Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2 old men

Observations by Bob Hess

It was a return trip for two old men whose accumulated age was 165 years. For one, Andy Bro, who 50 years ago, had created, with the backing of Don Mackay, the Timberlake Playhouse Theatre. For this writer it was a pleasant reunion.

While I talked to Andy on the phone many times, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. You see, Andy always had such a beautiful gray beard, which made him stand out from the crowd, but alas, now, it has turned snow white. Such are the penalties of time.

I hadn’t been to the Timberlake Playhouse for years, so, Andy talked me into attending with him, the production of the play “Sweet Charity.” His reason for the invitation was, the revolving stage that I designed and built 36 years ago, wasn’t in operation last year, but was repaired for the productions this year.

You see this theatre has a modified thrust stage, with a built in 36-foot revolve. The sets on it may be the size of a house. It is very impressive seeing such large scenery in motion. This is the only theatre in the Midwest with such capabilities. The thoroughly modern playhouse is designed for the audience. There is no such thing as a bad seat in the house.

Now, here is where I fail as a drama critic. You see, no matter how good the play is, a successful drama critic nearly always will find something very nasty to comment about. I couldn’t! Am I prejudiced? Just slightly! So, here goes my first try at being a drama critic.

Alexandra Palkovic, a perky young lady from Peoria, played the lead role of “Charity.” She acted, sang and danced this very complicated part, flawlessly. There are those that might say, “What chance does a young lady from Peoria have in the big time?” I answer with the fact that such a big named actor as Spencer Tracy came from Freeport, Ronald Reagan, from Dixon, or Margaret Lindsay from Dubuque. I know I’m dating myself with these three examples. Remember, history tends to repeat itself. Keep watching for more of this delightful young lady.

A wonderful cast accompanied her. There is one thing I noticed in particular, each person on the stage acted as if there was a reason for their being there, not as mere window-dressing puppets, to fill the stage. They are all real actors or dancers and they proved it. This makes for a realistic presence that is missed in many amateur productions. Remember, this is professional theatre.

The dancing was done so well, my back ached, trying to keep up with the gyrations of the dancers. Ah, to be young again! I looked in the program for the name of the choreographer, but the only thing I could find was “Kelsey Andres” the dance captain, so, I suppose that’s what they call them now. It’s easier to spell!

The orchestra was backstage, and their accompaniment of the vocalist and dancers was worth the price of admission. I have watched many movies where they can edit sound tracts to make them perfect, but here it was beautifully done live, and it was flawless. In this age of rock noise, it’s rewarding to know there are young people who are so gifted.

Andy introduced me to a young man who looked like a young high school kid on vacation. His name was James Beaudry, and he was the artistic director, which is the guy responsible for all of the plays, and how they are presented. For short he is the boss. I later learned he has a directing resume of a full page of plays and is a peer reviewer for new texts concerning musical theatre. After all of these accomplishments, he still looks like a high school kid!

If you saw the same play in New York or Chicago, your ticket price would probably be between $150 or $200 dollars and parking would be about what you paid for a ticket to TLP.

Parking is free at Timberlake, and unlike in the big cities, your car will still be there after the show is over.

After leaving the air-conditioned comfort of the theatre we were immersed in the hot humid unbearable climate of Northwest Illinois.

Does this fulfill my task for writing something nasty about my experience?

I still think I’m a failure as a critic!

As Andy and I left the theatre, we both felt a somber satisfaction for our efforts of so many years ago.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

TLP Legends

The TLP had a big day today with the closing of our latest show, Sweet Charity. Fortunately, we had a visitor from the past and one that shaped TLP to what it is today.
(Left to Right: Bob Hess and Andy Bro)

In 1974, Bob Hess helped rebuild the theatre. He installed the revolve that is used frequently in many of our shows and is a unique part of TLP. Along with Mr. Hess is one of our favorite alums, Andy Bro.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Word From Our President

Welcome to Timber Lake Playhouse’s 50th anniversary season.

Fifty years…that’s simply amazing and something that doesn’t “just happen.” Using their personal gifts, countless dreamers have brought the Playhouse to where it is today…the oldest continuously operating professional resident summer stock theater in Illinois…a place where theater professional have honed their skills…a place that continues to bring affordable and quality theatrical experiences to our area…a place where we have laughed, cried, sat on the edge

we are pleased that you have chosen to spend part of your summer of 2011 with us. Please come back often and when you do, bring your family and friends. I’m constantly amazed when I hear people say that they’ve never been to TLP; our best advertising is by word-of-mouth, so please help us spread the word about YOUR Playhouse! Help us to share the magic of TLP. Thanks to every dreamer who has made our first 50 years so successful…now, enjoy the show!!

of our seats and been thrilled. TLP is a special place and

-Larry Libberton

Timber Lake Playhouse Board of Directors

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Marsha Gerson Hirsch's Story

Marsha Gerson Hirsch

I first heard about Timber Lake Playhouse from my friend Connie Mango and came up to see a production of “Look Homeward Angel”. I was impressed to say the least. I was on my way to The Cleveland Playhouse and became friends with Vaughn McBride. He convinced me to become an actress with Timber Lake for the summer, not that I needed much convincing. I drove up with Ron and Holly Duffy in 1966.

Thus began some very memorable seasons-1966, '67, '68, & '69. I began by playing Martha in “Aesenic and Old Lace” What fun! I never worked so hard in my entire life. No such thing as “idle hands” at TLP. I rehearsed during the day, acted at night, worked on sets and costumes and also had the opportunity to direct. I remember staying up all night striking a set and putting up the new one. I learned why you don’t work barefoot in the shop. I also learned to drive a stick shift on Maurice Chevrolet. I always knew if I was a hit when I went to dinner. If Gladys had my favorite rhubarb pie, the show was going to succeed.

I played Bloody Mary in “South Pacific”, the only black haired, blue eyed Mary ever. Bill Bottom had a hard time with me. The singing wasn’t always easy, but the comedy I was born with. I remember stories from practically every show, but don’t ask me what I made for dinner last night.

During my big “searching for a pencil “ monologue in “Come Blow Your Horn”, Frangipani, a cast member’s kitten walked in upstage of me and began cleaning herself. The audience started giggling in the wrong place so I knew it wasn’t me. I turned around and scooped her up, handed her to Priscilla off stage, and said, “They don’t have a pencil but they have a cat”.

I became Bob Edwards’ resident wife, Steve Shaffer’s mother, with a little Mike Gross thrown in. In ‘68, I got to direct the first production of “A Thousand Clowns” with Mike Gross and Billie McBride. I also directed “Any Wednesday”. The list is etched on my brain in a way that finding my car keys isn’t. “Enter Laughing”, “Majority of One” , “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, (Who can forget Noel Shire as Hero?), “Brigadoon” with Peggy Bussert which she later did in the revival on Broadway. I cried every night when the bagpipes played at Mike’s funeral. “The Lady’s Not For Burning”, one of the most clever plays I have ever read. Another tricky long monologue-loved it. I watched the cast become inspired by Frye’s writing. “A View from the Bridge” with Ev Lunning. The phone booth from that show became my closet in my cabin. LeRoy ran a pole so I could hang my clothes. I also did the comedy “Never Too Late” in which the director taught me a new concept-subtlety in comedy. It worked. We did a few childrens’ shows as well. I remember dressing in a very large bunny suit.

But, the all-time classic was “Barefoot in the Park”. The opening of the second act calls for my son-in-law to carry me in and put me down on the couch. Mark, tall and lean, did not seem daunted. I was nervous. I was not used to being carried anywhere. The door opened, he did the two steps with me in his arms acting drunk, and put me on the couch. I could feel the couch tremble and the back legs buckled . The audience saw my feet slowly ri
sing up to the ceiling as the couch folded onto its back. The house was up for grabs. When I could get myself together, I crawled on my hands and knees and delivered the first line, “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven, only I had to climb up”. The audience was hysterical again. The couch did the same thing the second night even after some repairs and then had to be replaced. I’m sorry Sheldon. Blame it on Gladys’ pies.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1970. I auditioned for everything. I did a lot of community theatre just waiting for a break. Lots of great reviews but no offers. I had a teaching degree and that paid the bills. I fell in love and married and have a wonderful son who had to be different so he went into film. I may never have started a theatre, but I produced a musical every year for graduation. I imparted my love for theatre to the inner city youth of South Central LA. When we did “West Side Story”, we really had the Sharks and the Jets. I directed “The Three Piggy
Opera” with third graders and “Annie” along with my son and a young cast of second language learners and native speakers.

I always remembered that whatever task we attempted, even finding enough flashlights and driving our cars up to the open theatre doors during a tornado when the electricity went out during a show, the “we can do this” attitude of Timber Lake which has guided my life. I applaud you Andy, Dorothea, Sheldon, and all the founders of the longest continuous running summer theatre in Illinois. Wow! The branches of your tree have grown in so many directions, too numerous to count. I thank you for a wonderful part of my life.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dreams Under Construction

By Ron Heffelfinger

In 1960, Timber Lake Playhouse was started. After trees were taken down and all the stumps removed, R.C. Traum Construction Company took over. Bob's crew was: Ron Heffelfinger, Arnold Provant, Denver Traum, Ken Heffelfinger, Arlen Larson and Fred Queckboerner.

All the wall footings were dug by hand and the wall forms were done by hand. They were of boards, steel and wire. The large posts that was used to hold the roof were 12"x8". The siding was 1"x12" oak, all different lengths and the framing lumber were all cut at Tautz Brothers saw mill. The siding was board and bat. The bats were 3" oak. Both of the boards and bats were dipped in an oak stain and laid out to dry before use. The only lumber in the theater that was brought in were the trusts for the roof.

While working on this project there were a lot of early morning changes made. Whenever Mr. McKay showed up there was going to be a change! One change that I can remember, which is getting hard to do, is that for two or three days we would put a trap door in the stage floor, then one day later take it out. Finally, it stayed there after Bob had a discussion with Mr. McKay.

The last thing we did before the opening was to drill hundreds of holes into the cement floor. These were to hold the bolts that held the seats down. We set a row of seats and cemented the bolts into the holes. It took a very long day to get all seats set. The cement was to set up very quickly. Two days after drying Bob pushed on the back row to see if they were set and to out surprise the back row went forward hitting the nest row and all the seats went forward. The cement did not set up, s0 we had to re-drill all the holes and reset the seats. This time the cement set up and it worked. We finished just a few days before opening.