NWI troupes boast long runs across region

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:11:07Z NWI troupes boast long runs across regionPhilip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Earle Howe, vice president of Hammond Community Theatre, is proud of the support and dedication of both the collected talent on stage and the eager audiences who make his productions a success.

Anchored at Beatniks on Conkey, 418 Conkey St., just blocks east of Hohman Avenue in Hammond, the group recently offered a successful holiday run of "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," written by Tom Mula and directed by Howe and his wife Betty.

"We presented this same play in the past, and we've had audiences asking for us to bring it back," Earle Howe said.

Billed as a "coffeehouse and black box theater," Beatniks, in Hammond's Hyde Park neighborhood, is a great fit for Hammond Community Theatre, he said.

The Howes and troupe members worked with the Hammond Community Corp. to install new seating risers at Beatniks. In addition, they added new chairs with help from the office of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.

They welcomed 2014 with a February production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap," the longest running play in England. The Hammond production was directed by Valerie Wotkun.

"What makes this play even more interesting is how popular it has remained throughout the decades," Earle Howe said.

"The film rights to the stage story were sold long ago, on the contingency that the film couldn't be made until after the stage run. We'll, this is a play that has been running ever since it started, so no film has yet to be made."

Hammond Community Theatre is a nonprofit Indiana corporation.

One season shy of its diamond anniversary, Chicago Street Community Theatre in Valparaiso is happy cast in the role of being one of the treasures for local stage entertainment in Northwest Indiana.

The theater began its 59th season with an adaptation of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" that ran through last November.

Eric Brant, director of marketing for Chicago Street Theatre, 154 W. Chicago St., is proud of the group's stage season events, ranging from opening night celebrations to a blood drive on Oct. 28 to costume contests.

The season continues next with "Play It Again, Sam" (April 4-19), "Rabbit Hole" (May 23-June 7) and "Romeo and Juliet" (July 11-26).

Unlike other community theaters in the area, the Chicago Street Theatre's 59th season has no musicals.

"We don't produce many musicals. I don't think that is one of our stronger points," Brant said.

"I think we do better with dramas and comedies, like Shakespeare. We try to tackle some edgier material. I think we take some risks that other groups don't want to take."

Even with the edgier look the theater prides itself on, Brant said he felt proud of the productions he has been involved with since he joined the theater when he was 17.

"Our mission is always to stay true to the art rather than look at 'name' productions to make money," Brant said.

"Our formula is that if we create good work, the audiences will come."

As a testament to the quality productions the Chicago Street Theatre offers, it recently received 22 nominations in the Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation.

"It's my favorite group of people to play with; as an actor, they make me better, as a director, they make me better," he said.

"I always feel that I learn every time I'm in a show down here. Outside of my immediate family, there is no other group of people I care more about than my family here at the theater. This is my family; these are my school chums; these are the people I want to perform with and want to do good for."

Brant said part of the draw to the Chicago Street Theatre is the intimate performances in the 130-seat theater.

"Theater is different than watching a movie," he said.

"If playing it right, it can touch you. Plus, anything can happen. Little mishaps; people forget lines or get cut by swords."

With a performance history dating back more than eight decades, Marian Theatre Guild in Whiting is a stage organization that has produced hundreds of plays and musicals.

"But there's always something new to offer audiences," said John Jaros, one of the troupe's members.

"We have two great, but very different, productions this year."

He said the 2014 season starts in April with "The Guys," about a New York City fire captain who has to deliver eulogies for many of his men who were lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Paired with a former news writer, they must spend a long afternoon together capturing the fallen men's virtues, foibles and fashioning the stories into memorials of words. As they make their way through the emotional landscape of grief, Jaros said they draw on humor and the enduring bonds of common humanity.

Performance dates are April 26 and 27 and May 3 and 4.

The second production this year is "Shrek The Musical," the tale of the faraway fairytale kingdom turned upside down. It's up to an ogre to save the day, rather than the usual handsome prince, while a feisty princess awaits.

Jaros said the Marian Theatre Guild, Whiting's longest running community theater, annually presents a fall musical (dates for "Shrek's" run have yet to be announced) and a spring drama or comedy. The Guild is associated with St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and performs in Marian Memorial auditorium at 119th Street and Lincoln Avenue.

The troupe originally was organized as a social activity for the parishioners in 1926 with its first production called "Mammy's Lil' Wild Rose." In 1928, it officially became The Drama Club, before eventually becoming dubbed the Marian Theatre Guild.

Jama Kay Emerson, of Whiting, is directing this spring's production of "The Guys," and has been active with Marian Theatre Guild since she was first cast in the ensemble in its "Annie" staging in 1984.

In addition to last spring, when she directed Marian Theatre Guild's production of "The Sunshine Boys," she also has directed "Broadway Bound," "On Golden Pond," "Noises Off" and "The Producers."

"I have wanted to do a production of 'The Guys' ever since I first saw it done a year after Sept. 11, 2001, at Goodman Theatre in Chicago," Emerson said.

"It's a very bare-bones production, with a very big message. I think audiences will react very differently to it now, more than 10 years after this tragic event, compared to the reactions this play received just a year after the events of 2001. And this is the first production of 'The Guys' for Northwest Indiana audiences."

Last November, Marian Theatre Guild produced a successful, multi-weekend run of "Monty Python's Spamalot" directed by John E. Buranosky and Shelley Segraves Crosby. It is also one of the few theater groups in the region to offer dinner-theater ticket packages, priced as low as $25 a person.

"Our cast and the people behind the scenes, work very hard to make these productions the best they can be for education and entertainment," Emerson said.

"The only payment they receive for their efforts is the applause from the audience."

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