Spotlight on the Providence PlayersBy Adam Sylvain • Oct 21st, 2012 • Category: Interviews
Interviewed October 17th, 2012
Providence Players ‘return to their roots’ with season debut
Harkening back to their début performance, the Providence Players of Fairfax (PPF) open their 15th anniversary season with You Can’t Take It With You, a Pulitzer-winning comedy that fosters an appreciation for the eccentricities of family life. The production opened Friday, October 19th, and runs through Saturday November 3rd.
The company first performed You Can’t Take It With You 15 years ago, when the Providence Players were a fledgling group of local elementary school parents, seeking a creative way to raise funds for their elementary school PTA.
Chip Gertzog, director of this year’s show, played Ed Carmichael — the eccentric son-in-law of Paul and Penny Sycamore — in the 1998 production. Gertzog’s son, Jimmy, reprises the role for this year’s run of the comedy.
I had a chance to speak with Gertzog about his experience of 15 years in community theater, coming full circle with a return of You Can’t Take It With You, and the benefit of bringing spaghetti on stage.
SBR: You decided to open your 15th season with a repeat of the production You Can’t Take It With You, which PP first performed in 1998. Why the repeat?
CG: This is the first time we’ve ever remounted a play that we had previously done. We thought it was sort of fitting for our 15th anniversary to go back to the beginning and see what we could do. We have many theater-goers that have been following us from the very beginning and it will be a treat for them to see what we can do with the same play 15 years later.
SBR: You were in that first performance 15 years ago, playing the part of Ed Carmichael, right? And that was without much theater experience up to that point?
CG: That was absolutely my first time ever in live theater. As a kid in high school and college I did some radio broadcasting. I actually got involved in the effort at the beginning to learn some technical theater. I had done light shows for rock bands when I was a kid. Unfortunately at the time we didn’t have enough men to fill the male roles, so I got drafted into acting. I was absolutely scared to death.
SBR: Now your son is reprising the role this year, with you directing?
CG: Yes. My 26-year-old son [Jimmy] is now in that same role. And that’s a pretty cool experience. He’s been involved with the Providence Players since the very beginning. He’s a Board member, he’s directed some of the plays, he’s done a lot of technical direction. And he’s a pretty darn good little actor.
SBR: You mentioned that PP operates with a unique twist on community theater and with a “fairly significant sense of civic engagement?” What do you mean by that?
CG: We like to say we’re a big tent. There’s room for first-timers, novices, and experienced theater people alike. The fundamental approach is building community through theater. We’ve been successful, I think, in reaching a certain level of artistic excellence, but it’s really about creating an experience that’s welcoming for a full range of talents.
SBR: How much has the production value changed over the years, beginning with your first performance 15 years ago?
CG: We got better and better with each and every show we did. Once we arrived at our theater home, at James Lee Community Center, the value increased tremendously. There are many fine theater companies in the Washington area, and many do tremendous work with their set design. I don’t think our sets are second to any in the Washington area. In Saturday, Sunday, Monday, which is an Italian farce, one of the more interesting things we did is we cooked spaghetti sauce on stage and when the audience entered the theater to first take their seats they were greeted by the wonderful smell of onions and garlic cooking. We try to give people a holistic sense experience whenever possible.
SBR: What can you tell us about the cast? Any notable newcomers?
CG: We have Harry Kantrovich, he’s playing Mr. Henderson. This is his début performance with the PP. We have several others who are in their second performance.
SBR: Which other shows in the upcoming season do we have to look forward to?
CG: We try whenever possible to do a holiday show. This year we are doing The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We are co-producing that play with The Young Hearts, which is a group of young people extraordinarily successful in raising money to find cures for blood cancer. In the spring, we have Dinner With Friends, which is a 2000 Pulitzer Prize winning drama. Our final show of the season is one that you haven’t seen often on the community theater circuit. It’s a farce called Is He Dead? It was written by Mark Twain and was his only play. We selected each of our plays with an eye at doing something special and kind of different that you don’t really see that often.
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Adam Sylvain is a high school teacher and freelance writer in Northern Virginia. When not occupying a classroom, or meeting a deadline, he enjoys experiencing live theater, getting outdoors, and smoking an occasional tobacco pipe filled with rum tobacco.