The Midweek Wire – Hatboro’s hidden stage

Jack Firneno of The Midweek Wire came by last month and wrote up a wonderful profile on our theater. We linked to it on Facebook, but wanted to put it here on our website, too.

JACK FIRNENO / WIRE PHOTOS The Community Theater in Hatboro, housed in a converted dairy barn on Jefferson Avenue, is a small stone building in town.

JACK FIRNENO / WIRE PHOTOS The Community Theater in Hatboro, housed in a converted dairy barn on Jefferson Avenue, is a small stone building in town.

Standing on the stage in an unassuming stone building next to a playground on Jefferson Avenue in Hatboro, Fran Carroll explains the theater term “cheating.”

It’s when two actors talking to each other onstage stand in a V-shape instead of face-to-face, so they never fully face away from the audience.

For the same reason, they almost crabwalk when making their way to the back of the stage.

Also, if someone can’t remember what to say, they should resist the urge to shoegaze.

“Looking down means you forgot your lines. Looking up makes it look like you’re thinking,” he explained.

Carroll gives tips like these to first-time actors when he’s directing a show for the Village Players of Hatboro. “We’re big on giving people their first break,” he said. “Twenty years ago, someone casted me when I had never acted. I want to return that favor.”

And, the company’s tradition of giving the spotlight to novices extends much further back than that. Now in its 65th season, the Village Players of Hatboro have been giving people in nearby communities a chance to be a part of the theater experience.

Since 1958, the Village Players have resided in their Community Theater, a converted dairy barn that now seats around 185 people.

There, they often draw in people with no background at all in the performing arts – like Carroll, who discovered the company through his girlfriend at the time.

“We broke up, I stayed,” he laughed.

Soon after his first visit, a member offered to teach him lighting. Not long after that he was working backstage regularly, occasionally as a stage manager. Then he auditioned for parts, getting some and not  others, and began directing as well.

“I love the whole process, from choosing a play to the cast party,” he said. “It’s fascinating.”

JACK FIRNENO / WIRE PHOTOS The walls backstage at the Community Theater are lovingly tagged by cast and crew members of past performances.

JACK FIRNENO / WIRE PHOTOS The walls backstage at the Community Theater are lovingly tagged by cast and crew members of past performances.

But what keeps people like him there, ultimately, is the company’s “welcoming” personality. Some theaters, even small community ones like this, can be cliquish, he explained.

“I tell new people auditioning: ‘You may see people hugging each other backstage. You may feel like an outsider. Don’t worry – everyone’s got an equal shot here.’”

It’s in large part why the Village Players have been around so long. And, In the little stone building well off the main drag, there’s ample evidence to back up Carroll’s statements about how welcoming the company is  – and also how the theater and the town are quietly intertwined.

It’s written in between the lines of the countless comments and shout-outs scrawled on the walls backstage and in the sound booth, and it rests among the attic full of props – everything from an old stove to vintage Coca-Cola bottle cases to boxes of eyeglass frames – many of which were donated by local businesses over the decades.

“We always try to do business with Hatboro merchants,” said Carroll. He pointed to the stage floor, coated in “flat black” paint, and mentioned how only one store in the area carries it. “They stock it for us.”

Right now, that stage is set for Doubt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about suspected misconduct in a New York City Catholic school.

JACK FIRNENO / WIRE PHOTO A view of the Community Theater stage, set for the upcoming production of “Doubt,” as seen from the sound booth.

JACK FIRNENO / WIRE PHOTO A view of the Community Theater stage, set for the upcoming production of “Doubt,” as seen from the sound booth.

It’s a slight departure for the company, which usually puts on comedies with upwards of six cast members, and many times at least one novice actor. Here, the four actors, all have prior onstage experience.

But, noted director Georgina Bard, “The actors have a great connection with one another. That’s what makes the play really alive and vibrant.” Chemistry like this is a “mysterious thing,” almost like being in love. “I’ve seen it before, but it’s not always there.”

It’s Bard’s first time directing for the Village Players, although she regularly directs for a travelling company that does historical and educational productions and for groups of homeschooled children. She came aboard here six years ago, wanting to get involved community theater.

Now, she’s excited to make her directorial debut with a play she loves and with a group of people that have come to share her appreciation of it.

“When you have a great script and awesome lines and the actors are willing to go that far and really get into it, you’ll get something great. And, I think these actors have done it.”

Read the article on The Midweek Wire

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