‘All realms of theatre’
By Bernie Schmitt
Old Town Players will celebrate its 40th season with a line-up of shows organizers hope everyone will enjoy.
“It’s a diverse selection of shows that we hope will appeal to everyone,” said Vickie Puffer, OTP’s corresponding secretary and media relations director. “We have comedy, music, something for kids at Christmas, and a wild and silly farce. They encompass all realms of theater our patrons tend to like.”
The season began early this year, with an August presentation of “The Pink Panther Strikes Again.”
Next up will be a presentation of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men” in October. Auditions for the show, to be directed by Bill Simmons, are at 6 p.m., Sept. 5-6, at the OTP Theater.
In December, OTP will present “The Grunch: A Children’s Holiday Musical.” The stage will come alive with the rollicking comedy “Rex’s Exes” in April. The 2018 summer musical, to be presented in June, will be “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
“We’ve got a good mix of things coming up this season,” said Shari Phillips, the president of Old Town Players. “It’s a variety, something for everyone.”
Phillips has been around OTP since the mid 1980s, having developed a love for theater in high school. But she isn’t fond of appearing on stage.
“I started with Old Town Players by handing out programs,” she said. “Then I became the stage manager and I loved it. I did that for 20 years.”
Phillips believes OTP’s longevity in Vincennes is because of the group’s camaraderie. Veterans and newcomers alike work together to make sure shows are produced and that needed work gets done.
“We’re like a big family,” Phillips said. “You kind of get hooked.”
The Old Town Players community theater group began with its first production in 1977, and has continued to provide theatrical entertainment for its audiences ever since. In 1996, OTP acquired the former Baptist Church building on at Fifth and Broadway streets in Vincennes for its permanent home.
OTP is a not-for-profit entity composed entirely of volunteers. Its primary source of operating income is from ticket sales and donations.
“Our only (regular) funding source is what we earn,” Puffer said. “We want everyone to come out and see our shows and support the arts in our community.”
Over the years the theater group has managed to land a couple of small grants to help with major repairs or upgrades to the building. One time an anonymous donor gave money to help replace the theater’s roof. At times the group has gotten loans. It has to spend its money wisely to keep the theater in operation. Most recently, the theater’s handicapped elevator had to be replaced.
“We thank Williams Brothers Pharmacy for all their work,” Puffer said. “It was a lot more involved than they thought it would be, but they worked hard to get it done. We are very grateful.”
Phillips said most people don’t realize all of the expenses that tend to add up when operating a theater, even without paid actors. There are utility bills, royalties must be paid for all shows, and scripts have to be purchased (copyright laws prohibit copying), sets must be built, and the list goes on.
“Insurance is a big expense,” she said. “But there are little things, too, like paper towels, toilet paper, paint, things people don’t always think about. Sometimes we bring in things ourselves to help. We all do what we can, when we can.”
A beloved member of the Old Town Players family, John Rogers, died unexpectedly last December. Rogers had been an active member of OTP for years, performing in dozens of shows. In July, Rogers’ brother, Glenn, donated $10,000 to the theater group his brother loved.
OTP offers a variety of ways and levels for people to help sponsor the organization. The Producer level is for donations of $1,000 or more; the Angel level is for donations between $500-$999; a Benefactor is for donations of $250-$499; a Sustainer is $125-$249; a Patron gives between $75-$124; and a Star donates $50 to $74.
Anyone can volunteer to be a part of Old Town Players. There are no membership fees or dues, and one does not have to be an actor to be involved. There are plenty of non-acting duties that people can participate in.
“We have dozens of people involved,” Puffer said. “It’s very fluid; new people come in from time to time — we had five new people for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ this summer.”
At least one newcomer, Nathaniel Martinson, who played the Beast in this summer’s production, had never acted before, yet he is now hooked after being bitten by the proverbial theater bug, Phillips said.
“Old Town Players is open to anyone,” she said. “Anyone is welcome to audition, to try out for our shows.”
Veteran members of the group are needed, but they don’t necessarily take part in every show. The lifeblood of the group, Puffer said, is new people.
“We need new people, new performers, new volunteers, donors, and patrons or we won’t last,” she said.
Ticket prices have risen only slightly in the many years OTP has presented live theater in Vincennes. Adult tickets at the door are $12, seniors (age 60+) and students (age 13+) pay $10, and children under age 13 pay $4.
Of course patrons can save a couple of dollars by purchasing tickets in advance from Eyeworks, Sav-A-Lot, First Vincennes Savings Bank, or the Old Post Bookstore at Vincennes University. Tickets can be reserved and purchased in advance by calling OTP at 812-882-8269.
A multi-pass, good for five admission to any regular season show, is available to persons ages 13+ for $50.
The curtain rises at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evening performances, and at 3 p.m. for Sunday matinées.
“We need a vibrant arts community, Puffer said. “We believe what we do is important. It’s not about the building, acreage, or people. It’s about what role does art play in our community.
“It’s not just for the love of Old Town Players and the love of performance,” Puffer said. “It’s a love of our community.”