Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on the Sterling Playmakers

By • Apr 9th, 2008 • Category: Interviews

Listen to Mike talk with Kathy Bleutge, the founder and original chairwoman of the Sterling Playmakers [MP3 19:31 8.9MB].

Also, check out our interview with Paul Rubenstein, director of Sterling’s production of Tom Jones, which is closing this weekend. And our review of Tom Jones is also available.

Mike: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking with Kathy Bleutge, who is the founder and original chairwoman of the Sterling Playmakers in Sterling, Virginia. Thank you for talking with me today, Kathy.

Kathy: You’re welcome. Glad to do it.

Mike: So how old is Sterling Playmakers? It seems like they have been around for awhile.

Kathy: This is our twelfth season. We were formed in 1996. During the Summer of ’96. I was called by an employee at the Sterling Community Center and aske to set up a community theater group. It would be based out of the Sterling Community Center and part of the Loudoun County Department of Parks and Recreation. I started getting some ideas together with my friend Terry DiMurro when we were at a Beauty and the Beast convention in Norfolk during a hurricane. We came back with some ideas and presented them to the director, Beth Howard, now she is Beth Robertson. She is the director of the Sterling Community Center. She approved it and we started with our first show in the Fall of ’96. Our first show was an original work called Vampire Mania. It was very well received.

Before that we had a meeting and sent out some flyers and did some publicity to see if anyone would be interested in starting a community theater group in the area. We set up a few chairs., maybe 50. We thought we were being a little too hopeful. 80 people showed up. We went from there with those people and continue on with our auditions and we’ve been at it ever since. We do about three mainstage shows a year and other smaller one weekend wonders or smaller plays.

Mike: Was that first show kids or adults?

Kathy: It was a mix. The background of this and a lot of the people came from when I had been teaching at Park View High School which is in Sterling. I was the drama teacher there for eighteen years and I retired in ’96. That was whenthis employee heard about it and called me and asked me to start up a community theater group. A lot of people in the original that started out were either former students of mine, or friends of mine or people that I coerced into helping who had been parents of kids I had taught.

Our first board that we formed had only nine people on it. Again they were former students, and parents of kids I had taught. We then expanded the board a couple of years later to thirteen and started having election procedures and so forth. The first board were just people I called up and said to come on out.

We are very fortunate that we have this relationship with the Loudoun County Parks and Recreation. It gets us into the schools and the use of the schools. We would not be able to use it otherwise. There is no real palce around here to do plays except in the schools in the eastern part of the county. What we have done is basically we sign contracts that are co-signed by the Sterling Community Center. They are still kind of our partner. We are in partnership with them. Then we get schools assigned and so forth. We use Sterling Middle School where Tom Jones will be playing next weekend. We also use Potomac Falls High School which is in Potomac Falls. That is usually where we do our musicals. Although last Summer we couldn’t get in there becase they were renovating. We moved to Park View which is also in Sterling. We have used other middle schools and various facilities in the area. Mainly we are in the Eastern part of Loudon County because we are called the Sterling Playmakers.

Mike: Do you get a lot of interest from Fairfax and closer to DC?

Kathy: Oh, yes. We are right on the border with Fairfax. People come out for the shows. If you advertise. It’s like if you build it they will come. If you advertese that you are doing a show and it’s something somebody likes and they don’t mind driving a little bit to get here, they’re going to come out. We have had people from all over the Washington Metropolitan area, also the western part of the county. When we first started we were the only group in the area. Now a lot of other community theater groups have sprung up in the area. But this is the fastest growing county in the United States. That would really account for the fact that we have a lot of people. We do get people from all over. But I have to say our core group is still from Sterling. They are basically people who keep it going, the board members. The people who do tech. The actors are the ones that sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t that come from all over.

Mike: Do you have a hard time finding tech people?

Kathy: Yes, I think every group does. The techies are the ones who seemed to get used and abused all the time. We use them almost every show because you only have certain people who have the skills or the desire to do that. Actors, I hate to say this, but actors you can usually find. Techies is a tougher thing. There is now competition now, too with other groups and finding people to do that.

If I can tell you just an interesting side note where the name Playmaker came from. People hear the name Playmaker and they think it sounds like sports or something. When I was at Park View High School, I had done the show, Our Country’s Good. It was written by Thomas Keneally, who also wrote Schindler’s List. He wrote a book, too, called The PlayMaker, on which the play was later based on, Our Country’s Good. The PlayMaker was a British officer in Australia who was in charge of all the prisoners. Australia was where a lot of prisoners were sent from England. These people were not high class people. Somebody got the bright idea to put on a play. If they put on a play they would learn to be civilized. So he puts on a play wih these other prisoners. He was not really the director type. As a result they do and it changes their lives forever. I just love the idea of the PlayMaker. He was the playmaker because he did that. So when we decided to name the group we knew we had to use Sterling because of the Community Center. And that’s where PlayMaker came from.

Mike: That’s an interesting story.

Kathy: Later on I found out in sports that a playmaker is someone who is really hot and can make great plays.

Mike: How do you choose the shows that are done?

Kathy: In the beginning our little tiny board made the decision as to what show we were going to do. We kind of just pick them out of the air. Now we try to have a meeting where we kind of do brainstorming or a suggestion meeting where people can come and make suggestions of shows that people would like to see us do. Then we take those along with suggestions that people have submitted online or picked up a ballot at a show and submit suggestions. Every year coming up next week, April 1 which is April Fool’s Day (how appropriate) will be the time we submit for next year. The thirteen board members get together and consider all of the suggestions and throw in a few of their own. Talk about them. Look at the over all season.

Typically we try to do a drama, a comedy, and a musical. We usually start with the musical and then fit everything around that. Last yer we also decided that we would pick the fall show for the following year because that would give the director more time to prepare. Normally we don’t do that, but we may do that agin this year, too. That’s pretty much it. We put this big thing up on the wall, this chart. We fill in all the social activities we do, too, like trips to New York and things like that. Smaller one weekend wonders like the ten minute one acts and Shakespeare in the Park and things like that. We decide what would go best with this play. For instance, in the Fall we will be opening, what was the name of it? The mouse thing. It became a movie.

Mike: Algernon?

Kathy: Thank you, yes. I was drawing a blank for a minute. I directed it too and I can’t remember the name of fit. I’m not directing it this year. But it is Flowers For Algernon. It is petty much a serious play so we will probably be looking for something very lighthearted for the Spring. We also try to choose something for the children. In our mission statement we are a family oriented group. We are in schools. We can’t do edgy stuff. We know we need to stick to stuff that is pretty much family. There are some things that might not be appropriate for younger children, but we try to stick to that. We try to find somehing for the children to be in as well every year.

We did a children’s workshop production of Beauty and the Beast. Another year we did a production of Cinderella with just children. Everyone in it was kids. Last Summer of course there were a lot of children in The King and I and the Christmas show we did this year, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. So we did not feel it was as necesssary to do the workshop this summer. We are doing Oklahoma instead. Plug for Oklahoma. I am directing that. There will be children in that. This is a family oriented group.

No one is paid anything. We do not have an artitic director. We occasionally have to pay honorariums for workshop teachers or musicians because that is a need, but nobody is paid.

Mike: Since you are in the schools, are you able to do rehearsals at the facility or is that a challenge?

Kathy: Here we can. When we do a show here. I directed the Miracle Worker last year. We were able to be in here in the last two weeks after the set went up. It was a very intricate set with doors and everything else. The girl who played Helen Keller had to get used to it. They were really great about letting us keep that set up on the stage during school time. The band directors worked around us. They were really terrific about that. Occasionally you do face being bumped out because the school has something going on and you can’t get in. For Oklahoma, we will rehearse here until school is out because the high school is doing a production themselves. Once school is out we move over to Potomac Falls. Until we open at the end of July we can rehearse right there. Because it’s Summer it’s really nice. You have a lot of time to prepare.

It would be great to have our own place. So if there is anybody that has any money that would like to give us money. That is the drawback with facilities. We are fortunate because we do not have to pay rent. As long as there is a custodian here in the evenings we do not have to pay. Now if it’s a special occasion or Summer then we we have to pay.

Mike: That’s not bad though.

Kathy: We have had to rehearse in the community center. The Senior Center occasionally if the school is not available or some of the other community centers. Most of the time the school is available and that is a big big help. Again it is that tie in we have with Loudoun County Parks and Recreation who also use the schools for sports things. So it kind of all works out.

Mike: So are there any goals or anything new planned for Sterling Playmakers in the future?

Kathy: I think the big thing would be to find our own place. We started out with nothing. Everything we had was stored in my garage or a friend’s garage or wherever. Little by little we got so many things. Then the community center said they had a shed they were going to be clearing out, would we want to use that? So we took over one shed at the Sterling Community Center. Then they said they wanted a new one so the community center said if they would buy the center a new one them we could have the one right next to it. So we did and then we had two sheds at the Sterling Community Center. We out grew that by the time we did Sound of Music. The director had a big huge staircase and everything. We had to bite the bullet and rent (by then we had a little money) so we rented from a regular storage place. We rented an outside storage place for the set pieces and two inside climate controlled rooms for the costumes and one for the equipment which we have strted getting. Lighting and sound equipment which had to be inside. Keeping it in people’s houses was just not good.

Recently we out grew that. We still have to two at the Sterling Community Center. In another storage facility we have two outside ones and three or four inside ones. We have one for the equipment, two for costumes, one is men’s and one is women’s (so make sure they behave themselves), one is for props and stuff like that. This is expensive. We are paying rent every month to get this. We do not have to pay for the two at the community center, but they are not climate controlled.

I guess I would say our goal is to try to get a place that we can put all this in one place. Where we can store all our things, where we can build our sets an not have to build them on the stage at the schools, which is not the best situation because you have to clean it up every night and put everything away. It would be nice to keep everything there. Buy our own equipment. Keep tools there. And then adjacent to it have a rehearsal hall. Even better would be what Herndon has and what Elden Street has, would be a place to actually perform as well. A small place. You could not do any big musicals there. You would still probably have to use the schools. Even if we could not have a place of our own to perform, we would love to have a place for storage and a place to rehearse.

We are saving up for that. We put aside so much from each show and so much each year toward a building fund. That would be a great dream. All we need is some sugar daddy or sugar mommy to come and say, “Here’s some money. Build it.” The thing, too is that the Eastern part of the county has the barns. I don’t know if you’ve been out there, but the barn started out as a barn and then they fixed it up as a theater. It took them forever to do it, but they finlly got it ready. It just opened this spring and it’s very nice. But it is too far out for us. It’s 45 minutes out from here. That’s on a good day when traffic isn’t bad. Our people live or work the other direction. There is no way they could make it out that direction, too. It’s a small facility, too. I’m not sure you could do a big musical there. We will probably have to stay in the schools now, but it would sure be nice to have our own place. That’s a big goal.

Mike: So Oklahoma is your next show.

Kathy: Auditions are May 2nd and 3rd at the Senior Center at Cascade Marketplace. Friday night at 7 and Saturday afternoon at 1 pm.

Mike: What should people do to audition? Just show up?

Kathy: Just show up. We don’t do the thing where you have to make an appointment. They should be prepared to sing a couple songs. If they go to our website. they can find out which songs are appropriate for which soloists. They will sing and do a reading. Then they will do a dance. There is some dancing in this. It’s the good old hoedown type stuff. It’s a lot of fun. I directed South Pacific and I directed Fiddler on The Roof. This is probably going to be more fun. There isn’t as much to worry about like with South Pacific and 50 million scenes. It was a tough one, but I loved it. We are looking forward to that and I hope we get a lot of people.

I really do want to stress that relationship we have with Parks and Recreation and with the schools. Because if we didn’t have that….. It was kind of a case of being in the right place at the right time. This early retirement. I had just become a grandmother and I had a mom who had Alzheimer’s. Then everything kind of cleared out and I kind of got going with this. I still had all my contacts with the schools at the very beginning. Now everybody is retiring. But at the beginning that helped. The fact that Beth Howard Robertson happened to be the director and had a minor in theater so she understood. I firmly believe that recreation is not just sports. I don’t have anything against sports. My kids did Loudoun County sports. Theater and art are also part of recreation. not everybody is good in sports. I wasn’t. Theater was my thing. That’s about it.

Mike: Well thank you vety much.

Kathy: Oh, I did leave out somehing. We’re a 501(c)3 organization. It took us four years to get it, but we got it. With a lawyer you have to file all these millions of papers and do all this stuff. We have been since our third year a 501(c)3, which means people can contibute to us and declare it on their income tax. That is a big help, too. We have had some very nice donations made.

Mike: Well, thank you very much for talking with me.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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