I’m watching the Backyard Theatre Ensemble from the top row of the seating area at the Thomaston Opera House. It’s a cozy hall offering fifty theater style seats and a raised stage where the bones of the first floor of a southern house sit. Offstage Donato D’Albis, the artistic director, instructs Tina Parziale to turn to the phone as its ringing when she yells “I hate you” and they try the scene again. Befitting only the fourth stage reading, the set is still in a state of progress but even now one can see the loving details of rustic charm. The old oven is recognizable and iconic; the mismatched chairs around the table are quaint and familiar.
But it is this acting troupe, a family of friends gathered for the purpose of providing quality theatrical entertainment that is creating the energy in the hall as they prepare “CRIMES OF THE HEART”, a comedy with Southern charm and style. The show has punchy dialogue and the characters have emotion and heart behind the comedic elements. The show’s going to make big waves in Thomaston when it opens in November. The Backyard Theater Ensemble as a whole is making even bigger waves within the greater Connecticut theater community. They just won the Connecticut Community Theatre Association (CCTA)’s prestigious awards for BEST USE OF STAGE, BEST DIRECTOR and BEST IN THE FESTIVAL for their production of LAUNDRY AND BOURBON, the latter award also given to the Warner’s Stage Company ensemble for their production of Winter Flowers.
Thomaston Opera House (c)2014 quirk
From humble beginnings this group blazed a new path to utilize their creative talent. Kailee Donovan, an actor in the company as well as business director, gathered together likeminded talent for a production that was first rehearsed in a backyard, hence the name of the troupe. From there as the group matured they found theater space at Post University before finally finding a home at the Thomaston Opera House. When speaking of the opportunity presented by Jeffrey Dunn of the Thomaston Opera House, Sean Gilleylen, actor and public relations manager says, “It’s a Godsend.” Each member is grateful for all that the Thomaston Opera House has done to help bring this ensemble to greater and greater prominence.
Sybil Chamberlin is about to go on stage for her role as Lenny but she says hello. She’s the newest member of the group and she says she felt welcome right away. “It’s a catharsis,” she says of the acting experience with Backyard. When she auditioned for the company, her work was well received and everyone welcomed her with open arms. She was right for the role and perfect for joining the ensemble. When Chamberlin, Parziale and Donovan are on stage there is a chemistry that is particularly funny and engaging.
Like any family, they miss their kin when they aren’t there. The one member who was not present for this rehearsal was Chet Ostroski who was away on vacation. They joke about calling him to demand that he come back to Connecticut and bring oven cleaner with him as part of set preparation. It’s a warm, loving joke but behind it there’s some truth in that all of the members work together as a team and hold many functions. They incurred financial costs themselves and give of their time and labor to bring their artistic vision to life.
Taylor Crofton smiles as she reads along with the script. She does script research and development for Backyard Theater Ensemble but she’s also an actress and performed in the group’s production at the Warner that won the festival. I ask if it was difficult to prepare for two shows, the festival and this new “Crimes of the Heart” show. She laughs and says that both take place in the south. “They didn’t have to learn any new accents,” says D’Albis.
There’s plenty of laughter amidst the camaraderie of the group. A funny line said by Donovan’s character, Meg ,to Parziale’s “Babe” that she is “just as perfectly sane as anyone walking the streets of Hazlehurst, Mississippi!” is said with such sincerity that those of us watching the rehearsal laugh out loud.
When the rehearsal is over, we talk about their experience as a group. Each person has their own story to tell, and each individual adds to the greater whole of the troupe. They trust each other and listen to each other. This is a strength forged in years ,in past success and in friendship. This ensemble has an opportunity to expand their own artistic horizons as they expand their audience’s horizons of understanding and entertainment. I look forward to their production which runs November 6-9 and 13-16 for evening and matinee performances. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.LandmarkCommunityTheatre.org/ or through the Thomaston Opera House Box Office at (860) 283-6250.