View of the Gulf

I was recently assigned a news article for a local paper’s lifestyle section and I got to interview the director and playwright for a community theatre production of Gulf View Drive. The publication date for the magazine got pushed, so the article will not appear. Too bad! They will be into the run of the show for an entire week before publication, so they decided to pull it, but the paper still covered the theatre. I also got to write that short article and I can’t wait to see it in print. I’ll share when they go to press. 🙂 But please enjoy this article since it’s still mine and I love it! Please, let me know if this sounds pro? Leave a comment. Thanks.


View of the Gulf

Venice Theatre completes Arlene Hutton’s trilogy of plays with Gulf View Drive. Gulf debuts in the Pinkerton at VT on January 10, 2020 and runs through January 26th.
In 2018, Venice Theatre started with Last Train to Nibroc. In Nibroc, May and Raleigh meet for the first time on a train, pre-World War 2. In 2019, VT produced See Rock City, a furtherance of the couple one year after their elopement–add mothers. In 2020, we see the last play of the trio, Gulf View Drive. Gulf is inspired by the Sarasota area. May and Raleigh buy their first home.
The Nibroc Trilogy takes place just over a decade. The series started as a one-act play based on a news item. The bodies of Nathaniel West and F. Scott Fitzgerald were transported for burial on the same train. Hutton imagined a couple encountering for the first time on that journey.
Third in the collection, Gulf View Drive forces May and Raleigh to make difficult choices in an uncertain world. Family pressures stretch the limits of love.
Each play is a complete work and does not require prior knowledge of the sequence. However, resolution to the series will be satisfying for those who have followed the productions.
From the catwalks to the footlights, each experienced member of VT staff, cast, and crew are excited to bring this third production to life. A veteran director of VT, Kelly Woodland heads the final offering.
Kelly brings authenticity, sentiment, and prowess to each show she directs. Nuance is her expertise; tight drama and tenderness are her hallmarks. Woodland enjoys working with new faces and carefully selects each cast. Kelly has raised many shows at VT, her most recent–Good People.
A fifth-generation Florida native, Woodland understands the subtle distinctions of this play set on an island inspired by area keys–Siesta and Longboat. Warm November Gulf breezes, cinder block houses, sunburns, and sulfur water are just some of the small brushstrokes of Hutton’s Gulf View Drive.
Floridians, transplants or no, won’t compare old bayside beachtown to new in this impression. Kelly surmised, “I think more than anything [audiences] will relate to a young married couple with their in-laws moving in, trying to deal with personal relationships, as well as developing their professional life…and all of the clashing personalities. It’s really interesting.” As with any good drama, plenty of laughter peppers Gulf.
The story takes place in 1953, a different time for Sarasota than the bustling beach borough we enjoy today. Gulf is a snapshot of the area’s past. May and Raleigh, the main characters of the three shows, are a portrait from Hutton’s own family album, her parents.
Interesting director’s note–Kelly’s father was the original athletic director for Manatee Junior College (State College of Florida, currently). He taught alongside Hutton’s parents. May and Raleigh are based on Hutton’s real-life mother and father. Also, Kelly’s mother, a teacher for Bradenton schools, taught Hutton’s fifth-grade class…the year Kelly was born. For Woodland to direct Hutton’s show feels like fortune to her.
More than chance, Arlene Hutton scripts strong female characters for the stage. She started writing parts for herself. At a time when there were hardly any dynamic roles for older women, Hutton created her own. From her personal experience and working with actors, Hutton crafts thoughtful, honest scenes hewn and honed on the boards.
“[I]t’s been hard for women playwrights to get produced.” Hutton shares hopeful insight, “That’s changing.”
Emerging playwrights have an even wider representation of backgrounds, cultures, and orientation, but Hutton reminds us; “[d]iversity includes age.” There are many “wonderful female voices…yet to be widely heard.”
Several theatres have produced one or all of the shows. “I’m happy that my family can see Gulf View Drive at Venice in January and Last Train to Nibroc at Mad Cow in Orlando in February.” Hutton has been quite successful with the trilogy that started as a one-act. With the help of companies, workshops, and actors–she just kept expanding it.
Venice Theatre keeps expanding as well. VT venerates its 70th season; the theatre established in 1950. Founded by two women, Muriel Olds-Dundas and Sonia Terry promised a picnic to volunteers and supporters.
The theatre still thrives on an active volunteer population and throws an annual volunteer barbeque picnic to honor their growing numbers. VT is the second largest community theatre in the US.
VT just purchased the facility that Sarasota Public Library had used temporarily for its Venice location. With the new library built and operating, VT can now plan expansion for its campus and education department. 70 years and Venice Theatre is still growing.
With only one building for performance and rehearsal, the addition of the Arts Education Building (formerly the Hamilton Building) welcomes even more students, performers, and artists. Home to aactWORLDFEST, VT’s new space will be crucial in housing actors, technicians, and theatre companies from around the globe.
Venice Theatre is a powerhouse of talent and technique thanks to Murray Chase. Chase is a visionary who takes risks. Under Murray’s charge, VT included shows in its seventy-year anniversary like Gulf–the setting just three years after VT’s inception. Other shows at VT this 70th season: Menopause The Musical, Guys and Dolls, Hamlet, Chicago, aactWORLDFEST 2020, concerts, cabaret, and much more.
Gulf View Drive has a short run so don’t miss this well-written, well-done Nibroc finale. Tickets are on sale now at venicetheatre.org. Shows run from January 10-26, 2020. Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM, all other performances have a curtain time of 7:30 PM.

Woods

I went with my family and a friend last night to see Venice Theatre‘s production of Into the Woods. Such a great show. I’m so glad we went.

First, Venice Theatre has such great shows. For a community theatre, in an area littered with community theatre, you might think this smaller-community budget and/or stage might suffer, but you’d be wrong. More theatre only seems to foster better theatre! Here in Florida, at least.

Last night, the summer stock production for high school and college students opened. It was so well done. The sets, costumes, lighting and SOUND! The sound team at Venice is professional and detailed. The baby cries sounded like they came from the stinking fake baby. Woah! Impressed!

The witch. Oh, the witch. She’s probably my favorite character. I am the witch. Every mother is the witch. Wanting to hold onto your child. Willing to go anywhere, do anything: fetch white cows, gold shoes and red capes (or make others go get them) to save your relationship with your child. Misguided as she may be, we can all relate. And Alyssa Pasick portrayed the witch with heart, passion, emotion and a well-trained voice. She was so amazing. I cried during all of her songs. She was moving, compelling and so beautiful. Just absolutely perfect. Hilarious, as well!

The baker’s wife. Hannah Beatt was enchanting. Absolutely adorable, lovely. Loved her. She sang beautifully and she was also moving. Loved her voice.

The mysterious man. Kenneth Glesge. What a great voice! I hadn’t heard this young man sing before and he just blew me away. He played the part (well beyond his years) with maturity and grace. He really understood the character. He nailed the whimsical nature, but also the emotional depth of this smaller role. Well done! So impressed. I would have loved to see you play the Wolf! 😀 In our production, back in KC, our Mysterious Man doubled in the Wolf role. Quite a stretch! But this guy, last night, could have done it!

I loved most aspects of this well done show. The pacing was just right. All the voices of the main cast were superb! There were a few times I couldn’t hear un-mic’d actors, but that is to be expected. I know the show well enough to not miss the dialogue or song lyrics, it was a minor (just a few seconds) glitch. Every character was so committed to their role, even through minor (super minor) tech issues.

This show was excellent by any standard. Professional, semi-professional, adult vs. high school/college. I loved it! Brava! Bravo! Congrats to the cast and crew of Into the Woods! You deserved your standing ovation on opening night.

So glad we have this gem of a theatre right here in our backyard! So lucky! And they are very kind to their actors and volunteers! Love you, VT!

Not Just Community Theatre

My beautiful, talented friend, Becca Stabno, wrote this heartfelt piece about our time in Women of Lockerbie presented by Summit Theatre Group. It was a wonderful show, full of talented people that I want to know all my life. Thanks for letting me post, Becca. You’re a terrific writer, singer, actor, wife, mother, daughter, person. Glad to have met you here. Glad to have acted with you. Glad to be neighbors.

By Becca Stabno

I have never been able to cry on stage.

In 18 years of community theatre musicals and plays, I have never been able to quite produce an actual tear. I have come close a few times-when I played Tzeitl in FIDDLER, and Papa Tevye wanted me to marry Lazar Wolf, I almost managed it. In SOUND OF MUSIC, as the Baroness saying goodbye to the Captain, I felt a twinge. But mostly, no tears.

That all changed last fall when I was cast as one of the WOMEN OF LOCKERBIE with Summit Theatre Group. Lockerbie tells the story of the aftermath of the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 in Scotland, and how the women in the town wanted to turn the terrorists’ act of hatred into an act of love and compassion by washing the clothing of the victims and returning them to the families of those who were lost.

It’s an emotional topic, and an emotional script, with an added story of a couple whose only son, a college boy on a school trip, perished in the explosion and whose body was never recovered. Their grief, even seven years later, was ongoing and as strong as the day they heard that their son would not be home for Christmas. The women interact with the couple, and try to encourage healing by sharing their own stories, and their own pain.

I was thrilled to be given the chance to do this play. It was exciting and fun to train with a dialect coach to learn the correct Scottish accent, and it drove my children crazy because I practiced on them all the time. It was also only the second straight play I had done since college, so I was eager to explore that genre some more. But something about this story just grabbed me and held on.

Lockerbie changed me. We immersed ourselves in this little Scottish village, in these people and their relationships with one another. We experienced their loss every single night in rehearsal. And it was so very real, that night after night, I cried. Real, actual tears, not just “it’s my character’s feelings and I am supposed to cry now” crying. We were so involved in the story that the tears were a natural part of our experience. So when the mother shared how she found out about the crash, when the father shared about how he can’t get his wife past her grief and had never been able to grieve himself, when one of the women shared how she lost her family when the plane came down on her house, those things felt real. And I cried.

And then, we washed the clothes. The director, Betsy Sexton, asked us each to donate our own clothes to be bloodied up for the props, so we were washing shirts that we had once worn, or that our children had played in, and they were stained and torn, and it was so real. Tears flowed freely, because this was powerful and moving, this was our way to show the world that hatred will not win, that love can overshadow the anger, and the light will come when the sun rises tomorrow.

The cast of that show became very close. Experiencing something that emotional night after night, as a group, really brought us together. The relationships we forged as we created this story are life-long and special and enduring. One of the other cast members was a friend of my parents in college and through their young adulthood, and so she knew me as a young child-now we have bonded as adults through this show. My cast mates have a place in my heart now, and I believe that will be lasting.

Community theatre did that. It gave me a new family in the people who worked together on this play. It gave me challenges in learning a new dialect; it gave me a chance to try something new with an emotional drama. This play was so timely-even though the crash was 20 years ago, the message is so very relevant today, with all the hatred and anger and pain in the world. Sharing the story of Lockerbie was a chance to show a different response to acts of hate. It was important. It mattered.

Being in community theatre gives me opportunities to meet new people, experience new characters, and tell new stories. I am so grateful for the chance to tell such a powerful story, and to have spent a brief time in Lockerbie.


Oh, aye, Becca. Well said, Lass. 🙂