TRAVERSE CITY — Sixty seasons in, the Old Town Playhouse continues to move forward in earnest.
The anniversary season opens today with a day-long celebration and a 7:30 p.m. performance of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” — a trivial comedy for serious people.
“We typically do an opening night reception for each show throughout the season,” said Deb Jackson, OTP’s interim executive director. “Being that this is the anniversary season, we are making the opening night reception extra special.”
The box office will be open all day, with tickets available for all the seasons’s shows. Also, Cracked Breakfast Food Truck will be in the parking lot from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In OTP’s downstairs Schmuckal Theatre, tea and biscuits will be served, a floral painting exhibition by local artists can be viewed and Lady Bracknell — from “The Importance of Being Earnest” — will visit from 9 to 11 a.m.
“Tea in the morning isn’t at all proper,” said Willis, putting on the English accent of her pompous character, Lady Bracknell. “You may drink tea in the morning but you may not ‘have tea.’ You ‘have tea’ in the afternoon with crumpets, scones and jam, clotted cream, and finger sandwiches. So having tea with Lady Bracknell is not just having a cuppa.’”
Willis has been perfecting her English accent for years. She was married to an Englishman and often traveled with him to England. She’s also had plenty of practice as Lady Bracknell. She performed the role in a Little Traverse Civic Theatre production of “Earnest” before moving to the TC area from Petoskey.
Jackson said the appearance of cast members, door prizes and information tables on volunteer opportunities and OTP’s the Young Company and Aged to Perfection reader’s theater are all part of celebrating OTP’s success. As befits its diamond anniversary, the community theater has gone from a diamond in the rough to a polished gem.
“We’re really celebrating the fact that, at our 60-year milestone, every facet of our theater is doing well,” she said.
Willis served as OTP development director from 2010 to 2019 and said she believes the theater is thriving not just because of the family nature of community theater but because OTP was able to purchase its own building and raise money to improve it over time, and because it made the transition from a community theater with a clubhouse feel and volunteer-driven board to a community business that produces shows for the public.
“A community theater changes when it becomes a true business — when we stop doing plays for ourselves and start doing them for the community,” she said.
Then there’s the welcome extended to newcomers, Willis said.
“In my eight and a half years I saw maybe two shows that did not have a brand new person on the stage,” she said. “That keeps a group vital.”
Going forward, there’s a focus on offering a broad selection of shows that appeal to everyone, Jackson said. That includes at least one family-oriented show each year.
“I really credit the talent of our volunteers that perform here that allow us to do great theater,” she said, adding that attendees are impressed by the caliber of talent at the theater and often remark that it seems like professional theater.
This season will be a bit unusual, as performances that normally take place at OTP’s Studio Theatre at the Depot won’t begin until January 2020 because of construction at the depot and nearby Eighth Street.
Instead, several stand-alone shows will take place at the main theater along with regular MainStage shows.
Members of the Aged to Perfection group will do full-length shows on the MainStage — the first time they’ll have been there, Jackson said. There’s also Tricks Against Humanity, Josh Davis on Oct. 18-19 and a spin on the Grand Old Opry on Oct. 25-26, she said. The “Old Town Opry
variety show will feature music from Peter Paul and Mary Remembered with “guests” Dolly Pardon, Johnny Bash, Millie Pearl, Porter Wagoneer and Patsy Cline.
Besides “The Importance of Being Earnest,” OTP’s MainStage shows this season include “Elf The Musical,” “Indecent,” “Silent Sky” and “Chicago.”
For more information visit oldtownplayhouse.com.
This article was updated 9/13/19 to correct a performance time.