“The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means ‘the seeing place’. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation.” - Stella Adler
2017 marks a major landmark for Bay City Players, which this year is not only embarking upon its 100th Season of presenting top notch theatrical dramas, comedies, musicals, and original works; but also proudly stands tall as the longest continuously operating community theatre within the State of Michigan.
To commemorate this historic occasion, a panel of pivotal individuals – many serving as actors, directors, producers, and designers for several decades – convened to discuss not only their involvement, but more importantly the impact of this amazing entity upon the performing arts throughout the region, enriching the lives of people throughout the community.
Leeds Bird: Involved with Bay City Players since 1954, Leeds performed in the last play performed outside Players current facility and earned a role in one of the first season productions in their new building. He describes his 63-year involvement as an “amazing ride”.
“Players has been a second family and a home away from home. When I first got involved a group of married women virtually ran Players, and without them I’m certain it would have died. In 1960 many married women did not work, most coming from well-to-do families, and they kept this organization alive. We would not have moved into this current building if three of these women hadn’t gone to their husbands and convinced them to stand behind the mortgage taken out on the building; and the other factor contributing to our longevity is the talent we are fortunate to cultivate. In Bay County we have at least a dozen young people performing in professional theatre, which is a good number considering how small a community we are.”
“Many of these actors got their start through Mainstage or our Stages of Discovery programs for youth and within the last 15 years high schools made a huge turnaround and repeatedly produced big shows; but during this time period, besides the talent that existed and after those founding ladies moved on, there were dedicated people who stepped in as stewards, and they weren’t always the people you saw on stage – they were people who had a fondness for Players and would make sure things happened.”
“Our volunteer base is 400-plus and during the course of a season we might use 200 of them; while some are in-and-out, we have a man who’s ushered here for 25 years and seen everything we’ve done. You call this dedication.”
“When we started renovating the old Pines Movie Theatre, during each of our three phases of renovation, people received a mailing to fill out when purchasing seats, and we added a little box for our Building Fund. From the beginning there would be $5, $10, $20- dollar donations; not once a year, but every time they sent a request for tickets. If you do that over a long period of time what you have is another important form of dedication and involvement.”
Joanne Berry • “I grew up in Detroit and graduated from college, landing a teaching job at Central High School where I stayed for 40-years. I’ve been with Players for more than 50 years now and met my husband here when he got cast for a play I was directing. He’s been a regular volunteer and I’d like to amplify on some of Leed’s thoughts about the importance of volunteers. They don’t just volunteer their efforts to our community theatre, but talk about it and are possessive about it – it’s a pride of ownership that is very important.”
“I’ve done everything here at Players except costumes and handled a lot of stage managing & directing. At first those old Matriarchs of the Theatre didn’t want me directing because they thought I was too young, even though I had a degree in theatre, because to their mind I hadn’t learned how to direct. One of those dear old ladies said to me: ‘Just because you have a degree in theatre doesn’t mean you know about theatre.”
“Our daughter Caitlyn as a young child insisted on being cast in a show and celebrated her fifth birthday at the dress rehearsal for Annie Get Your Gun. Even before I got married Players served as a good family for me. I was here eight years before I married my husband. It’s formed a larger part of our family.”
Elizabeth Dewey • “I also met my husband doing theatre in college when I poisoned him in Arsenic & Old Lace. I moved to Bay City in 1987 and got involved with Players for a couple years, came back in 2001, and have been reasonably well involved since, mainly as the Costume Chairwoman; and have also directed a few productions.”
“When I first came here I was impressed with the facility, even before the renovations, despite the fact that the backstage was a rabbit hole and you couldn’t flush while the play was going on; we still had a fabulous facility compared to many other community theatres that were still in a peripatetic mode.”
“Players had its longevity going and when things last that long they tend not to disappear, as opposed to other theatres that come and go once their core group dissolves. The fact we’re the oldest community theatre operating in Michigan, by shear virtue of outliving everything else, has made quite a mark. Even though the size of Bay City has shrunk, we’ve had broad support over all these years because we give people an opportunity to pursue what they enjoy doing.”
“I would not have been a costume designer all these years if I didn’t like messing with fabrics and gluing on little things and putting the costumes back together night after night. Here if people have a passion for something they get the job done; and this is a generational thing, as my daughter is also involved with Youth Theatre and has assisted me with costuming.”
Janet Dixon • “I’m also a lifelong Bay City resident and went to high school and studied under Clarence Murphy, an outstanding high school drama teacher. In my senior year Leeds Bird came to do student teaching and Clarence was his mentor, and its nice to say his name to someone who still remembers Clarence; but originally I went into speech and theatre and teaching, got married, and then the world took me away for 10 years as my husband was involved with the military. Between Clarence and Leeds both of them pulled me into Players, and I’ve been here ever since serving as the Prop Mistress.”
Judy Miller • “Out of this group we’re newcomers to Bay City and have only been here 41-years, although I didn’t come to Players right away because my husband Kurt was teaching and doing theatre and we both started a family; but both have been very active. I was finishing graduate work, working two jobs at Delta College, doing theatre and raising kids. 1984 is the year I first became really involved.”
“Currently I’m the producer for Nice Work If You Can Get It and a few years ago in It’s a Wonderful Life, I was lucky enough to work with my daughter & grandson in the same show. Even though I have a degree in theatre, I don’t like to direct because I’m not good at creating things from scratch; but I can tell you what isn’t working right and prefer sticking to things like producing that requires taking care of detail work and helping make sure things get done so the good artistic people can do their thing. I make sure none of the other things fall through the cracks.”
Bringing families together has been a common theme from this group, but I also like the fact that this organization has not been afraid to change. This year we’re trying online audition forms and moving into new technology; and we also changed our start times for shows based on feedback, along with making changes in concessions, offering items we didn’t before. We also participate in community outreach like helping with the Tall Ships Festival, or opening the facility to the Chamber for one of their meetings, or hosting the Community Theatre Association of Michigan, which we’ve done twice over the past three years. We’re not sticking to the ‘old way’ of doing things physically or operationally. I think we’ve developed a lot more outreach in terms of trying to support the needs of the community.”
Leeds Bird: This season our attitude is that its fine that we’re 100, but that makes us sound old. We’re celebrating Season 100 as a kickoff to the next 100 years to show people we’re looking ahead and not stagnating or looking back. Its very important that people think of us as dynamic and vital.
Jake Monroe: I am the newcomer to Bay City Players and core people have been mentors, directors, producers, friends, and family members to me. I grew up in Bay County and came to Bay City Players in 2002 almost accidentally. My youngest sister-in-law was trying out for A Trunk Full of Christmas. The lead actor was not there at the time. My Mother-in-law said, ‘You know how to do this theatre stuff’ so I came to read some lines and sang a couple songs and Joanne came up and said, ‘We have this show Children of Eden that you might want to look into’. And that’s where it all started for me.
I’ve been in ten shows at Players, left the state of Michigan for awhile, and came back to this group because it’s a comfortable place to be and a place where I love doing what I do. Now that I’m moving from being a younger cast member into mid-career in terms of my acting, watching kids in their teens and 20s and 30s coming into the fold is truly exciting; and I believe this is an important role that we perform in terms of fostering young talent through our Stages of Discovery and Youtheatre programs.
I’ve found you also gain tremendous life skills, especially if you are ever asked to get in front of people and speak. Whether you are in the performance or not, involvement with Players delivers a life experience that rewards you personally, but also enables one to stage great entertainment for a community that supports and appreciates you.
Kathy Pawloski • I’ve been active at Players for over 30 years now, met my husband here during our awkward college years, and I’ve also met my best friends here. The people gathered here today are faithful, hard workers that want us to always succeed. They are the bedrock of this theatre.”