The Thespians And The Devil: A Play In One Act

Lawrene Denkers as Sister Margaret Schnall in Theatre Kent's production of War Finds A Way: Fairfield 1813. The play was written and produced for Chatham-Kent's War of 1812 commemoration.
Karen Robinet's picture
Karen Robinet spent the majority of her career as a journalist, working at daily and weekly newspapers throughout Southwestern Ontario, before recently taking a position as website and marketing support co-ordinator with PRIDE Seeds. She continues to write a weekly column for Chatham This Week. Robinet has been involved with theatre since taking on the main role in a Grade 6 school play. Since that time, she has worked in virtually every capacity backstage and onstage, and has written three full-length productions which have been performed by Theatre Kent. In 2013, she wrote and directed War Finds A Way: Fairfield 1813 which was performed at the Capitol Theatre as part of Chatham-Kent’s War of 1812 commemoration. Last fall she directed the musical Oliver! for Theatre Kent and serves as president of the group’s board of directors.

 

 

 

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Editor's note:

Earlier this year, Theatre Kent, a Chatham-Kent community theatre troupe with a core of about 20 volunteer members, announced the loss of its permanent home following the sale of the once city-owned, and now privately owned property on which the building was located. The building, a former school portable, supplied crucial space for rehearsals, meetings and workshops as well as storage for costumes and props and a place to build sets. Moving the building hasn’t been an option: the group lacks both a place to put it and the funds to finance relocation.

Ontario’s southwest has a rich, well diversified theatre infrastructure that includes institutions such as the Stratford Festival, Blyth Festival and The Grand Theatre as well as many summer stock venues ranging from Victoria Playhouse Petrolia and Port Stanley Theatre to the Drayton Festival Theatre.

Equally important, however, are community theatre troupes. Without the dedication and ingenuity of these volunteer-run organizations, communities such as Sarnia, Ingersoll, Owen Sound and Woodstock would not have access to seasons of live theatre. These troupes foster performers and new audiences, and, ultimately, prime the well that supplies regional, national and even international performance.

So when a troupe as established as Theatre Kent encounters such a challenge, it raises the question of how well is this essential component of our communities doing? What are the implications further down the line?

Morel asked Karen Robinet, president of Theatre Kent and journalist, to explore the state of community theatre in the region with her peers. Robinet in turn responded in a most appropriate form: a one act play. The content of this play comprises direct responses from the people Robinet interviewed (with one notable exception).


CHARACTERS

Deb Sholdice: Worked her way up from audience member to community theatre participant and now works as an administrator at the Blyth Festival. Anne Mooney: Cherishes her early theatrical days with Theatre Kent, where she met her husband Mark. She is the community theatre co-ordinator for Theatre Ontario.
Gina Paradis: The president of the Western Ontario Drama League, she has worked in all facets of community theatre. Lawrene Denkers: After taking on her first community theatre role at age 35, she more recently became a professional actress. Now, she spends much of her time acting and auditioning.
Bev Dietrich: A long-time member of Elmira Theatre Company who has served on the board and has stage-managed, produced and served in many board capacities. Audrey Hummelen: She just loves to be onstage.
The Devil: He is not a fan of community theatre. Karen Robinet: The president of Theatre Kent.











ACT ONE

THE DEVIL
Welcome ladies. I’m so glad you were all able to make it out tonight.

AUDREY
(Looking around) Well, I guess my ex knew what he was talking about. Hell, right?

THE DEVIL
Hell yeah. But don’t worry; you’re just here on a day pass . . . for now anyway. I’ve brought you all here to play a little game.

LAWRENE
A game? You brought us here to play a game?

THE DEVIL
(To KAREN) Perhaps you’d like to enlighten the rest of the group?

KAREN
(Pulls paper from pocket) Dear president of Theatre Kent, kindly assemble yourself and half a dozen or so other like-minded people on Wednesday, the 23rd. Be warned that the stakes are high and the curtain will rise promptly at 8 p.m. Be prepared to defend your passion and to lose that which you once worked so hard to attain. (To THE DEVIL) I’m here and I’ve brought some like-minded friends, like you said. Now, what’s this all about?

THE DEVIL
(Reading from a sheaf of papers) ‘This is the place where the people you know, your friends and neighbours, are working together to create a play for you to enjoy.’ Anybody recognize those pathetic words?

ANNE
They seem to ring a bell . . .

THE DEVIL
That’s right Anne. Those are your words, straight out of an interview with some two-bit hack from Morel. A couple of my not so bright minions flagged it the other day. Fools can’t spell and thought it was competition for my own new online, Immoral.

KAREN
Hey, I read that article and I thought it was excellent. It’s not every day we get a chance to talk about community theatre and I thought that writer really hit the nail on the head.

AUDREY
Of course, it helps when you have great people to interview. Anne, I thought your comments were wonderful, just perfect.

ANNE
Thank you Audrey. I enjoyed your input as well.

DEB
Oh yes, I remember that article. I was invited to participate, but since I’m involved in professional theatre, I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I would have liked.

LAWRENE

But what you did say was wonderful Deb. I especially enjoyed it when you said that any time you see a community with a strong theatre culture, you feel like that community is more united and vibrant. That’s exactly what I’ve always felt.

WOMEN
Me too, totally, definitely, exactly, etc.
 
THE DEVIL
(Lightning flashes and thunder booms) I don’t like community theatre! (The women all gasp.) I don’t like the concept and I don’t like the people it attracts!

BEV
How can you possibly not like community theatre . . . or us?

THE DEVIL
You people with your selfless devotion to your art. Throwing yourselves into directing and producing plays, building sets, sewing costumes, gathering props and acting, all for free, just so some audience can forget about their troubles for a couple of hours. That disgusts me on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.

AUDREY
Being an actress is my first love, but . . .

THE DEVIL
And yet you give it away! You people talk a good talk – road to hell paved with good intentions blah blah blah – but you want to know what the road to hell is really paved with? It’s paved with the shattered dreams and desperate acts of professional actors waiting for the phone to ring and willing to do anything to make it happen. Well, this has gone on long enough! (Pauses dramatically). I’m putting an end to community theatre and (points to KAREN), I’m starting with your group.

KAREN
What? You can’t . . . what do you mean putting an end to community theatre? How can you possibly . . .

THE DEVIL
Oh, but I can.

KAREN
Okay, let’s cut to the chase. Why are we here and what do you mean you’re starting with my group?

THE DEVIL
Ah yes, when I was looking around for a place to start, Theatre Kent seemed like just what I was looking for. You put on four shows a year and your volunteers are stretched to the limit. Like all the other theatre companies out there you spend half your time trying to figure out what people want to see and the other half wondering why they didn’t come out to see it! On top of that, you don’t own your own theatre so most of your money goes back to the municipality to rent your precious performance space. And, just when things couldn’t look any worse, you get evicted from your little rehearsal hall. (Chuckles) Honestly – and that’s not a word I use often – I couldn’t have scripted it better myself!

KAREN
First of all, it’s a lot more than a rehearsal hall. We do everything there but perform our shows - build sets, store stuff and besides, we didn’t get evicted from our building – we own that. We’ve just been evicted from the land that it sits on.

THE DEVIL
Six of one, if you ask me.

KAREN
And so what, you’re just going to huff and to puff . . .

THE DEVIL
Please. No, I’ve decided to have a little fun with this. I’m going to give you the chance to try and win your building back.

KAREN
But it’s too late. The plans are already in place for the land.

THE DEVIL
Plans change.

KAREN
But the owner . . .

THE DEVIL
And owners can . . . well, let’s just say, nothing’s etched in brimstone shall we? Now, where was I? Oh yes. We’re going to have a debate.

WOMEN

A what? Debate? What are you talking about, etc.

THE DEVIL
I do love a good debate. Now, I’ve taken the liberty of framing the discussion, and here it is: That community theatre is a waste of time, benefits no one and deserves to be eradicated once and for all.

WOMEN
(Together) What?!

THE DEVIL
I, of course, will take the positive stance. Anybody care to join me? (The women remain silent) I thought not. So, that puts you all on the negative side. And remember, the fate of Theatre Kent rests on your shoulders.

AUDREY
So, you really think you can debate all of us?

THE DEVIL
Yes I do.

GINA
And win?

THE DEVIL
As they say, I’m in it to win it. (Pulls a black cloth off of an oversized egg timer). But not to worry, I won’t actually be participating.

BEV
Well, that’s a relief.

THE DEVIL
I’ll be judging.

WOMEN

What? That’s not fair. How is that going to work? etc.

THE DEVIL
As will Karen.

WOMEN
Good. That’s a relief. That’s better, etc.

THE DEVIL
And now all we need to do is pick teams. I’m sure you’d all love to be on the negative side here, but somebody has to argue my point for me. I choose Deb, Bev and Anne. Arguing the negative side will be Audrey, Gina and Lawrene, due to their current affiliation with Theatre Kent.

ANNE
But I was a member of Theatre Kent too!

THE DEVIL
That was a long time ago. Now, I’ll remind you again of our thesis and then you’ll have 10 minutes to talk amongst yourselves. And here it is again: That community theatre is a waste of time, benefits no one and deserves to be eradicated once and for all. Let the games begin!

GINA
Wait, you said we were going to get 10 minutes!

THE DEVIL
I lied! (Chuckles to himself). Demon’s prerogative! Our first speaker will be Deb Sholdice. Her introduction to the theatre began as a member of the audience, and she then became a volunteer. It wasn’t too long though before she saw the error of her ways and took on paid work at the Blyth Festival. Deb, you may begin with the affirmative argument.

DEB
(In a monotone) Community theatre is a waste of time, benefits no one and deserves to be eradicated once and for all. I can’t do this, this is all wrong! (Animated now) Unlike professional theatre, community theatre has the unique ability to ask a large number of participants to be involved without risk to the production financially. This allows for a wealth of creativity and energy in every project!

THE DEVIL
Oh come on Deb. I know your heart’s not in this, but remember, you’re supposed to be on my side! You really need to sell this.

DEB
Or else what?

THE DEVIL
Or else this! (Lighting flashes, thunder booms and DEB disappears in a puff of smoke)

WOMEN
Oh my God! What happened? Where is she? Deb! Help!

THE DEVIL
It’s your turn Anne. Sell it to me!

ANNE
(Nervously) I . . . uh . . . sorry guys. (Takes a big breath and delivers it dramatically) Community theatre is a waste of time, benefits no one and deserves to be eradicated once and for all.

THE DEVIL
There you go, was it that hard? Now, keep talking! (Pulls a giant bell out of his pocket) I’ll ring this if you start running out of time.

ANNE
Ladies and gentleman, we define community theatre as live performances being produced, directed and acted by volunteers, members of the broader community. While community theatre may have been a great idea at one time, today community theatre is challenged by higher costs to put on a show and an audience with fewer entertainment dollars to spend in an expanding and varied entertainment market. Getting the word out about the quality of the work, the value for each entertainment dollar and the fun of seeing your friends and neighbours on the stage is virtually impossible given the very limited resources these groups have access to. Because audiences can be so small and the end result so time-consuming, we believe that community theatre is of benefit to no one, least of all those who spend their time doing it and we would argue that eradicating it once and for all would be a tremendous service to all involved.

THE DEVIL
Well done Anne. I see you’re really getting into the spirit of this.

ANNE
(Mouthing to the other women) I’m sorry.

KAREN
And with a rebuttal, let me introduce Audrey Hummelen. A founding member of Theatre Kent, she enjoys performing on stage.

AUDREY
Thank you Anne for your remarks, and no, we won’t hold them against you. Community theatre makes the community a better place by the coming together of artistic people who love bringing forth various forms of theatrical works. Although being an actress is my first love, for me, it is a privilege to participate in any capacity. Theatre is about bringing ‘life on paper’ to the very ‘real lives’ of our audiences, and with that comes a profound sense of fulfillment for crew and cast alike. For me, community theatre . . . (A bell sounds)

KAREN
Hey, wait a minute!

THE DEVIL
Sorry, that’s time. (He points to the timer, which has miraculously run out of sand.) And now, we bring to the stage Bev Dietrich who has been a member of Elmira Theatre Company for many years, working on stage and off and most recently receiving Theatre Ontario’s Michael Spence Award for outstanding contribution to community theatre. If anybody understands the folly of community theatre, it is Bev. Take it away Bev!

BEV
Thank you, I guess. We all know that attracting and keeping younger folks as members is our biggest challenge. Our core membership is 50 years plus and we are not getting any younger. We need to encourage the younger generation to be as dedicated to the theatre as we are, but as that’s not going to happen anytime soon, it looks like we’d all be better off abandoning the whole process. Let’s just put an end to blocking the play, watching the set being built, watching the actors develop their characters, adding the lights, the sound and finally experiencing the audience applauding our efforts. I like the people I have met through community theatre and maybe we’d be doing them all a tremendous service by freeing them from this time commitment . . .

THE DEVIL

. . . in their twilight years.

KAREN
Now wait a second, you’re putting words in her mouth . . .

THE DEVIL
Hey, we were all thinking it!

KAREN
I’d now like to introduce Gina Paradis arguing the opposing side. Gina comes to us, not only as a life member of Theatre Kent, but as the current president of the Western Ontario Drama League, the umbrella organization which oversees Aylmer Community Theatre, Binbrook Little Theatre, Cambridge Community Players, Elgin Theatre Guild, Elmira Theatre Company, Elora Community Theatre, Guelph Little Theatre, Hanover Community Players, Ingersoll Theatre of Performing Arts, Kincardine Theatre Guild, Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre, London Community Players, Owen Sound Little Theatre, Paris Performers’ Theatre, Peninsula Players Community Theatre Company (Grimsby), The Players’ Guild of Hamilton, St. Marys Community Players, (THE DEVIL begins ringing his bell and KAREN continues to speak over it until she is finished) Sun Parlour Players Community Theatre, Theatre Burlington, Theatre Ensemble, Theatre Kent, Theatre Sarnia, Theatre Tillsonburg, Thistle Theatre, Theatre Woodstock and Windsor Light Music Theatre.

THE DEVIL
(To KAREN) Don’t think I won’t banish you.

KAREN
And where would the fun be in that? And now, with no further ado, Gina.

GINA
While I certainly agree with Bev that we in community theatre face some challenges, I’m here to tell you that the positives far outweigh the few negatives that we encounter. About 33 years ago, I was invited to a Theatre Kent production by a co-worker. From then on I was hooked big time! It soon became something that our whole family could do together; even my mom and sisters would come to see the shows.  As long as it continues to be fun I will continue to be involved . . .

THE DEVIL
(Ringing the bell) Okay, that’s enough, we don’t need to hear any more of this trip down misery loves company memory lane.

GINA


Sorry, I’m not done yet. Community theatre gives the community a chance to experience productions that they might not otherwise see, or someone perform they actually know – a relative or friend or even someone whose name they know from the community. It gives everyone involved the opportunity to express themselves artistically for relatively no cost; fosters relationships across economic boundaries; brings people together; promotes the community through festivals. It brings people into the community to see the productions therefore creating spin-off economic activity with restaurants and bars.

THE DEVIL
(Ringing the bell violently) I said that’s enough! You need to stop talking now. I’m being more than reasonable here . . .

GINA

Live theatre is amaze . . .

THE DEVIL
Now don’t say you weren’t warned! (Lightning flashes, thunder booms and GINA disappears in a puff of smoke).

KAREN
Hey, what the . . .? This isn’t going to be much of a debate if you keep making people disappear!

THE DEVIL
Believe me, we’re better off without them. I see that my speakers have all had a turn, so I guess it’s my turn.

KAREN


That’s not how this is supposed to work.

THE DEVIL
My house, my rules. Now shut up and listen. I’m sure I need no introduction, but if you’ll indulge me for a moment, my most recent activities include, but are not limited to some stints in Iraq, the Alberta Tar Sands and I also had a hand in the last season of Dexter. That particular engagement emboldens me to suggest that no matter how bad television is, it will always be better than community theatre. Community theatre typically comprises a forlorn assortment of characters, none of whom are able to make a go of it in the legitimate theatre. Failing even the attempt to become professional actors, directors, set builders, costume designers and so on and so forth, these desperate wannabes latch onto whatever community theatre will have them. Then, they delude themselves into believing they are the best thing since sliced bread and their audiences should be grateful. These misguided fools have the audacity to take to the stage with their pathetic offerings: their mediocre musicals, their pithy dramas and their feeble comedies. If they had the decency to do these things in private, I wouldn’t care. But they don’t. They actually charge for admission if you can believe that!

KAREN
Shouldn’t there be a bell ringing at this point? (Looks over to the timer, but it miraculously still has plenty of sand flowing through it). Aren’t you out of time yet?

THE DEVIL
Believe me, I have all the time in the world. (Begins to pontificate) And let me tell you that those people are sorely cheated. I’ve seen some of your piddly . . .

KAREN
Wait a minute, wait a minute! We’ve still got another speaker here.

THE DEVIL
Do you dare interrupt me? Why I’m going to . . .

KAREN
I know. But just let me introduce our final speaker and then you can do . . . that thing you do.

THE DEVIL
You are really annoying you know.

KAREN
Believe me, you’re not the first person to say so. But, let me do this quickly. And, um, just before I introduce our final speaker, I just want to say that as a journalist I have covered professional theatre and reviewed a number of shows throughout Southwestern Ontario. I can tell you that I have seen some spectacular professional shows and some spectacular community theatre productions. By the same token, I have seen some pretty bad professional theatre and I’ve also seen . . . (THE DEVIL glares at KAREN, thunder booms and lightning flashes). But, enough about me. Our final speaker, arguing in opposition to the subject and in support of community theatre is Lawrene Denkers. Lawrene started acting in community theatre, and has now worked her way into the professional world – even has her own agent and quite a busy career. Lawrene will tell you . . . (Thunder booms, lightning strikes and KAREN disappears in a puff of smoke).

THE DEVIL
Finally. I thought she’d never leave!

LAWRENE
(Addresses the audience) Contrary to what you might believe by listening to my friend The Devil here, community theatre is just a form of telling stories around the fire at night. In fact, you’d think there’d be a lot of that going on around here. (The remaining ladies laugh). And the folks who take part in it are there for the same reason we join choirs and churches and sports teams; it’s being part of something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. And, unlike the other big community contributors, politics and religion, it tends not to offend; it tends to create strong bonds. (THE DEVIL starts ringing his bell. LAWRENE speaks over it). The kindness of community theatre is its strength. The loveliest of groups find a place for everyone, and show appreciation for all contributions. (THE DEVIL begins ringing the bell even louder) It is not cliquish or hammy or any of those clichés that don’t seem to die. (Thunder booms, lightning flashes and LAWRENE disappears in a puff of smoke).

THE DEVIL
And then there were three. You can thank me later Audrey for not sending you away with the rest of your team. Why disappear with those losers when you can be one of the winners? Congratulations Audrey, you’re now one of us!

AUDREY
Au contraire my poor misguided boy. The fact of the matter is, you’re not one of us! (A bright spotlight begins to shine over AUDREY as she begins to speak, and dry ice vapours begin to roll across the stage). You believe yourself to be in hell, and so you are, but the population is one. One sad actor who, at the pinnacle of his career, dared to look down on the community theatre company who provided him with his start.

THE DEVIL
(Sputtering) But, what, who, why . . . what are you talking about?!

AUDREY
Take a deep breath and try and find your centre . . . (THE DEVIL starts to do his breathing exercises). That’s good, that’s good. Now, let’s do some hah heh hee hoe who’s . . .

THE DEVIL & AUDREY
Hah heh hee hoe who, hah heh hee hoe who . . .

AUDREY
(To THE DEVIL) Productions should reflect human behaviour in all of its facets. It’s good to have something inside of us be shaken up.

THE DEVIL
What are you saying?

AUDREY
Community theatre has many other obvious benefits such as sharing our internal artistry, working together, keeping the works of other playwrights alive and economic development . . .

THE DEVIL
Stop it, stop it! (Starts swinging his bell, but it is mute. THE DEVIL looks over to his timer and the sand is all piled at the bottom). I don’t understand!

AUDREY
Of course you don’t. You didn’t then and you don’t now. But someday, someday you will. You’ll know that you made a huge mistake refusing to help the very people who made your successful career possible. The one time they asked you to help with their building campaign and you said no. You thought you couldn’t afford to let your public know that once upon a time you too had been a member of Theatre Kent.

THE DEVIL
(Screaming) No! No! That can’t be true!

AUDREY
But it is my friend, it is. And until you realize there’s no shame in that, you’re destined to rehearse this scene over and over again.

(DEB, GINA, LAWRENE and KAREN come back on stage, holding plates of food).

LAWRENE
(Nibbling on a sandwich) Say what you will about the venue, they’ve definitely got one of the best Green Rooms I’ve ever seen.

GINA
Yup, two kinds of meatballs.

DEB
And a wine bar!

KAREN
(To AUDREY) So, how did he do tonight?

AUDREY
Oh, you know . . .

ANNE
It’s an uphill struggle, that’s for sure.

BEV
We’re going to be back here again tomorrow I’m afraid.

DEB
I hope we can wrap this up soon. We’ve got a show opening in two weeks.

GINA
I might have some good news tomorrow.

KAREN
What do you mean?

GINA
I don’t want to jinx it, but I’ve been catching some positive vibes about the Theatre Kent building.

KAREN
Really? That would be awesome.

THE DEVIL
Stop saying that name! (Everyone ignores him)

KAREN
(Wanders over to THE DEVIL and stage whispers into his ear) Theatre Kent. Theatre Kent! (THE DEVIL writhes in agony)

LAWRENE


I might be a little late. I have an audition tomorrow.

AUDREY
Just get here when you can Lawrene. And remember, we’re doing God’s work here!

(The women all laugh as they exit, leaving THE DEVIL alone on stage).


THE END