The ARTSCENE/Theatre: In Oneonta… ‘ActALot’ …Is Always On Marquee

the ARTSCENE/Theatre

In Oneonta…


…Is Always On Marquee

Tom Pondolfino evokes laughs in a skit from “Spamalot,” performed by Orpheus Theatre Feb. 21-23 at Foothills. (Ian Austin/

6 Troupes In County

– That’s Entertainment

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Brooke Tallman-Burkett and Steve Dillon rehearse for “Venus in Fur,” on stage at Foothills March 13-15.

ONEONTA – Whether you’re in the mood for a musical, a classic play, something modern or a show to laugh at, there’s a theater company for you.

“This area has always been so rich in culture,” said Steve Dillon, founder of Bigger Boat Productions. “And there’s enough talent to sustain all the groups. Whatever kind of show you want to do, there’s an audience for it.”

There are six community theater companies in Otsego County, with four in the city of Oneonta, and one each in Cooperstown and Worcester, producing a variety of live theater options year round. They are:

►Bigger Boat Productions, contemporary comedy, classic drama
►Bold Theatrics, contemporary drama
►Orpheus Theater, Broadway-style musicals
►Stuff of Dreams Productions, classic drama, thrillers, comedy
►Glimmer Globe Theater, Cooperstown, Shakespeare, classic drama. (See separate article, B1)
►Catskill Community Players, Worcester, comedy, murder mysteries, drama

Let’s take a look, from oldest to youngest.

Founded in 1974, the Catskill Community Players is Otsego County’s oldest local theater company, performing musicals and plays. “The story is that at the first meeting, the school where they were supposed to have it was locked,” said Diana Friedell, president and producer since 2010. “And instead they met in a Volkswagen!”

The Players produce two plays a year: in October, Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit; upcoming May 15-17 is Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”
“We try to pick something that will make people laugh,” said Friedell. “Or we want to put on a show with a meaning and a message.”

The troupe also partners with other community businesses, including offering dinner and lodging packages at the Worcester Inn, and have moved their productions to the Weiting Theater.

“We were at the South Kortright school and produced shows at SUNY Delhi,” she said. “The Weiting is a historic theater, and we want to support that mission, get the word out to bring an audience into that theater.”

Friedell got involved when she moved to the area in 1983, and also did shows with Orpheus. “I remember seeing an ad about a new organization at the high school,” she said. “I called up and said that I wanted to be part of it!”

Reginald Brunson, Hobart, invites audiences to see the gruesome “Elephant Man” in Bigger Boats’ debut performance in 2016 at Foothills.

Founded in 1984, Orpheus Theatre does three Broadway-style musicals a year; most recently, it performed “Spamalot” at Foothills Performing Arts Center and will perform “Big: The Musical” May 1-3.

“We try to keep two of the shows family-friendly,” said Fred Ploutz Jr., board president. “And then the third show can a little more geared towards a certain audience.”

In addition to main stage productions, Orpheus has also expanded its children’s offerings, including the Starstruck Players group and several children’s workshop. “It’s the bedrock of the company,” he said. “We’ve grown from 23 kids to 55.”

So much so that the recent performance of “Frozen Jr.” had to be moved to the Foothills main stage, outgrowing the production building.

In addition to the Starstruck Players shows, Orpheus also offers a one-week winter-break workshop, and summer workshops for kids and teenagers.

“Some of them come in and they’ve never been fitted with a mic or been under stage lights,” said Ploutz. “So we’re able to give them a full stage show experience, and they leave with that under their belt.”

Though Orpheus had done a straight play every year, companies like Bigger Boat, Stuff of Dreams and Bold Theatrics have begun staging those, allowing Orpheus to focus on musicals. “We’re not trying to step on anyone’s toes,” said Ploutz. “We all work together to make sure we’re not on each other’s performance dates.”

“Spamalot” had a cast of 35, and many of the actors belong to other companies as well.

“Each show we bring in more people, and they become part of that family,” said Dillon. “Right now, I think we have about 65 people who have been in our productions.”

Dillon had been part of the Oneonta Theatre Stage Players, following the theatre’s closing, he launched Bigger Boat in 2016 with “The Elephant Man.”

“I was only thinking of that show,” he said. “When we were applying for the show license, we had to have a production company. I came up with Bigger Boat, from the most famous line in ‘Jaws’.” (On seeing the monster shark for the first time, Police Chief Martin Brody – Roy Scheider – said, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”)

At the same time, Stevens, who performed in “The Elephant Man,” was thinking about shows he wanted to put on, and formed Stuff of Dreams to produce Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” later that year.

“We got together and decided to split a season,” said Dillon. “We always operate together, but we can each produce shows on our own. ”

“Our focus is on classic Broadway-style theater,” said Stevens. “We do some contemporary, but we like to have a good balance of comedy, thrillers and drama.”

Stuff of Dreams produced “Harvey” in January, and a combined production of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” last October was such a success a third weekend of shows was added. “Anything with Reginald Brunson in it is huge,” said Dillon. “He’ll bring the whole town of Hobart out to see him.”

Bigger Boat is also collaborating with Bold Theatrics to produce David Ives “Venus in Fur,” starring Dillon and Bold founder Brooke Tallman-Birkett, March 13-15.

“We wanted to explore shows with more grit,” she said. “We feel theater is a way to perpetuate dialogue about important issues, including homophobia and bullying.”

They debuted with “Heathers: the Musical” in 2017, and also performed “Angels in America” and “Matilda,” as well as performances at Pridefest.

“We just want to do something completely different,” she said.

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