The Portsmouth Little Theatre has been involved in Portsmouth’s art community since 1948, but for those who aren’t involved in the arts community, it’s presence can seem a little mysterious. Guinevere Mercer, the director for the theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?’ sat down to answer some questions for us.
1. How long have you been involved with the Portsmouth Little Theatre?
I did my first show here in the fall of 2010, it was “And Then There Were None,” and I played Emily Brent. Since then I’ve done lots of shows, either backstage or on-stage, helping to choose them or whatever needs done. I became a board member a couple years ago and it’s something that’s steadily grown since I’ve started.
2. What is the history on the theatre?
It’s fantastic, right now we’re seeing a lot of change in the area and it’s nice to see a building that’s been here such a long time. It was actually a movie theatre, originally it was called The Strand. In 1948, the Portsmouth Players started a non-profit theatre organization and they were looking for a place to perform, so they bought the building. This is the 68th season of the Portsmouth Little Theatre. If you visit our website, www.pltlive.com, there’s a section dedicated to the history and it gives details about the first show performed. That’s a good resource for anyone interested.
3. What goes in to being a director?
It’s different for each show. Each show has different demands. There’s definitely a difference between working with kids, sometimes productions that have a lot of kids in them or productions like this where the cast is made up of only adults. I would say in this case, being able to control my laughter has been the greatest demand because we’ve just had a ball. You have to be able to do a little bit of everything patiently, I think that’s a good way to sum up any directors job. You have to be able to see what needs to be done with the set, you have to know what props you need, you have to be able to select a cast and build it together to make it work on our stage. We have specific limitations with the stages being the size that it is, but it actually ends up being a benefit because we have to find creative ways to make it work. Because it is such a small setting, it’s much cozier and brings the audience in more. The hardest part for me is auditions. I’m always far more nervous about the auditions then the actual shows because you don’t know what’s going to come. One of the things we’d love to see is more people coming to auditions. We are a community theatre and you don’t have to have a background. It makes it much more fun when we have to make the decision of “Three of those people were really good for that part,” rather than, “Okay. Who can we call to fill this role?!” It can be stressful if you don’t manage your time well enough. My assistant director Erica Eddleman has been a tremendous help, as well as Jason Chaney and the rest of the cast and production.
4. What is the mission of the Portsmouth Little Theatre or what service does it provide to the community?
It’s a part of the local arts community. Portsmouth is a making great strides in becoming a great area and I’ve seen it grow a lot within the past few years. You can’t have that growth without artistic expression. It’s a part of that wonderful local circle that we have with musicians and artists and other theatre groups. Everybody works together, there’s a lot of collaboration between us and the other groups, costume exchanges and things like that. Primarily, we support that circle and we give a little bit of heart to the community.
5. Can you tell us a little bit about the current show, ‘Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will?’
We open Friday. It’s an adult comedy, and it’s about this dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas, of course the setting and the time period have allowed us to have a lot of fun with wigs and accents to give it more depth and detail. You’re going to get immersed immediately into the world of Texas in 1986. This family, they’ve been disconnected from each other for a long time. Some of them haven’t seen each other in over a decade, everyone’s got something that they’re angry at each other for, basically how it can be with families. When they all scatter to the wind you say, ‘Oh well I’ll call them sometime,’ and before you know it ten years have gone by. Now Daddy is ill and they all have to gather around and help take care of him. Underneath it all, some of them have the motivation of figuring out where he keeps his will and what their inheritance will be. In the process of all of that, they all come to show off an illusion of what their lives have been like. It’s like a darker version of going to your high school reunion, but it’s your family so they see right through you immediately. It all starts to crumble. It’s got a lot of comedy that everyone can relate to. I think it’s really going to touch a nerve that makes you laugh, as well as some touching moments as well, since they are a family trying to make it through a difficult situation.
6. What goes into making a show like this?
This particular show has a really elaborate set. We had to find a way to incorporate a kitchen, a dining room and a living room as well as a front door, side door and hallways. Jason Chaney, our lead set designer put together the idea and our tech committee built it. I think the illusion is very real. It gives a lot more life to the set than one with just one room. It’s been an absolute joy to build. That’s one of my favorite elements about putting a show together. It’s really great to see it come together from the proposed design and trying to find various ways to put certain things together and then seeing it completed at the show. I think the show is worth coming to see for the set alone, of course there are lots of great reasons to come. I’ve never been part of a show that’s been less stressful. Everyone has been great.
7. How do you keep your cast from feeling drained or tired after performances?
It’s usually not once the shows begin that the draining happens. It’s more invigorating. Once the audience is in and you’re having fun with it, that’s what translates into a fantastic show. As far as morale, it’s been great. Almost from the very start, the attitudes and the atmosphere we’ve had together, it’s been so easy to believe that they’re a family because they’ve bonded so well together. We’ve had a very open dialogue and one person will propose something and it’s been a group effort. Morale has never been an issue and we’ve had a great time since day one. I think keeping everyone well-rested is the most important part. From the word “go,” we figure out everyone’s schedules and what’s going to work for them. We find ways to work with everybody. People have jobs, people have kids, doctors appointments, and things do come up. I think as long as everybody understands that this is for fun. We put on a professional good show but the point of doing it is to meet people and to have a wonderful time and present art to our community in a way that is engaging but fun for those both on and off the stage.
8. Do you ever have to compromise due to financial restrictions?
As a non-profit organization, we are always looking for ways to create revenue. As long as the community supports us and comes and fills the seats, we’ll be fine. We have a wonderful system of finding ways to recycle things and reuse things. It can be a strain but it also becomes part of the fun. If you say, “okay I’ve got unlimited resources, I need a yellow couch.’ So you go on Amazon and you buy one. Done. With us, it’s an adventure. You spend a couple of weekends driving to local thrift shops, supporting the antique stores and going to yard sales, all of sudden one day you stumble upon the perfect piece of furniture and it’s even better because it may not have been your original vision. But yes, the support of our patrons is 100 percent necessary for us to keep going because there are operate expenses that need to be taken care of. We have fundraisers throughout the year. You can imagine that in a old building like this that the heating bill is a little expensive in the winter time and you have to have functioning equipment and restrooms for everyone.
9. What advice would you give to those who aspire to act or perform in one of the theater’s shows?
The best thing you can do is come audition. If you follow us Facebook we always make an event for it, it’s always on website, if you become a season ticket holder you will get a brochure explaining the dates. You don’t have to already be familiar with a show, you don’t have to already know what it’s going to be, come find out and have a good time with everybody. If you don’t get cast the first time, come try again. I didn’t get cast my first time that I auditioned and now I’m directing and I’m on the board and it’s a huge part of my life. Know what you’re comfortable doing and what you’re not comfortable doing, and come see a show. We’re all very nice here.
10. How can someone become involved or in what ways can they contribute if they’re not interested in the performance aspect?
Becoming a season ticket member is a great way to see all of the shows and support the theatre. They can also help backstage, each show has different requirements. Sometimes the actors themselves can move things, but sometimes whole sets come on and off and sometimes we need tech people to help. We also always need help in the box office. So there are plenty of ways to help. They can check the Facebook page or our website. I’m sure we can find something. New people help to grow the group and keep things fresh.
11. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to thank the community for supporting us for so long because this place is my favorite place and I’m so glad it’s here. I think there are a lot of people in our area out there who don’t know that we’re around and don’t realize what a jewel it is and what great people are here and how much fun we have. It’s a great de-stresser to come and be a part of this and to feel such pride and joy at creating something out of a script. From the casting, to the set building, to everything being put together and seeing it come to life it’s wonderful. I would like to thank everybody for keeping us going for all these years.
‘Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will?’ debuts this Friday at the Portsmouth Little Theatre beginning at 7:30 p.m. tickets are available online at www.pltlive.com or in the Box Office one hour prior to show time. It is rated PG and contains some adult humor.
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