FORT MILL If it’s been a while since you’ve peeked around the corner in the alley behind Kimbrell’s furniture on Main Street, it’s time for another look. Tucked inside the building with the green awning are actors, set designers, ticket takers, popcorn poppers and laughing audiences.
Fort Mill Community Playhouse has so much heart, it’s bursting at the seams, members say.
The town has grown leaps and bounds since the Playhouse put on its first show, in a tent at Leroy Springs Complex in 1980. Members say they need more space, and to get that, they need $1 million for the building they want to buy on Spratt Street. As of press time, just shy of $250K has been raised.
But for now, the show must go on.
Saturday, 6:38 p.m.
Robert Wendover has just stepped out on a tiny back porch at 220 Main Street, where the man his character plans to confront — about a woman, of course — is sitting on the steps, smoking a cigarette. The air is cool, with the first hints of fall approaching.
Wendover, wearing a shirt the color of mud and sipping coffee, paces in the parking lot, holding a well-read script in his hand.
His character likely would be thinking about money, death and maybe even love.
“This allows me to tell a story with a spectacle,” Wendover said about acting on stage. “With the lights and the sound and the music, it’s like you’re living a movie.”
Down the hall, Scarlet Boudreaux sits quietly with a group of women who are getting ready for the show. She doesn’t know many people outside of this building as she’s only been in the area since June. It’s a long way from Anchorage, Alaska.
She moved here because “it was time for a new adventure.” Her days start at 4:30 each morning with a trip to the gym. She stays focused on nutrition and the autobiography she’s writing. She starts her new job soon as a Starbucks barista in Baxter Village.
But she’s not thinking of any of that now; she and her co-stars are getting in character.
The people in this shoebox-sized room have become fast friends.
Phil Fowler is sitting in a box in the back corner, running through final pre-show checks. Tonight, he’s in charge of light and sound, but other times, he’s on stage himself: He’s acted in 10 plays since 2006.
In fact, he was cast as lead the first time he ever appeared on the Fort Mill Community Playhouse stage. Playing multiple roles is not unusual at the Playhouse. Productions mean all hands on deck.
Don Schmunk runs the concessions cart before he will slip into a seat in the back row to watch the performance. Joyce Sullivan has sewed the costumes; Rick Diak made a master plan for lighting; Becky Diak designed the sets; Bob Edwards handled ticket reservations — and so on.
“To say it is a working board doesn’t do it justice,” Fowler said.
He has been a board member since last summer. This night, he’ll be taking sound and light cues from the script prepared earlier in the week. Even with the “cutting-edge 1985 tech,” as he calls it, the group has gotten the process down to a science. It’s so streamlined that he may even have time to check the Clemson/Auborn game during the play (we’ll never tell).
Fowler dims the lights. Showtime.
Tonight’s production is “Ghost of a Chance,” directed by Erica Owens.
For the next couple of hours, a graceful choreography ensues as the actors make space for each other, flowing around a couch at the center of the small stage. Sometimes they’re fighting, sometimes hugging; there’s even a kiss and a gun.
Lots of laughter and applause will ensue.
The actors take their bows, Fowler brings up the lights and 60-something people in the Playhouse audience give an emphatic standing ovation.
Many of the cast and crew gather at an outside table at Hobo’s, enjoying post-show cocktails, food and conversation, talking about a place that has become a second home for so many.
“This place is pure Americana,” Fowler said. “This is the adult version of 'The Little Rascals’ —wanting to put on a show and giving it all they've got.”
Melissa Oyler: @melissaoyler
Want to donate?
Fort Mill Community Playhouse is nonprofit, so donations are tax deductible. Donors have five years to pay pledge. In addition to one-time or annual pledges, opportunities include naming rights, ranging from a $250 donation that includes a name on a chair to a $250,000 donation that includes a name on the building.
Donate online: fortmillcommunityplayhouse.org/donations.php
Mail your donation:
PO Box 354
Fort Mill, SC 29716
Questions: Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 803-548-8102
Want to see a play?
There are two remaining plays in 2017:
Ghost of a Chance: Sept. 22-24
I Do! I Do!: Nov. 3-5, 10-12, 17-19
For details and tickets, go to fortmillcommunityplayhouse.org
Challenges of theater in a small space
The nonprofit acting group Fort Mill Community Playhouse has been entertaining the town for 37 years, and its space for the last year or so has brought with it some unique challenges. Here’s the reality of it, Playhouse members say:
▪ Dinner theaters and youth productions have been tabled, due to lack of space;
▪ No more than six actors can perform on stage; board members say this makes choosing a script a very delicate operation;
▪ Patron of the arts? Get your seat before it’s gone — only 67 people can watch a performance at a time in the theater’s temporary Main Street space.