2018-04-07 / News

Community Theater To Perform Adaptation of ‘Our Town’

By Stephanie Fortino


The Mackinac Island Community Theater has used Community Hall this winter to rehearse the Mackinac Island adaptation of “Our Town.” Here (from left), Hannah Preslar, who plays The Stage Manager, stands before Megan Frost, who plays Emily Webb, and Joseph Trudeau, who plays George Gibbs. In the audience are (from back) Mike Iles, who plays Dr. Gibbs, Jeri-Lynn Bailey, who plays Mrs. Gibbs, and Danielle Vanwinkle, who plays Mrs. Webb. (Mackinac Arts Council photograph) The Mackinac Island Community Theater has used Community Hall this winter to rehearse the Mackinac Island adaptation of “Our Town.” Here (from left), Hannah Preslar, who plays The Stage Manager, stands before Megan Frost, who plays Emily Webb, and Joseph Trudeau, who plays George Gibbs. In the audience are (from back) Mike Iles, who plays Dr. Gibbs, Jeri-Lynn Bailey, who plays Mrs. Gibbs, and Danielle Vanwinkle, who plays Mrs. Webb. (Mackinac Arts Council photograph) Community theater has returned to Mackinac Island. After months of practicing this winter under the direction of Lisa Olson, residents will perform an adaptation of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder this spring. Modified to have it set on Mackinac Island, the play is expected to offer an entertaining experience for all who attend.

Performances will be at the Mission Point Theater Friday, April 20, and Saturday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. No admission is charged, but donations to the community theater group are asked. Mrs. Olson hopes the theater will be filled for each performance.

“I hope that when [people] come to this play that they are excited to see that the Island has more of an arts culture here than what’s previously been known,” she said.

A community theater existed several years ago but disbanded, said City Recreation Director Mary Patay. She proposed a revival to Mackinac Arts Council Programming Director Philip Rice, who took over as producer of the play. When they sought a director, Mrs. Olson volunteered. Along with the weekly Music Mondays jam sessions, the community theater has been a welcome winter activity because it appeals to a different group of Island residents, Dr. Patay said.

Since she moved to the Island about two years ago, Mrs. Olson has been interested in helping foster a theatrical group. She acted in theater and musicals while growing up and was thrilled to hear the community theater would be revived. This is the first time she has directed.

“I always loved the side of directing, the stage part of it, and developing the story,” she said. “I thought it would be really fun, especially when we picked the play. I love to write, and I thought I would adapt the play to being more about Mackinac.”

“Our Town” was selected to revive the community theater, in part, because of its simplicity. Since it is a play about the rehearsal of a play, the performance doesn’t require costumes or sets, limiting the number of people required. The script also includes many children, allowing some of the Island’s youngest residents to participate, too, said Dr. Rice.

“They’ve been very excited and very responsive,” Mrs. Olson said of the young performers. “It’s been very good.”

“Our Town” premiered in 1938, and the original script is set over the course of several years, from 1901 to 1913. It follows a group of people as they age, dealing with life, marriage, and death.

In Mrs. Olson’s adaptation, she retained the names of the characters, but changed the setting to Mackinac Island in the 1990s. Familiar locations like the East and West bluffs, Doud Merchantile, the school, and cemeteries were added. To lighten the mood of the play, she also added several jokes and contemporized the dialogue with input from the actors. Collaborating with the actors was an important element to the creative process, she said, giving them some freedom in how to portray their characters.

“I had an idea of what I thought for each character, but I wanted them to be able to cultivate what they wanted their characters to do,” she said.

The actors enjoyed having input on their characters, and the exercise was especially helpful for the youngest participants.

“It teaches them to creatively think a little bit more and use their imagination,” she said.

Talks to bring theater back to Mackinac Island began late last summer, and auditions were held in October. In January, the group started rehearsing weekly at Community Hall. This month, rehearsals will increase to twice a week and will be held at the theater, which Mrs. Olson said will give the actors needed practice projecting their voices.

The Mackinac Arts Council serves as the producer for the play, said Dr. Rice, who wrote the grant to the Mackinac Island Community Foundation to purchase the rights to the play and scripts. The foundation awarded the arts council $1,000 for the production. The arts council is also providing the performance space at the Mission Point Theater, which is part of the Center for the Arts.

“Really and truly, the arts council’s mission is to serve the year-around community,” Dr. Rice said, making the community theater the perfect wintertime project.

Personally for Dr. Rice, who also acts in the play, the production has allowed him to reconnect with theater. Having been involved in theatrical and musical productions throughout middle school and high school, he hasn’t performed in a play in about 15 years.

“This feels very familiar, and it has been really fun to be in that space,” Dr. Rice said. “You’re doing something creative and productive and expressive.”

The need for a creative outlet is shared by many Island residents, Dr. Rice and Mrs. Olson soon learned, as more people than they expected showed up to audition. Many more Island residents have since expressed interest in helping with the other aspects of a production, including set design and costuming. Music Mondays have also helped identify musicians who could serve in a pit orchestra for a musical.

“Since we held auditions,” Mrs. Olson said, “we have had such an interest in the community theater that, moving forward, we’ll be able to do much bigger things.”

She and Dr. Rice hope the Mackinac Island Community Theater will soon produce a musical.

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