad news, but their last play is set to be a showstopper! The crew has been working especially hard on this final performance to give an appropriately strong finale to a history of fantastic performances.
Beth and Spencer Watson founded the Thespians in 1998, and were already avid lovers of theatre and the sense of community it creates. I spoke with Beth again for this final piece on the Thespians, and she told me, “The Thespians have been my greatest joy in my theatre life… We ended up with whole families involved interacting and enjoying the process of doing theatre in Thurmont. Every production has been exciting and its own challenge.”
For this article I also spoke with Jennifer Buchheister, director of advancement at the Mother Seton School as well as the long-time publicist for the Thespians. She echoed many of Beth’s statements about this wonderful program. Jen told me, “We have watched deep friendships blossom, many lasting years after the children completed the program. Many children have gone on to study some form of performing art or technical theater.”
One of the underlying intentions of founding the Thespians was the teaching of theater to children. And in this vein, the Thespians have had a noticeable impact on their community. This upcoming show’s director, as one of the many examples of this, is Rosalyn Smaldone, a graduate of Mount St. Mary’s from just this year! She also attended and graduated from both Mother Seton School and Catoctin high school.
Rosalyn shared with me just how much the Thespians have helped her in her life, “The Thurmont Thespians gave me an interest that eventually turned into a passion. I had always enjoyed theater, but being a part of the Thurmont Thespians helped me realize that the arts field was a place where I wanted to be in the future.”
This newfound passion for the arts culminated in her graduation from Mount St. Mary’s University. She recently accepted a professional marketing internship with Center Stage, one of the largest and most well-known theaters in the city of Baltimore; “It’s really all thanks to the summers I spent with the Thespians. It’s a very special community of people.”
Jen agrees about this influence of the Thespians, “I think that really is Beth’s legacy” she says, “The seeds that she planted in all those summer programs. The seeds of friendship, hard work, love of theater, and love of God. We continually see those seeds growing to maturity in many of the children that went through the program.”
But having the children come together was not the only joy of the Thespians: bringing families together was also one of the program’s major highlight. Beth mentioned, “We ended up with whole families involved interacting and enjoying the process of doing theater in Thurmont.” And in the process of coordinating, the Thespians were able to come together, season after season, to form their own family. Paul Smaldone, who has been involved with the Thespians for a great amount of time, told me “It has been a place where people interested in theater have gathered together and made friends as well. I can’t imagine this theater group not being around. The people I have met have become my friends, and enriched my life beyond measure. We all owe them an unpayable debt of gratitude.”
The theatre, in its earliest incarnation, was an outreach of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Thurmont. Their earliest shows were performed at the Church itself, before finding a bigger space at The American Legion building in Thurmont. St. John’s, however, still offered rehearsal space for the group throughout their 18-year history, and the Thespians devotion to God was abundant throughout its time. I was told that, “Before each show, young and adult, we would always gather in the green room, hold hands and pray. We would always thank God for His blessing.” The dedication to God would present itself both in the people who repeatedly volunteered each year, and through community interventions to help keep the Thespians afloat during their toughest period.
When Spencer Watson passed away very suddenly in 2013, the leadership management was shaken, very noticeably. Beth said, “It took five men and three women to handle the things he did automatically.” But with the support of the community, through extra volunteers and increased donations during this time, the Thespians were able to persevere. Having local theater in Thurmont was a treasure which many residents never took for granted. Beth hopes that the residents miss having a local theater group perform each season. I know I’ll certainly miss covering whichever play the Thespians were confident enough to take on next!
Beth has many, many people to thank for the theater’s success over the years. She asked to mention the following people for their continued help with the group:
“Becky and John Urian, Jen Buchheister, John Mohr, Rich Friis, Bill and Eileen Collins, The entire Cofer family, The Smaldones, The Johnsons, The Bloods, Becky Carpenter, Mary Lou Royer, The Pucketts, Mike Brown, Holly Rife, Norm Gibat, everyone who ever worked on The Bessie Darling story. Lori Hockley and Rosalyn Smaldone in particular who played Bessie and Maizie , and Paul Smaldone as the villain!! – what a show that was!! Doug Benson, Kelli Donaghue, Annie Urian who ended up going into technical theatre as a vocation, Heidi D’Amore, Melissa D’Amore, John Nickerson, Anne Raugh, Steve Ross, Robbie Freedman – the list goes on and on and on. All the patrons like Rocky’s, Brown’s Jewelry Store, Hobbs, Ace, Maggies – who advertised automatically every production!! Parents of the kids in the shows who worked above and beyond the call of duty – like walking in the Fireman’s Parade every year. I could name reams of people who all helped – but I never could have done it without the backing of St. John’s Lutheran Church who believed in my mission and supported us in every way every day!!”
As with every summer show, this final production will appropriately be performed by the younger crowd, in this case, a group comprised mostly of teenagers. They will be showcasing a classic which many of us already know well: Footloose. Footloose is most easily remembered from the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon, Chris Penn, Lori Singer and John Lithgow. Rosalyn, the director of the play, is really looking forward to it, “Footloose is a great choice for what will be the Thurmont Thespians’ last show… It’s funny, features great dancing, and is an overall joyous production. It’ll be a great note to go out on!”
If you would like to make a reservation to see this final play, feel free to contact the Thespians at (301) 271-7613. Let’s help to make the Thurmont Thespians’ last show their very best one!
PDF: ENJ ~ June 2016