Elisabeth Ross is the author of today’s TOP FIVE. She’s worked with many different theatres in the area, both on stage and behind the scenes. Many of the posters you’ve seen around town promoting a show were Elisabeth’s creations. A music teacher by trade, she loves musicals, but as you’ll soon read, three of her TOP FIVE are straight plays.
5. Little Mary Sunshine by Rick Besoyan. City Circle Acting Company, 2006.
Little Mary Sunshine, directed by Pauline Tyer, was my first experience in community theatre. I had always had in interest in theatre, but had never actively pursued this interest. I was in my fourth year of college at the University of Iowa, and my friend and classmate Ben Bentler, who was music directing the show, asked if I would be interested in being a part of the production. I jumped at the opportunity and so began my involvement with community theatre. The show was a fun one. I played Cora, one of several finishing school girls taking a vacation at Little Mary Sunhine’s inn in Colorado. The music was silly, light-hearted and fun to perform. As the production developed, I learned a lot about what it means to part of a community theatre production. The production took place in a building at Oakdale, so along with learning music, lines and choreography, as a cast we had to assemble a stage from heavy platforms and assist in putting up the set. During my experience I learned about the bonding that can happen within a cast, about the overwhelming stress of tech week, and about the giddy excitement of opening night. For many, Little Mary Sunshine may have been just another musical; for me, it was the show that got me hooked.
4. The Drowsy Chaperone by Bob Martin and Don McKeller. Iowa City Community Theatre 2011.
This show had it all-singing, dancing, acting and humor. The musical revolves around a man listening to a record of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. As he listens, the show comes to life around him. The Drowsy Chaperone parodies musicals of the 1920’s, and the humor that is woven into the music and the script are a strong point of the show. The main reason this show makes my list high level of commitment shown by the cast and crew. This show was hard. The dance numbers were very involved (and I’m a terrible dancer), hitting the comedic timing took practice, and there were props, props and more props (which I was in charge of procuring, in addition to playing the role of Mrs. Tottendale). We built an elevated stage in the ICCT Barn and preparing that and the set took a lot of work. The cast and crew dedicated a huge amount of time and effort into making this show great, and what’s more, they did it with a smile. This dedication, paired with the huge amount of talent represented in the show, made for a fantastic production that I was lucky to have been a part of.
3. Poona the F***dog and other plays for children by Jeff Goode. Dreamwell Theatre, 2010.
Written by No Shame Theatre founder Jeff Goode, Poona is a comedy that takes the taboo and hangs it out for everyone to see. I played the alien C*nt, who, along with her friend Jasper, has some trouble finding help on planet Earth when a talking TV takes offense to her name. Rehearsals were a blast, and during performances, I took every opportunity I could to watch scenes from backstage, because even after weeks of rehearsal, they were still that funny. For me, the humor is really what made this play a favorite of mine. There are still times, five years later, when I look back, remember a line or a scene from the show and have to laugh.
2. Sans Merci by Johnna Adams. Dreamwell Theatre, 2012.
I’m not really sure where to begin with this play. Directed by Meg Dobbs, Sans Merci is an intense, tragic show, revolving around the brutal death of college-student Tracy. Tracy’s girlfriend Kelly (Nika Tipsword) and her mother (Annette Rohlk) meet and grapple with aspects of the life and death of the person they most loved. I played Tracy, who appears in flashbacks throughout the play. For me Sans Merci was a show that made me grow as both an actress and a person. Relationships were at the very core of this play. A large part of rehearsal was spent building our understanding of who our characters were and the relationships they had with one another. All of the decisions made were intentional and made with our characters in mind. Along with learning to build a strong character, I was challenged by the wide range and intensity of emotions Tracy needed to portray and was fortunate to have Nika as a strong scene partner. Our production was well received and I am proud of the work our team did. I think we shared truth with our audiences by taking them to an uncomfortable place where they could witness the raw emotions connected to love and loss.
1. The Curious Savage by John Patrick. Dreamwell Theatre, 2011.
The Curious Savage, which takes place in a mental institution, makes my Top Five list first and foremost because of the wonderful people I got to work with. I’ll start with director Gerry Roe. Gerry is a thoughtful and skilled director, giving his actors room to grow and develop their own characters and choices, while at the same time asking the right questions and nudging actors in the right direction. In addition to having a great director I was surrounded by cast members who embraced their parts and had fun with them. As patient Fairy Mae, I became a part of the special family the patients had created and enjoyed being part of the shenanigans that happened at the institution. Not only did we have fun portraying our characters onstage, but we had a good time as a cast working together and getting to know each other. For me, that camaraderie is one of the things that keeps bringing me back to community theatre. The shows that have been most memorable to me have been the ones in which the cast members have all joined together in an effort to work as an ensemble and to be a part of something special.
We hope you enjoyed Elisabeth’s list. Check back tomorrow for another TOP FIVE!
Elisabeth Ross enjoys acting with various theater groups in the area and serving on the Dreamwell board. Along with acting she has picked up many new skills since joining the theatre community including poster-making, assistant directing, running sound light board and helping backstage. She has been on hiatus from acting for awhile, but hopes to be back onstage soon.