By: Ahmad Graves-El
Theaters around the region are in full rehearsal mode, working to keep you entertained this summer.
Community Theater is an integral and indispensable component of any free society. The amazing actors, actresses, directors, choreographers, and others who populate local theater companies often spend their precious time volunteering their services, not for the fame or glory, but, primarily, to put on a good show for their audiences.
Some of the people who participate in community theater are so strikingly skilled and immensely passionate about what they do, that it wouldn’t be a surprise if they took their talents to Hollywood to be seen in the movies or on TV, or to New York to grace the iconic stages of Broadway.
However, many of them are content to display their expertise for theater lovers in Cumberland County and its surrounding areas.
Historically, community theater has been a fairly inexpensive way for the general public, who may not have the financial capability to go see a play on Broadway or other renowned theaters, to still get the opportunity of witnessing high caliber acting performances.
In addition, going to a local play may end up being more special for audience members than, say, traveling out of state to see the highly acclaimed play, Hamilton, because they often get to see their friends and family displaying their acting prowess on stage.
This summer, several area theater companies will once again be showcasing the talents of local actors and actresses and exposing residents to a significant piece of the wonderful world of performing arts.
SNJ Today spoke with Michael Blandino, president of Cumberland Players; Walter Webster, founder and artistic director of The Off Broad Street Players; and Heidi Dugan, artistic director of For the Whim Productions, to gain some insight on the histories, missions, what plays the production companies will be putting on for audiences this summer, an exclusive reveal about one company’s 2020 season, plus more.
CUMBERLAND PLAYERS (C.P.)
Brief History: Cumberland Players, formerly the Little Theatre of Vineland originated in February 1946 as an offshoot of the Vineland Community Arts Group. Of the six sub-divisions, only the theater group flourished. In June 1946, the group presented a program of three one-act plays to an invited audience at the Reber School. Their efforts were so well received, that the thespians immediately set about establishing a full-fledged community theater in south Vineland. In October 1946, The Little Theatre of Vineland was chartered with a dedicated membership of 14 people. The first major production [was] a domestic comedy entitled Ring Around Elizabeth. In 1977, the group’s name was officially changed to Cumberland Players in an attempt to draw members from beyond the Vineland area.
True to our roots, we remain a group made up entirely of volunteers who are amateurs in the true sense of the word. We produce shows only for the love of theater and the desire to share their talents with the community.
Mission: The mission of C.P. is to encourage the public appreciation and study of the various aspects of the theater. C.P. coordinates the efforts of individuals of all ages who display an interest in the theater and its crafts to produce quality non-professional theatricals while fostering a [positive] learning environment. C.P. is committed to providing accessibility to its facilities, programs and services to all individuals with disabilities.
How Plays are Selected: Every year, a Reading Committee is formed and after reviewing numerous plays, a slate is presented to the Board of Directors and the members of Cumberland Players vote on which plays to produce.
Upcoming Summer Plays: Cumberland Players will be presenting … two productions —a summer musical In the Heights and the Kids at CP’s production of Legally Blonde, Jr.
What Audiences Can Expect from a Cumberland Players Production: This year, our patrons can expect family-oriented shows that center around real-life events and shows that thoroughly entertain the audiences.
Additionally: Cumberland Players is committed to producing quality shows at a very reasonable price that families will enjoy. We are very proud to have entertained patrons for 73 years and welcome all who enjoy the arts and community theater in South Jersey.
For more information about Cumberland Players go to cumberlandplayers.com.
THE OFF BROAD STREET PLAYERS (OBSP)
Brief History: OBSP was founded in 1998. Our home, for two seasons, was the Trinity United Methodist Church in Bridgeton. We then moved to the Seabrook Fire House Banquet Hall for a few years.
We also performed at … Cumberland Regional High School, Cumberland County College and most recently at … Bridgeton High School. We moved to the Levoy Theatre in 2012 and have performed there ever since. It was great to secure a permanent home!
Mission: Our mission is to educate and provide quality theater for the residents of Cumberland County and beyond.
How Plays are Selected: A committee gathers each early spring and selects a season based on what we believe our audiences want to see.
Upcoming Summer Plays: This summer we are holding two summer camps for children ages eight to 11, and 12 to 17.
The younger campers will be performing Disney’s The Aristocats KIDS, while the older campers will be performing Disney’s High School Musical 2. Performances will be held in late July. On August 9 through 18, our main stage season will continue with the Broadway smash musical hit Mamma Mia! featuring the songs of ABBA. This show promises to be the party of the summer!
Exclusive Reveal: Our 2020 season is entitled A Season of Empowerment and Inclusion. It will include the musical 9 to 5, the groundbreaking play The Boys in the Band, our children’s theatre production of Disney’s Frozen Jr., the classic musical West Side Story, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a yet to be announced musical that will be perfect for the entire family.
For more information about The Off Broad Street Players go to obsp.org.
FOR THE WHIM PRODUCTIONS (FTW)
Brief History: For the Whim Productions was founded by myself and Maura Jarve (in October of 2018) out of a desire to do fun and interesting projects with people we love and enjoy. We want to develop interesting projects, not necessarily limited to theatrical productions. We welcome anyone with a creative performance idea to bring that to us.
Mission: For the Whim has a mission to create theatrical productions that make its audiences laugh, cry, and think. To do this, the team has established a collaborative culture of like-minded artists, so that together they can provide exceptional performances for the South Jersey region. In other words, we want to provide more creative opportunities for writers, directors, performers, technicians — anyone who has creative ideas and energy in this region.
How Plays are Selected: We take suggestions from the community. We browse online for quirky, powerful, interesting playwrights. We do a lot of reading. If we won the lottery today, maybe we could possibly produce all of the compelling shows we have found.
Upcoming Summer Plays: We are rehearsing all summer for our upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. We are excited to bring Shakespeare to South Jersey audiences. We have gotten great enthusiasm from actors as well as community members. We will be back at Appel Farms Arts and Music Camp for evening and matinee performances September 19 through 22.
What Audiences Can Expect from a For the Whim Production: One unique feature of FTW performances is that our guests can enjoy more than just a show. FTW provides a complete evening of entertainment included with the show ticket. Our pre-show lounge features food, drinks, and often live entertainment. The lounge provides an opportunity for guests to meet and mingle with one another, as well as the casts and production teams of our shows. Every guest feels personally welcomed and connected to the show and its performers.
Additionally: Tickets as well as sponsorship/advertising opportunities are available at our website ftwproductions.com. If any readers have ideas for creative projects, they should contact FTW at email@example.com. As always, we thank Appel Farm Arts and Music Campus for hosting our productions.
For more information about For the Whim Productions go to ftwproductions.com.