Love for community theatre fans passion to play ‘Possum’

POSSUM makeup Cheryl Graves (reading) and Barbara Baltz Logan (nurse)

Possum Point Players Cheryl Graves, left, and Barbara Logan prepare for a mid-week rehearsal for the dinner/show production of “Harvey.”

GEORGETOWN — In this part of Delmarva, there is a growing number of folks who enjoy theatre.

Some even like to play “Possum.”

Possum Hall – Georgetown’s cozy home of the non-profit, almost entirely all volunteer Possum Point Players Community Theatre group – is the staging venue for comedy, drama, musical, dinner show and Christmas productions.

Born in 1973 with the first production that featured a cast of about 30, Possum Point Players is in its 44th consecutive year of existence. It is the oldest community theatre group in Sussex County.

“For a long time Possum Point Players were the only theatre in town,” said Possum Point Players President Kenney Workman. “Now there are several other groups around who have pulled the interest. That, from my perspective, is good for the community. It’s not always good for the Possums. But we’ve maintained; we’ve been around for 43 years now.”

POSSUMS kenney workman beth howllet good one

Beth Howlett applies the artistic make-up touch to Kenney Workman, among the cast members in the Possum Point Players’ production of “Harvey.”

“We have had our ups and downs and funding is always the problem,” said Beth Howlett, among the Possum Point Players co-founders. “But I have to say we have the most loyal audience in the world. We do. Fortunately, they have passed their love of our productions to their children and grandchildren, Now, Sunday matinées fill up the fastest. That’s our loyal, older audiences.”

Jim and Louise Hartzell are among those who have been with PPP basically since the beginning, Mr. Workman said. “And there are people who have been here 10 years and there are people who have been here a year and everything in between,” he said.

Beehive of activity

Over time, Possum Hall has evolved into a beehive of theatre/production activity. Adjunct groups and various committees augment main stage rehearsals and endeavors in utilizing practically all facilities – and space – at the theatre based just off U.S. 113 next to Sussex County’s West Complex.

“That is what we envisioned, that people would be engaged and involved. That has come to pass,” said Beth Howlett, among the Possum Point Players original co-founders. “It is truly what it was originally envisioned, in that it is community theatre for all ages. We do draw from all over Sussex County, and sometimes from Kent … and Maryland.

“The calendar and the schedule have gotten to be … crazy,” said Mr. Workman.

“We are truly a community theatre,” said Ms. Howlett, noting there are only two paid employees: the rehearsal pianist and executive administrator Dawn Conaway. “I am happy to say too, we are truly a community theatre in that we have all kinds of professionals and non-professionals. We had all done high school or college theatricals in one way or another.”

Membership options

With multiple-level donations, Possum Point Players’ current membership entering the 2016 season is around 250, ranging age-wise from students to senior citizens in their golden years.

In addition, a mailing list of individuals who expressed interest in PPP workshops, productions and other activities is well over 5,000.

Annual membership opportunities range from $20/$25 (seniors, students/Possum Juniors) to the $5,000 Producer’s Club plateau.

“Anybody who gives money to support the organization is considered a member,” said Mr. Workman. “You don’t even have to do anything connected with the theatre. If you make a donation you are considered a member. You’re entitled to come to our annual meeting. We have election of officers … they are entitled to come and vote.”

“And just like PBS, people – depending on the level of giving – get different perks,” Mr. Workman said.

Possum_color

Main stage mainstays encompass The Season of Five Shows, which this year feature: the dinner theatre comedy “Harvey” (which began last weekend and concludes this weekend, Feb. 5-7); the comedy “Moon Over the Brewery” (April 15-17, 22-24); drama production “A Raisin in the Sun” (June 10-12, 17-19); the musical “Into the Woods” (Sept. 30-Oct. 1-2, Oct. 7-9; and “Miracle on 34th Street” – the Christmas musical that runs Dec. 2-4, 9-11.

“Basically, the formula for our season is we do some kind of a show for a dinner theatre, a comedy, a drama of some sort, a musical and a Christmas show. Sometimes we deviate from that a little bit,” said Mr. Workman.

Next year’s schedule is set and the organization’s reading committee is already starting on 2018.

“We want to keep it moving. Also, because there are other theatre groups around we want to get at least next year’s season out there as quickly as possible so that we are not choosing the same play,” said Mr. Workman. “We have a reading committee, volunteers who love to read. The reading committee suggests plays.”

Performance tentacles extend beyond the five main stage productions.

“We have a handful of what we call adjunct groups from the main stage,” said Mr. Workman.

On that list:

  • Ad Hoc Touring Company, an affiliate of Possum Point Players founded in 1996 whose two-fold mission is to gather monthly to read aloud scripts from Broadway, classical plays and radio plays, and relive the “Golden Age of Radio” by presenting to the public staged readings of Old Time Radio shows to audiences at libraries, museums, senior centers and other venues.
  • New Faces of Shakespeare, aimed at promoting the appreciation of the plays of William Shakespeare in southern Delaware.
  • Dreamers United, which seeks to bring greater diversity – cultural, social, economic and other types – to their Possum Point Players theatre family;
  • On the Edge, a venue for providing “risk-taking” theatre; and
  • Possum Juniors; structured for middle school/high school students with workshop opportunities in makeup, lighting, auditions, stage combat and acting that culminates with the annual summer production in July.

Adjunct groups, Mr. Workman said, play integral roles in the Possums’ growth and future.

Young blood

Junior Possums was started years ago “because we said we need to sustain the organization. Those of us who have been around for a long time aren’t going to be around forever,” said Mr. Workman. “When kids are really interested in theatre they are probably not going to stay in Sussex County. A lot of them who really are serious about it are going to major in that in college, and then they are going to try to make a go of it somewhere.”

“Every summer they do a full-scale production of their own; cast, directed and 95- percent staffed by young people. This past summer they did a full production of “Bye, Bye Birdie” … directed by a kid who sort of came up through the Possums and is now a theatre student at Towson State,” Mr. Workman said.

“We are giving kids the opportunity to learn about theatre. In summertime we do two weeklong camps for kids (age 9-middle school and middle school/high school),” said Mr. Workman.

Camps conclude with a show “in most cases something they have written themselves with counselors helping them out. Most of the counselors are kids who have come up through,” said Mr. Workman.

POSSUMS lighting kyra cutsail Suss academt 9th

Sussex Academy freshman Kyra Cutsail is a Possum Junior and is a lighting crew member for the Possum Point Players’ dinner/show production of “Harvey.”

Sussex Central High School freshman Elizabeth Holz and Kyra Cutsail, a Sussex Academy freshman, are part of the young blood Possum Juniors.

“I love this. This is what I do with my life,” said Kyra, the sound/lighting representative for Possum Juniors.

She is on the lighting crew for the “Harvey” production.

“If I am not doing lighting I am on stage. Or if I am not on stage I am somewhere back stage. This is what I spend my time doing,” Kyra said. “It is definitely something I want to pursue, whether it’s just a hobby or if it is my career.”

Elizabeth is the Possum Juniors costume/makeup representative. She has performed in “Bye Bye Birdie” and does “New Faces of Shakespeare.”

“This is something that I have always liked to do. In the fifth grade I did Alice in Wonderland at Sussex Dance Academy and ever since then I’ve been trying to get very involved in theatre. I do plays but I also do musical theatre. I love everything about being in the theatre,” said Elizabeth. “I have been thinking about this for a longtime and I definitely want to go into theatre. Being surrounded by all of these women doing like hair and makeup and costuming and stuff I will probably continue that as well.”

Kyra said she got hooked while attending a summer camp when she was in about third grade.

“I think it was the inclusiveness and creativity in it. I was able to meet so many amazing people that kind of understood something different, on a different level than what I had been introduced before. It was a whole new world,” Kyra said.

Elizabeth, who also is a member of Sussex Central High School’s Take Two Drama Club, hopes someday to garner the lights on Broadway.

“Hopefully, that is the plan,” she said.

Dreaming of diversity

Dreamers United has brought much-needed cultural diversity to PPP.

“For many years we were pretty white. That is not necessarily the population of Sussex County, now,” said Mr. Workman, who added that Black History Month productions the past several years have “helped us expands the shows that we can do in our main season, because we were always a little gun-shy of shows that offered ethnicity, because we really didn’t have any. This year, one of the five (main stage shows) is “A Raisin in the Sun.” We have worked very hard to make that happen.”

Community outreach linked to the Possum Juniors’ summer show reaches out to Georgetown-area daycares that are predominantly Hispanic, Mr. Workman added.

Possum passions vary

“Having grown up in Georgetown I am amazed at the way the population of the county has changed. There are so many people who have moved here to retire. I constantly run into people who have no idea about the Possums,” Mr. Workman said.

POSSUMS Sherry Fraser (makeup lady) Roseanne Pack (aunt ethel)

In the make-up room at Possum Hall, Sherry Fraser gets “Harvey” cast member Roseanne Pack ready for a rehearsal.

A show at Possum Hall frequently changes that.

“The number of people who are getting involved is constantly growing. They like what they see. They like the quality of the show. So they look at how they can get involved in any number of ways,” said Mr. Workman. “And they don’t have to be on stage. We have people and all they do is come and usher, hand out programs. We have people who all they do is serve dinner at the dinner theatre. They are tickled to death to do that. And we have people who just give us money … or for a fundraiser they get things for the auction.”

And there are those who yearn to take to the performance stage, make-up room, lighting/sound or other production components.

“Funny thing about community theatre is in some cases the people who have never done it before, and then try out for a show, there is a bug that gets under your skin and you can’t get away from,” said Mr. Workman. “Some audition for everything. And some people don’t like to sing. Sometimes we have like 130 people try out and sometimes we only 15 people try out. It depends on the show, the time of year and it depends on what else is going on in the community.”

Some Possums have gone on to stages far bigger than Possum Hall’s 184-seat handicapped-accessible theatre.

“We’ve got kids in New York City, and working on cruise ships doing theatre. We’ve got kids all over the country doing theatre that started here,” said Mr. Workman. “We’ve had kids actually appear in Broadway shows who started here.”

History/Name Game

Seeds for birth of Possum Point Players were planted at a meeting at the home of Ms. Howlett and her husband Bill after they relocated from the Wilmington area.

“When we moved here, of course there wasn’t much here as far as the arts were concerned,” said Ms. Howlett, who majored in music education and voice at Gettysburg College. “I had done Broadway musicals. It was my husband’s idea, ‘Why don’t we see if there is any interest in starting a community theatre group.’ We put an ad in the newspaper … we had 12 people show up at our house, including the reporter.”

From the core group surfaced the grass-roots name. One of the couples lived in Possum Point in Millsboro.

“We wanted to draw from the county. We came up with ‘Possum Point Players’ because of the alliteration … and because possums are actors; they play dead,’” said Ms. Howlett.

Possum Point Players’ logo is the work of art of Dan Coston, the art teacher at then Sussex Central Junior High School, Ms. Howlett said.

The rest is Possum history, starting with a revival of Millsboro’s Big Thursday with a carnival/fair type event at Cupola Park that featured puppets that have been kept as mementos.

There have been several Possum “homes” in Georgetown and Millsboro over the years.

In 1985, PPP purchased a vacant metal building from the town of Georgetown. An $800,000 capital improvement project in 1999 turned the metal building into a palatial community theater setting.

PPP programming is supported in part by the Delaware Division of the Arts, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information, visit the Possum Point Players’ website: http://www.possumpointplayers.org/.

POSSUM on stage 2

It’s rehearsal time for the cast and crew of “Harvey,” the Possum Point Players’ first main stage production of 2016.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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