MAUREEN BURNS: Not taking it for granted

By Maureen Burns • Last Updated 10:03 pm on Friday, May 04, 2012

On My Mind | Maureen Burns

Last night I asked my husband if he wanted to go to the local play, “Dearly Beloved.” “It is supposed to be a hoot,” I told him. He didn’t doubt me. We have been going to local community theater since we moved here 40 years ago. I have to say I take it for granted. Good theater is a constant in our local area.

I’ve been thinking about how fortunate we are to not only have good theater, but theater options. Most small communities are not as blessed.

“Dearly Beloved” is the 131st production of the Flat River Community Players, which will soon celebrate their 40th season. FRCP is a draw for good actors and they do not all live along the Flat River. Oh, no. They come from Montcalm, Ionia and Kent counties. Many of our locals are in productions in Grand Rapids. I remember taking my kids to see “The Sound of Music” in Grand Rapids and the lead nun was our own Char Lothian. Char had climbed every mountain, for sure!

Another local theatrical gem is Bottom’s Dream Theatre which is in its 20th year and an offshoot of FRCP. BDT is a low budget company that does classic and avant-garde plays in the Montcalm Community College Barn Theater.

HCAT, Hans Christian Anderson Theater, is for children and run by Ruth Hansen. When you talk about community blessings, Ruth Hansen has to be one of our greatest. For a child to get to work with Ruth is like a young painter getting to work with Georgia O’Keefe. She draws them out and makes them feel safe and confident. One of her best things is her warm sense of humor which welcomes, calms and encourages. Ruth has also worked for years to help put on variety shows for local foundations, the hospital, etc.

Greenville, Belding and other area high schools offer plays which are extremely well done. Sometimes I am shocked to see the talent and professionalism the students have. Larry Moss, a part of local theater, said, “I am often amazed to see young people from Greenville appearing and speaking in public with poise and grace and I realize that they developed those skills from HCAT or one of our other theater groups.”

I can’t name names. There are too many, but … Kelly Lucas is a fabulous local costume designer and our Tim Schmidt does sound and light tech for national shows and is about to do “Peter Pan” starring Cathy Rigby. Many of our locals have gone on to do major national work. I could do a whole column on them.

Moss went on to say, “When we moved here 18 years ago, we were looking to settle down in West Michigan. Greenville stood out in many areas, but the clincher for me was to discover an active community theater group.” He also loved that it had two Dairy Queens.

When we think of plays, we think of the actors, but there is so much more behind the curtain. The number is stunning — musicians, set builders and designers, make-up artists, costumers, directors, producers, marketers, board members, light and sound technicians, ticket sellers — the list is enormous. It truly takes a village.

Moss figured out that if you combine all the performances at local theaters, there are more than 40 nights of locally produced live theater performances every year. And then if you factor in performances by the Flat River Jazz Band, Danish Festival Band, Montcalm Community Alumni and Friends Choir, Flat River Dance Company, Miss Dee’s Dance Company, Grand Rapids Symphony Christmas Pops, the Ash Cultural Event, the Greenville Garage Band — the list goes on and on and on. We could be called a small town entertainment mecca. These are great impetus for us to turn off the TV and get our butts out the door.

Local theater doesn’t just entertain. It also educates and makes us think. Not long ago FRCP performed “The Laramie Project” about Matthew Shepherd, the gay man who was killed in Laramie, Wyo. I believe his story made the term “hate crimes” a household term. This play contained 65 characters played by only 13 actors. The presentation was extremely well done and made me proud to be a part of this community.

This summer FRCP will perform “The American Trailer Park Musical.” Last year I read that the Grand Rapids Circle Theatre will do it in 2012. However, once again, I was proud to see we will be the first in Western Michigan to ever put on this fun play. We are a bit ahead of Grand Rapids, but they can catch up, if they try hard.

When I think back on all the many performances I have attended locally, my mind is full. I was wowed by the costumes in “Seussical.” Broadway could not have done better. I am still laughing at Jim Beckman dancing crazy as a Blues Brother in a local stage show. I didn’t even know who he was, but that memory still makes me laugh out loud, right along with just about anything Ric Davenport has ever done on stage. I can still hear Valerie VanderMark as Maria in “The Sound of Music” and Greg VanderMark as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” The recent production of “Till Death Do Us Part” kept us laughing out loud through the whole play. I am confident that “Dearly Beloved” will do the same.

Good theater makes you do things. You see other people and socialize. You feel the energy. You laugh. You feel emotions. You hear good music. You think. I believe they call this win-win.

“Dearly Beloved,” a comedy, is at 8 p.m. today, May 11 and 12  and at 2 p.m. May 6  Greenville Area Community Center, (616) 754-8207.

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is

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