Not only returning from the pandemic hiatus, Theatre Wellesley is also celebrating its silver anniversary, 25 years of staging plays for and by the community.
Rhonda Caldwell and Allan Strong are two members of Theatre Wellesley who were there in the beginning, and they’re still at it. Caldwell and Strong are the producer and director, respectively, of the group’s upcoming production of “For Better or Wurst.”
Caldwell, who is also acting as the group’s secretary, remembers the first meeting in the arts council room in the Wellesley library. There were about 20 to 25 people there, she says. A mixture of people.
“We had quite a few parents that had joined because of their enthusiasm for something for their teenagers, which is actually what inspired me at the time, because my daughter wanted to be involved,” said Caldwell.
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“We wanted to have fun, and we wanted it to be for anybody. So it didn’t really matter what kinds of skills that you had when you joined – you were going to learn new stuff.”
Strong recalls he joined because he had done some plays in high school and improv workshops and thought it sounded like fun.
The group still practices in the old arts council room today, even though the Wellesley Arts Council is no longer running.
Caldwell thinks back over all their years of performances. Some memorable ones include “The Nicest Small Town in Canada” and “Shootout at the Sacred Heart Saloon” which were written by a local playwright Teresa Brown.
In 2014 the group began doing a smaller spring performance in addition to their larger fall performances, which are typically comedies.
“In the spring show, we pick plays that may be a little edgier, and also a little more challenging. We also do the spring show in the rehearsal space at the library, so the total capacity is 30 people in the audience, and the distance between the stage and the audience is about six feet. It’s challenging as a performer because your audience is right there. It’s very intimate, and it’s very close,” said Strong. “The spring show is really us trying to push ourselves, and grow and develop.”
One of Strong’s highlights over the years was acting in “Tuesdays with Morrie,” a play about a man who visits his favourite old college professor who is dying. In that spring play with a cast of two, Strong played Morrie
“I had the opportunity to play Morrie, and it was just a very rewarding role to play. It really stretched me. Morrie is a two-person play, so it really stretched both of us and pushed me in a way I didn’t think I could be pushed. So I always hold Tuesdays with Morrie pretty close to my heart,” said Strong, noting he also loves directing and helping others grow.
Caldwell also reflects on what keeps her going with Theatre Wellesley. “I think the sense of community, and also I really have a lot of fun. I feel like I grow as a person because I’m always doing new things and learning new skills,” she said.
The latest skills she learned through the group include the work of being a stage manager and learning how to make natural hairlines in theatre makeup when making someone look older.
Both Caldwell and Strong mention how they enjoy mentoring the younger people who come into the group and end up growing and enjoying the experience.
A major challenge the group had to face was moving performance spaces. Originally they performed in the fellowship hall, which became a preschool space. They’ll be facing a similar challenge again once the new Wellesley Township recreation centre is complete.
“They have a beautiful gymnasium room. They don’t have a stage, ao we have to figure out what we want to do around a stage when the new community centre is built,” she said. “The portable stage that they have will not be big enough.”
Despite all the changes, the theatre groups just keeps on going, however.
“We’ve always had a strong executive, with different people over the years, but we’ve always had a strong executive with a strong vision in terms of our philosophy,” said Caldwell.
She also mentioned having the support of the township by providing rehearsal space so that the group only needed to raise money for shows. She also mentioned how the community and local businesses have supported them as well.
“People are there because they want to be there. Because we want to grow, we want to develop, and we just love doing. The camaraderie of being in a group and working together and at the end of the production sitting back and going, ‘Wow, we did this.’ And also the desire to give back to the community and provide something to the community,” said Strong.
This year, after a hiatus due to the pandemic, the group is excited to present their fall comedy show, “For Better or Wurst.”
“This is our first big show in three years. So the last time we did something was 2019. And navigating the COVID waters and trying to figure out how we do this. with all the background of the pandemic has been challenging. And we’re just very excited to be able to do this again,” said Strong.
“It’s a story about a private eye detective, Nick Noir, preparing to marry his fiancé at a small, simple wedding in Las Vegas. The fiancé, who has not been truthful to her family about her Noir, comes from an extremely wealthy family who gained their wealth through their hotdog empire.
“All sorts of shenanigans and silliness abound, along with murder. So it’s a whodunit, a play on those Film Noir detective movies and novels of the 30s and 40s,” said Strong.
“Come out. Enjoy the show. See your friends, neighbors and other people working very hard to entertain you and to have fun.”
The show runs November 17-18 at the Wellesley Community Centre. Tickets are $18, available at Pym’s Village Market in Wellesley or at the website, www.TheatreWellesley.com.