Dozens of performances. Hundreds of performers. Thousands of viewers. The numbers don’t even begin to tell the story of Creston’s Footlighters Theatre Society, the theatre group that first took to the stage in 1995 with a production of Deathtrap.
Footlighters was formed by theatre enthusiasts who had other aspirations than the now-defunct Creston Valley Drama Club.
“They (CVDC) wanted to do festival plays and win awards,” said Frank Goodsir, who has directed 37 productions in Creston.
(Footlighters will be celebrating the conclusion of its 20th season with a dance/karaoke costume party on May 8. Visit the group’s Facebook page for more information.)
Goodsir, then an elementary school teacher with a history of producing musicals at Adam Robertson Elementary School, joined forces with Gail Kitt, Julie Groot, Neal Groot, Ken Blow and Mary Martin to form Footlighters.
“We wanted to do a variety of plays and musicals,” he said.
Goodsir directed the first play, Deathtrap, and the cast included Blow and Kitt. Deathtrap was performed in 1995, several months after Creston Footlighters was founded in 1994.
“We chose Deathtrap because it was a very popular play at the time,” he said. “It ran for 1,700 or 1,800 performances on Broadway.”
The performances were not well attended and the company lost money (a financially successful revival was produced in 2012) . But the next production, Hello, Dolly, changed the tide.
“It took us financially out of the hole after our first year,” Goodsir said. “By the end of year two we had recouped all of our losses.”
“People started to realize we were a viable entity,” Kitt said as she shared memories with Goodsir and current Footlighters president Brian Lawrence.
Kitt has directed and taken starring roles, but she is now happier in smaller roles and to serve as the group’s makeup director. Asked about her favourite Footlighters play, the answer came quickly.
“Cinderella! Even if I did have to flit about the stage! At my age, the knees and ankles are going and they don’t want to flit any more.”
“We actually turned people away at the door,” Goodsir chimed in. “We were sold out and people got mad at me when they couldn’t get in. I don’t know why they were mad at me — I didn’t buy all the tickets!”
Goodsir, who wrote and directed Cinderella, named his own favourites as The King and I and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“We had good casts in both,” he said. “I particularly like musicals because I was brought up on them as a kid.
“But I am happier behind the scenes now, mostly because I can’t remember lines any more!”
Kitt’s preferences lean toward melodrama.
“They were what I did as a kid, way back when I was 13,” she laughed.
As a makeup specialist, she’s had to get creative at times. For one play she had to find a way to darken the complexions of most cast members. After several experiments she settled on a simple formula of cocoa and water.
Her directions to the cast? “No licking!”
Of course, what the audience sees on stage is only the tip of the theatrical company iceberg. Planning is done a couple years in advance so that rights to perform a play can be acquired. A director and key organizers need many months to plan before a cast can be assembled.
For a musical like the recently performed Carousel, musicians, a chorus and numerous singers rehearsed — as often as four times a week — for months. Behind the scenes, crews work on building sets, volunteers design, sew and acquire costumes, lighting is designed and publicity efforts are undertaken.
“We try to plan two years ahead and we are just now solidifying our next season,” Goodsir said.
Lawrence, who has been with Footlighters for a decade, has directed and played in leading roles, as well as serving as the group’s president. His favourite roles, he said, were Harold Hill in The Music Man and Carousel’s Billy Bigelow.
“Those roles had been at the top of my list for a long time!”
One of his theatrical highlights, he said, was to direct Almost Golden. Written by local residents Jason Smith and Suzanne Chubb, the play was a hit with local audiences and an award-winner at the regional and provincial competitions.
“I had never been involved in a play from the very beginning,” Lawrence said. “I saw the first draft and was involved from that point on. It was so rewarding to direct and to make it possible for the writers’ vision to come to the stage.”
Almost Golden was one of seven plays written locally that Footlighters has produced.
Goodsir and Lawrence agree that Footlighters’ commitment to include children and special needs people in the cast and chorus has been rewarding.
“Getting a start early often means that they will continue on, or return to the stage as adults,” Goodsir said.
“It’s a fun group,” Kitt said of the Footlighters team. “Everybody mostly gets along! What I really like about Footlighters is that the members will do anything — egos don’t’ seem to get in the way.”
“We don’t have prima donnas,” Goodsir agreed. “For example, Brian makes our programs, acts, directs, produces — anything that needs doing, he does it.
“We are very supportive of each other, even when we have differences of opinion.”