Today’s TOP FIVE comes to us from Braden JP Rood who takes us to a beautiful little town called Mount Vernon. I’ve been a fan of Mount Vernon for years, ever since a few of us drove there to create the Black Doggers playwriting group in the home of Joe Jennison back in 2006. (Joe had a black dog that we weren’t allowed to touch.) It’s home to Cornell College, the annual Chalk the Walk festival, and, of course, the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Theatre. If you find yourself wondering what to do sometimes, I’d say check out Mount Vernon. It’s a great place to be. And now Braden’s TOP FIVE!
How does one choose only five? I have been on stage for the majority of my life and I can safely say, that this is an impossible task. Do I choose the first time I was on stage? First time I had a speaking role? School productions? Community Theatre? College? New York? I decided to choose… home. I was raised in Mount Vernon and then after college and living in New York for a few years, my husband and I decided to move back to the Midwest. We live in Mount Vernon with our three energetic boys and all five of us have been heavily involved in theatre here in Mount Vernon and the surrounding area. Home is where it all started.
So here is my list. There are only five, but know that there are soooo many that could be on this list. Honestly, if I did this next week it would be a different list for different reasons, but that is the joy of this project. Thank you, Matt, for the walk down memory lane.
5) Slices of Life by Various Authors. Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Theatre, 2007, 2010 2013.
This is one of the ideas our MVLCT board came up with that I am most proud of. The first time we tried Slices of Life (10-minute new play festival) we had over 200 submissions from around the world. It was daunting, but so wonderful to read so many great (as well as not-so-great) works—the problem was choosing…a bit like this top five list! The next two times we produced Slices, the majority of the plays chosen were local playwrights. I love working from the ground up, I love new works and I love to see the playwrights see what they have written come to life.
These Slices productions require me to wear many hats: producer, director, actor, shift crew, choreography, therapist, scheduler, communications, publicity, you name it! I love it! I also get to share these many jobs with one of my most favorite people, Amy White. We have produced every one of these and to see it all come together—different shows, different directors, sharing actors, sharing props/set pieces—makes ones head spin, but man, is it a fun ride!
In each of these productions there have been around 50 people involved. This brings so much joy to my heart. Slices has given people the opportunity to get involved, try something new, something that scares them and perhaps give them the encouragement to do it again.
4) David’s Red Haired Death by Sherry Kramer. Dreamwell Theatre, 2005.
This was the first full length production I was cast in when I moved back to Iowa and boy, was it a doozy! I had the honor of working again with co-star Angie Toomsen and Jessica Link, who directed the show. It was the first performance in Dreamwell Theatre’s “new space” at the Old Capitol Mall. DRD was an amazing journey as an actor and I had the rare opportunity to BE “just an actor” and really focus on the script and character. I definitely needed to work more than I had in the past because I was four months pregnant and had “preggo brain” and since my character, Jean, was on a driving trip alone for large sections of the play, much of the time I was monologing. Holy Buckets! I did not shut up!
It was such a great journey and in a trusting environment that I really appreciated since you don’t get that all the time. I went on to do Kiss Me, Kate the following month and played a gangster (my first time playing a man). It was a wild summer!
3) Chamber Music by Arthur Kopit. GUSH Theatre, 2014.
What an amazing group to work with! What an intense play! Eight women from different times in history have a meeting at an insane asylum to discuss how to attack the men’s ward before they attack the women’s ward. When we read the play for the first time aloud it was so scary and funny (especially my horrid German accent) and so cool that our fearless director, Karla Steffens-Moran, was open enough to change what characters she (and we) thought each actor should portray and make it a richer, fuller production.
I got to play Gertrude Stein (and chopped my hair for it!). I loved doing the research on someone that really existed, even though it was in an absurd play where I argued with Joan of Arc! The rest of the cast: Kim Benesh, Amy White, Andrea Gorsh, Tawnua Tenley, Nicci Miles, Nina Scott, and Meghan Yamanishi along with Mike Moran and Anton Rood were incredible and kept me on my toes every rehearsal and performance.
2) Oliver! By Lionel Bart. Odyssey Theatre for the Young At Heart, 2012.
Working in children’s theatre is a completely different experience than in “adult” community theatre. Also, doing a children’s show and a show with children are two totally different ball games. Oliver! was a winter show put on by Odyssey and directed by Karla Steffens-Moran. The winter shows usually have adults and this was no exception. It felt like there were 1000 kids in this show, but they all did such a wonderful job! From picking pockets to singing their little hearts out to laughing when the adults messed up—which was frequently! The best part of this show was that my husband, Anton, and I were romantic(?) parts—The Widow Corney and Mr. Bumble. Needless to say, the kids got a kick out of us making faces and our obnoxious costumes. This was also the first show that my entire family was in—it has not been the last.
1) 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by Rebecca Feldman and William Finn. Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Theatre, 2013.
There are many musicals that I have been in, but Putnam is very special to me for many reasons. Most importantly, this was the first show that was performed in our newly renovated First Street Community Center Uptown Theatre. A few months prior, a wonderful group of people (lovingly named The A-Go-Gos) planned a 24-hour telethon to raise money for this theatre space. The building used to be the High School and later the Middle School in Mount Vernon and had been converted into a community center. The theatre space was in desperate need of updating—most importantly air conditioning! Our goal was to raise $10,000—Mount Vernon residents and many others from all over donated almost $17,000.
MVLCT’s home is the Uptown Theatre and producing Putnam in the former school seemed the perfect fit. We had a great directing team of Michael Petkewec and Stephanie Corkran Buonadonna with the amazing Forrest Green accompanying. The cast (Zak Moran, Kami Zbanek-Hill. Skylar Mathias, Ali Borchers, Duane Larson, Mariah Schlueter, Richard Douglas, Brandon Douglas) was a dream. It was a great experience all around.
These are just five of MANY! The advantage of Mount Vernon, my home, is that there are so many opportunities to be on stage and feed that desire. From The Goatsinger Shows (a quarterly variety show) to Open Arenas (a company that comes in every once in awhile and produces a show with local talent) to the groups that have been here for years—we all call Mount Vernon home and I am proud to be a part of it.
Check back soon for another TOP FIVE. And check out the previous TOP FIVES here:
Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers
Jeffrey Allen Mead
Cherryl Moon Thomason
Braden JP Rood has been on stage since she has been five. She earned her BA from the University of Northern Iowa in Theatre Performance. After college, she lived in New York for four years where she started a theatre company, The Key, with fellow students for UNI. She also met her husband, Anton, in New York. Their showmance has been going strong for 15 years. She lives in Mount Vernon with Anton and their three boys–Jasper, Atticus and Chester. In her “real life” she owns Rood Runner, an errand running and driving service, and is a Standardized Patient at the University of Iowa Medical School. She is fortunate to live in a community where theatre and the arts THRIVE and always has an opportunity to be in the limelight and work with such amazing people.