Our Upcoming 2014-2015 Season:

Our Upcoming 2014-2015 Season:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Barn Raising: Players Take Tragic Amish Project to AACTFest Saturday

Maryanna Lauter and Madison Krumins play Amish sisters Velda and Anna
Drama is hard.  Tragedy is tougher.  Tragedy based on true atrocities?  That’s a real gut check.  Such is the challenge faced by The Farmington Players as they present The Amish Project, a fictional exploration of the 2006 schoolhouse shooting in an Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA.  Jessica Dickey’s play is a dramatization of the tragic event, and it is admittedly a very difficult subject matter.  Amy Lauter, who plays the widow of the gunman, says, “Although the play is not an exact factual account of the incident, it is based on a true story. So trying to wrap my head around what this woman went through has been a challenge.”  Amy’s daughter Maryanna Lauter plays one of the schoolgirls, so the drama hits very close to home.

The Amish Project is the Barn’s entry into this year's Michigan AACTFest competition (American Association of Community Theatre).  The first round of the festival is hosted by Owosso Community Players this weekend (March 27-29). Eight community theaters from around the state will participate.  (See information on show times and tickets below.)  

Based on the preview I saw at the Barn last weekend, the Farmington Players have selected a very challenging piece, but it is executed superbly.   It is honest and emotional without being sentimental or preachy.   I wondered how hard it must be to make the characters human when what happened was so inhumane.  How do you give voice to people who have committed or lived through such an unspeakable horror?  Director Terie Spencer says, “The playwright's emphasis is less on the details of the tragedy and more about the path of forgiveness and compassion forged in its wake.”  She describes the characters as going through personal journeys during the course of the play and dealing with issues such as loss, guilt, anger, forgiveness and ultimately, hope.

The cast includes: Maryanna Lauter as Velda (Farmington Hills), Madison Krumins as Anna (Waterford), Amy Lauter as Carol (Farmington Hills), Dan Tarjeft as Eddie (Southfield), Paige Osgood as America (Brighton), Bonnie Fitch as Sherry (Southfield), and Steven R. White as Bill North (Plymouth). The Farmington Players performance of The Amish Project will be on Saturday March 28, starting at 4:40 and followed by an adjudication at 6:00. Individuals can register for the whole weekend for $70 (which includes VIP access to receptions and the awards brunch), or session tickets may be purchased for $10 (two shows per session).   Tickets and more information at www.owossoplayers.com. The first round of Michigan AACTFest is hosted by the Owosso Community Players and will be held at the Lebowsky Center (122 E. Main St, Owosso, MI 48867). 
Theaters competing include:

Center Stage Theatre (Midland), performing The Sugar Bean Sisters
Tawas Bay Players (Tawas), performing Women of Lockerbie
Ichabod’s Little Theatre (South Haven), performing Belle of the Bijou
Holland Civic Theatre (Holland), performing Revival at Possum Kingdom Community Church
Riverwalk Theatre (Lansing), performing The Passion of Richard II
The Farmington Players (Farmington Hills), performing The Amish Project
Rosedale Community Players (Southfield), performing Dear Me
Players de Noc (Escanaba), performing The Hairy Ape

Two of the eight competing teams will advance to AACTFest regionals in April, which are being hosted by the Midland Center for the Arts in Midland, Mich.  Grand Rapids will host the national competition in June.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sue Roger’s “Miracle” Puts the Community Back in Community Theater

Director Sue Rogers (seated) reviewing the Miracle script with Maggie Gilkes and Katie Bigwood during rehearsal
If you haven’t seen Miracle on South Division Street yet, what are you waiting for?  A sign from God?  In all seriousness, the Farmington Players’ production of Miracle has been – in its own humble way – a miraculous coming together of faith, family and community, highlighting the most positive aspects of community theater.  The play features mother Clara Nowak’s soup “prepared on holy ground,” so director Sue Rogers got the idea of doing an opening night fundraiser to benefit Manna Community Meals, a Detroit soup kitchen.  Pastries were provided by On the Rise Bakery and coffee donated by – who else? – Miracle Coffee.  And best of all, show sponsor Varsity Automotive Group matched the entire pot from the 50/50 raffle, generously benefitting Manna and On the Rise.  Sue said, “Given our extremely cold winter, it was fabulous to see how generous others were with caring for the less fortunate in our own community. Given our sometimes cynical times, I’m reminded of Clara’s rhetorical line, ‘So the miracle’s over, huh?!’”

While Miracle is not overtly religious, Sue found it “very meaningful for me to do a show that has a spiritual dimension. I think this is something people in general are searching for and theatergoers in particular have found it a refreshing positive experience in the midst of this cold and sometimes depressing winter. I really like the way the author uses humor to talk about the serious divisions in our society. You can’t turn on the news without feeling the sense of sadness that as a society we are too often in conflict, judging others who are different, and unable to find common ground. Miracle speaks to people who have that yearning to ‘get along,’ as Jimmy’s character says.”  Sue used a short excerpt from the Beatles song Let It Be to convey that in times of trouble, people tend to lean on their faith and their family, especially their mother.  As she explained, “Some people have wondered why we sampled Let It Be in the end, referencing Mother Mary when the play actually extends its message of faith well beyond the Christian community. I used it because Paul McCartney actually wrote the song about his own mother and the show certainly has a strong feminist element that honors motherhood in a unique way. I think of the statue as a universal mother (my mother, your mother, Clara’s mother, the Blessed Mother, Eve, Mother Earth, etc.).”

Another special aspect of directing Miracle has been the input and encouragement that Sue has received from author Tom Dudzick.  Sue said that he “has a beautiful way of reminding us that we are all so much more similar than different and that’s an important message to hold onto these days. Plus he’s been great about making himself available for consultation.”  In fact, Mr. Dudzick sent the cast a congratulatory letter on opening night, in which he wrote, “I’m so excited for you guys. I feel like I’m part of your production, there’s been so much contact between Sue and myself. I hear business is booming for our little show. And I LOVE the story of Katie and Margaret Gilkes playing themselves [as mother and daughter] on stage!!  Break a leg everyone! Remember -- hold for laughs. I guarantee you’re going to get some.”

Indeed, Miracle has plenty of laughs, as well as heartfelt moments.  It is a show that audiences have really connected with, and that is a tribute to the cast’s strong bond with one another.  As Sue says, “The cast has been a joy to work with. We’ve said repeatedly that with a cast this small, we have truly become like family. The camaraderie, jokes, kibitzing, and playfulness have all felt like a fun family vibe. Some of us have never worked together before, so it was amazing to see how everyone connected so readily.”

The Farmington Players' production of Miracle on South Division Street has three performances remaining:  Thursday February 26, Friday February 27, and Saturday February 28, all at 8:00.  The show is proudly sponsored by Varsity Automotive Group. Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Art Imitates Life as Katie Bigwood Plays Her Mother’s Daughter in Miracle

Katie Bigwood (Ruth) and Maggie Gilkes (Clara) share a special mother-daughter bond onstage and off in Miracle
Mothers and daughters have a special bond in life.  As author Victoria Secunda has written, “A daughter is a mother's gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self. And mothers are their daughters' role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships.”  So when art imitates life, and a mother and daughter get to play out their real-life roles on stage, it can truly be – dare I say – miraculous!

Such is the case for Katie (Gilkes) Bigwood and Maggie Gilkes, who are playing daughter Ruth Nowak and mother Clara Nowak in Miracle on South Division Street at the Farmington Players.  Katie describes her character Ruth as “the writer in the family. She gets to tell a story throughout the whole show that affects everyone.”  In fact, the “story” Ruth tells is about her own family’s history, which she plans to use as the subject of a play.  Acting out the story-within-the-play “presents the challenge of this role as well. Ruth portrays so many different emotions.”  Katie thinks that audiences will easily relate to Miracle’s portrayal of the tight-knit Nowaks, just as she does: “Especially with it being a close knit family and all the bickering and poking fun at each other. That's a way the show relates to my family. We are all so close and poke fun all the time. “

Katie’s role in Miracle came about as somewhat of a surprise, since she did not formally audition: “My mom, who plays Clara, asked me to read with her for her early audition. I was kind of nervous but I was happy to help her out. It's been years since I've been on stage and I really had fun being up there. I remember telling my mom later on that it made me want to be back on stage.” Days later, she was unexpectedly offered the part of Ruth, and was excited to accept.  Katie calls working with her mom onstage an “amazing experience. I feel that having her onstage with me gives me courage. I can read the emotions on her face and feel them all the way to my heart. It helps me with my character being her daughter in real life. I just pretend it's my mom and not Clara. If I see that she is upset and saddened, I feel it and it helps me with my character to respond to her emotions. So many shows that my mom has been in has brought me to tears. Everyone at the barn knows that I'm a crier. I have always been this way. To see my mother on stage, she rocks me to the core.”

Katie currently works as a massage therapist at LaVida Massage of Farmington Hills. Her three children also love the Barn and after rehearsals they love to get up on the stage and pretend to act.  Perhaps someday they won’t just be pretending.

The Farmington Players' production of Miracle on South Division Street opens February 13 and runs through February 28.  The show is proudly sponsored by Varsity Automotive Group. Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Michael Soave is Right at Home with Stage Family in Miracle

Michael Soave relishes his role as Jimmy, the man of the Nowak house, who often plays peacekeeper.
In real life, Michael Soave is an only child, so playing the only man in a household of women is a dream role.  In the Farmington Players production of Miracle on South Division Street, Michael plays Jimmy, the youngest child of Clara Nowak (played by Maggie Gilkes) and baby brother to sisters Beverly (Kristi Schwartz) and Ruth (Katie Bigwood).  Jimmy works as a garbage collector and is a real handyman around the house.  He’s also romantically interested in a woman outside his faith, which is no small source of consternation for his Catholic family.

Michael describes Jimmy as the only “man in the family surrounded by women. I'm the only guy in the show so I get to show off my masculine energy.”  (While not explained in the play, we presume that patriarch of the Nowak family has passed away.)  Michael says that Jimmy has to “deal with his own personal issues throughout the show while playing the mediator between the female family members.”   Like all families, the Nowaks have their differences.   Michael thinks, “we can all relate to the theme of family struggle that the Nowaks go through, but they come together in the end.”  He knows that “people will enjoy the show because it's heartfelt and it explores group and individual identity in a humorous modern way. The entire show is one conversation and is fast paced and VERY funny.”

Michael has some kind words to say about his stage family: 
  • “I've worked with Maggie before, and she is a gem.  I am so happy to be in the show with her.” 
  • “I greatly admire Kate's ability to do so much and so well. Her kids are adorable!” 
  • “Kristy is a loudmouth who I love to work with.  She gives it back to me in kind and more!”
  • Of director Sue Rogers, Michael says, “it's great to work with someone who knows exactly what she wants to see onstage and brings it out of all of us. She's also incredibly patient.”

Michael is originally from the metro Detroit area, with a jaunt to Florida in between. He admits, “I'm actually kind of a dweeb: I love doing magic tricks and yo-yoing (I was once a sponsored yo-yoer).”  He also does “stand-up comedy all over the state and I've been in two indie film productions. I currently work at a restaurant in Ferndale and am returning to school this year.”

The Farmington Players' production of Miracle on South Division Street opens February 13 and runs through February 28.  The show is proudly sponsored by Varsity Automotive Group. Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Kristi Schwartz Explores Themes of Family and Faith in Miracle

Kristi Schwartz (far right) is skeptical as sister Beverly when the Nowaks' world turns upside down
Miracle on South Division Street is about family, faith, and what happens when the foundation your world is built upon gets shaken.  Like all families, the Nowaks have their own group dynamic. Kristi Schwartz of Canton plays the older sister, Beverly, who she describes as “a very traditional and judgmental person.  She views the world in black and white.  A blue-collar worker by day (bottling salad dressing), Bev dreams of having a family of her own. She longs for a husband, kids, and a home with a picket fence.  She is religious; however, has a foul mouth and can be very harsh to others.  Her family is her life and she will do anything for them.” 

Like any good actor, Kristi draws on her real life experiences to add realism to her character. She grew up in a large Catholic family where “you had to shout to be heard.  This definitely prepared me to be part of the Nowak family!  We had six children in our family (3 boys, 3 girls). I was definitely the bossy one in the family who told others what to do. My brothers were constantly teasing me and body slamming me (while watching WWF on Saturday mornings); so when [stage brother] Jimmy teases or hits me, it is like I am back home!” 

Without giving anything away, Beverly has to deal with a loss during the show that really shakes her to her core.  Kristi says, “I sometimes use the loss of my father -- who passed away from cancer in 2002 -- to help summon my devastation later in the show.  Although they are two different situations, Bev is going through a loss in this play.  She is bouncing between denial, anger, and sadness (depression).”  Like Kristi, the “Nowak family has previously lost their patriarch, too.  My siblings and I protect my mother much like the children protect Clara in this play.”

While Kristi draws on her own experiences, it’s also fun playing her opposite in Beverly.  As an elementary teacher, Kristi is used to “talking sweetly to 3rd graders all day.”  By contrast, “I really enjoy playing Bev because I get to take my sweet, bubbly, teacher side and put it away in my pocket for a bit.  I can be harsh, swear a little, and interrupt everyone.  This is all very different from my everyday life.”  Kristi says that she “fell in love with this character and knew Bev would provide artistic challenges for me.” Director Sue Rogers has really helped Kristi “find” Beverly.  Kristi says, “I have never had a director really encourage me to explore my character so deeply in a show.”

When she’s not teaching or doing theater, Kristi also enjoys dancing, drawing, and reading.  But like Beverly, her pride and joy is her family.  In Kristi’s case, husband Keith, and children Colin (16), Allie (13) and Drew (5) will always take center stage!

The Farmington Players' production of Miracle on South Division Street opens February 13 and runs through February 28.  The show is proudly sponsored by Varsity Automotive Group. Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Making Miracles is a Family Affair for Maggie Gilkes

Maggie Gilkes (center) keeping the peace as mother Clara,
in between daughters Ruth (Katie Bigwood, left) and Beverly (Kristi Schwartz, right)
As Sheryl Crow sang, “Making miracles is hard work. Most people give up before they happen.”  Miracle on South Division Street is about a hard-working family that makes the most of its own miracle.  The Nowak family legend began when Grandpa witnessed a holy vision right in his barbershop, which inspired a commemorative shrine on his property that gave the family its identity. In the Farmington Players production of Miracle, Maggie Gilkes plays the kind-hearted family matriarch Clara Nowak, who runs a neighborhood soup kitchen and offers “healing soup” prepared on “holy ground.”  But when the family gathers to discuss daughter Ruth’s plans to write a play about that family miracle, a deathbed confession shakes their faith to its core.

Playing a mother is familiar territory to Maggie:  In addition to playing Mother Superior, a nun and widow in Doubt at SRO in 2009, Maggie says that her real life experience as a mom should make Clara “a natural part for me. I have two daughters and five grandchildren. This means being true and honest to the part you are playing.”  Adding to the realism, Maggie’s own daughter Katie Bigwood plays Clara’s daughter Ruth in the play! 

This happy accident came together rather fortuitously.  As Maggie, says, “As for a mother/daughter playing together, I had never thought in a million years that this would happen. Katie came to read with me at an early audition because I was in a show when the open auditions were being held. It was very comfortable at auditions having Katie on stage with me. On the way home we were talking in the car about how good it felt, how natural it felt, and how it had given Katie the ‘bug’ to be on stage.”  Director Sue Rogers also saw how natural mom and daughter were together on stage, and was glad to cast them together. 

Maggie has high regard for Sue’s directorial abilities, saying, “Having Sue as a director is proving to be a wonderful experience. She knows what she wants and is very articulate in her actions. Very knowledgeable, with a clear vision of the show.”   Maggie believes that “this show will warm everyone's heart, they will see people they know as far back as their own childhood.”  In addition to Katie as daughter Ruth, Maggie’s stage “family” includes Kristi Schwartz as daughter Beverly and Michael Soave as son Jimmy.  Like any family, they quarrel and kibitz and interrupt one another constantly, but the underlying love is always apparent.  As Maggie says, “This play is a true life drama/comedy. It is the everyday life of a close-knit family.  I can relate to this in that I am one of six kids, and yes, we still all get together and we all get along very well. Even to the point of traveling together.”

Maggie’s husband of 41 years (Dave) and family are long time residents in the Farmington area.  She recently retired after working the past 12 years as a dealer at Greektown Casino, and she now fills her time with grandkids, building the sets at Two Muses Theatre and set dressing at the Barn. 

The Farmington Players' production of Miracle on South Division Street opens February 13 and runs through February 28.  The show is proudly sponsored by Varsity Automotive Group. Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Keith Firstenberg Plays Role of a Lifetime as Leading Lady Leo / Maxine

Keith Firstenberg as Leo Clark (right) implores Lance Alan as Jack Gable to embrace the "role of a lifetime."
As the Beatles sang in I Am A Walrus, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”  Keith Firstenberg can certainly relate to this lyric when it comes to playing multiple identities in the Farmington Players’ production of Leading Ladies.  Only in Keith’s case, some of the “He”s are “She”s!  Keith’s primary role is Leo Clark, an amateurish professional Shakespearean actor who just can't seem to catch a break … until he decides to dress as a woman to steal an inheritance!

Keith describes the challenge of playing multiple roles:  “It's hard to keep track of where the actor stops and the character they are playing begins.  At one point in the show I am playing a role (Leo) who is portraying an affect (Maxine) who has taken on a character from Shakespeare (Olivia).  And how good is Leo at playing Maxine?  Can Leo do a good job convincing everyone that he is Maxine, and then show how Maxine would play Olivia, as opposed to how Leo himself would do it?  And then I take a step back and realize that I have to bring all three characters across and show how the first two are struggling with the character they are portraying.  I can't just figure out how I should present Maxine, because I have to play Leo portraying Maxine.  And I have to do all this in only a few words; It gets a bit heady.  But then it's the challenges that we enjoy, isn't it?”

As Leo says, “It’s the role of a lifetime!” and Keith certainly rises to the challenge, constantly switching back and forth between Leo and Maxine, sometimes in the same scene.  Keith was familiar with Leading Ladies and said he wanted to be in the show because “I just like farce; it suits my sense of humor. It's funny. Plain and simple.  Ken Ludwig makes it easy to understand your character's motivations; the fun part is working out the timing.”  Speaking of timing, Keith’s constant costume changes require synchronized movements and the assistance of a personal offstage dresser – in Keith’s case, his lovely wife Jayne.  I asked Keith if he had ever done anything silly to impress his wife, and he answered, “I thought just doing theatre was impressive enough to win me my love; turns out I just had to go dancing.”   As it turns out, Keith is an excellent dancer and he even choreographed the dance sequences between Leo and Meg in our show.

Theatre is Keith’s main hobby and he's been doing it for as long as he can remember.  He grew up just north of New York City and has lived in Minnesota and Traverse City, before moving to the Detroit Metro area in 2012. He currently works for the Federal Mogul division that makes Champion Spark Plugs.

The Farmington Players' production of Leading Ladies has three more performances, December 18 – 20.  The show is proudly sponsored by Cadillac Travel Group. Tickets can be purchased online at www.farmingtonplayers.org or by calling the box office at 248-553-2955.