- OnStage Connecticut Columnist
Let’s face it, most community theater groups are lucky if they run for a handful of seasons without experiencing interruptions, budgetary restriction, interpersonal drama or complete shutdown. Yet, The Orange Players which operates right outside New Haven, Connecticut, has been going strong for over 20 years. “We are rumored to be the second oldest continuously performing community theater in CT,” Pat Miller told me just a few days before their production of “Bell, Book and Candle” opens, “we've never had a year when we haven't had shows.”
That’s quite a feat and Miller knows it. She’s a life-long advocate and practitioner of the theater, who was a charter member of the Orange Players in the summer of 1974. She has acted in, directed and produced dozens of shows, and still says she “revels” in these tasks after so many years. “I just love theater and directing,” she says, “and I love, love, love seeing how people develop and bring in their own things and build on. I think it's the most exciting thing in the world to direct.”
To learn more about the longevity of The Orange Players, I spoke to Pat Miller about its history, its future and what’s changed over the years.
NG: Can you tell me about “Bell, Book and Candle?”
Pat Miller: "Bell, Book and Candle" is a wonderful romantic comedy. John van Druten is the author. It centers around Gillian Holroyd, Nicky Holroyd and Auntie Holroyd who are all witches who live in Manhattan and can't fall in love with humans but - oh my God - she falls in love with a human! It's about New York Life in the '50s, Shep the romantic lead is a publisher and wants to publish a book by a drunken, unhinged guy named Sidney who is writing a new book about witchcraft. Of course, he has it all wrong. It's about relationships. It's about love. It's kind of an interesting mix and it was made into a movie with Kim Novak in 1958. I played Gillian years and years and years ago when I was in college, so it's fun, a circle coming around.
NG: Why did you pick “Bell, Book and Candle” for this season?
PM: We try to do a mix. We just did an original musical fairy tale called "Threads," based on The Emperor’s New Clothes. We try to have a varied program. In August, we had a festival of original one-acts that had never been performed before. So, we've done the gamut in this group from "Fiddler On The Roof," "Pajama Game," "Diary of Anne Frank," - I mean, name it, we've done it. So now we're doing smaller things and we thought this would fit our performing space. Kevin Miller, who is directing, has directed before us before. He's very process-oriented, which attracts me to him.
NG: Tell me a little about how The Orange Players began?
PM: Our first production was "Pajama Game" in 1974. We were rehearsing in the school at night and we stopped rehearsal to watch Nixon's resignation speech on the TVs they had in the classrooms and then we went back and rehearsed. That was our initial production.
NG: What is the key to the longevity of the group?
PM: A core group of very committed people. It's difficult in today's world to attract younger people or 20s to 30s to 40s because they're so busy. So, we try everything to keep things going that will attract younger people. That happens to all volunteer groups. Everyone I’ve belonged today and I’ve belonged to a lot. I don’t' know what will happen when this generation of volunteers dies out. We need a lot of young people getting in and doing stuff.
NG: Do you have advice for other theater companies?
PM: Always grow. You have to grow and change. Do what reflects not only your audience but also the people that are involved as actors and crew. It's exciting but the world changes and sometimes you have to change with it.
NG: What has changed over the years?
PM: We used to do huge musicals in the summer and I directed a number of them. We'd have 60, 70 people onstage. We used Amity High School. Then, over the years, there was an asbestos problem, we performed at few other places for a while, but now there's a very, very active and wonderful theater program at Amity. We didn't want to compete with them. So we're doing more boutique-y thinks. We did "Kick Out Of Cole," which was a musical revue. We do a lot of cabaret performances. We did another one called "Ages and Stages." We performed that at the Jewish Community Centers and at some of the churches, senior centers, libraries. We do a lot of reader’s theater. We're constantly forward, for ways to stretch but still be viable. I hope that it continues on, continues to grow, continues to attract to attract people, continues to inspire young people to love he theater, to keep an annual program of productions. We've had very, very strong friendships develop over the years and it’s been a safe space for people, which in today's world is very important.
“Bell, Book and Candle” runs April 21, 22, 28 & 29 at 8 p.m. at High Plains Community Center in Orange, Connecticut. To learn more, visit orangeplayers.net.