PLAY ON! • A Gifted Celebration of Theatrical Incompetence

Bay City Players Bring Collective Experiences & Talents to this Comedic ‘Play Within a Play’

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, ,   By: Robert E Martin

25th September, 2019     0

In recent decades contemporary theatre has witnessed a rash of plays that poke fun at amateur or third-rate theatrical companies. Noises Off is one that quickly comes to mind, but playwright Rick Abbot’s comical gem Play On! is uniquely hysterical with its focused celebration of incompetence - aiming its humor on missed cues, misunderstanding of lines, and words in the script.

Bay City Players will present their own take on this comical tour-de-farce in a series of performances that will run from October 4-6 & 10-13th.  Directed by Judy Harper, the premise of Play On! is relatively simple: a community theatre somewhere nearby is putting on a play and has the good fortune to have the playwright present, helping them along the way from start to finish. The only problem is the playwright insists on making changes during rehearsals - including the final dress rehearsal - because he keeps making illogical revisions, so no one knows what to do, let alone properly execute it!  Panic runs rampant throughout the cast and on opening night everything that can go wrong does.

Play On! follows the journey of a community theatre who have decided to save some money by putting on a play written by a local community member,” explains Harper. “In Act One the players are holding a rehearsal  when the playwright suddenly arrives with what he considers a few minor changes to the plot.  Unfortunately, it’s only four days to opening and it frustrates these amateur actors.”

“Act Two focuses on the final dress rehearsal with the playwright observing how his vision is unfolding on the stage.  The production is a clear picture of chaos as the actors and technicians try desperately to perfect the vision, with the playwright sitting backstage interrupting with a few comments of his own.    In the final Act of the play, the audience watches the opening night performance, which is even more chaotic than the rehearsals.  Actors forget lines, enter early, and use alcohol to numb their pain,” relates Judy.

“Although this play is similar to Noises Off, the story of Play On! focuses on the stress of producing a newly written play by a very inexperienced playwright,” she reflects.  “This is a small community theatre where actors and technicians genuinely want to do their best, but are hindered by a poorly written script that constantly changes.  They are also plagued by limitations on resources, volunteers, and budget.   Play On! highlights the difficulties and chaos of staging a show which has never been seen.  The production is starting from scratch with no opportunity to utilize ideas from a previous production.  This production is an original and the playwright is counting on them to make this a smashing hit with its audience.”

Out of this chaos, Harper says her biggest challenge as a Director is serving as a guide for the actors to develop clear and distinct characters, whom are larger than life but at the same time very believable to the audience. 

“The actors in this “play within the play” must develop two decidedly different characters,” she states.   “It is important for the audience to be clear on which character is being portrayed at any time on the stage, so it becomes a challenge as a director to ensure actors are not merely overblown caricatures, which can ultimately result in a loss of the true comedic elements of this play.”

“For this to happen, I needed to collaborate with the actors and not just dictate their actions and vocal delivery.  Collaboration can be very difficult for some directors because it requires the director at times to relinquish his/her control of the vision for the production.”

With a cast consisting of Erin Frye, Michael Wisniewski, John Tanner, Debbie Lake, Jean Ciampi, William McCartney, Steven Axtell, Keara Dixon, Avery Weller, and Leeds Bird, when not acting in the play-within-the-play, the actors give forthright and realistic performances as the put-upon company.

“Many in the cast are seasoned veterans who I have had the opportunity to work with in the past, both on and off stage,” notes Judy.  “The cast has a nice range in age, which makes the production more interesting.  Each member brought his/her own experiences, opinions, and skills to the team, which  definitely varied by age.  Essentially, it required a more collaborative approach if we wanted to succeed with our vision.”

John Tanner and Debbie Lake utilize the skills honed over many years of performing in community theatre to create the very believable long-time husband and wife team, who are core players in this particular theatrical community,” she continues.   “Steven Axtell brings a youthful freshness to his role as the detective-like lover who falls for Keara Dixon’s empty-headed ingénue.  Mike Wisniewski plays a familiar part as the director of this merry band of players, utilizing his plethora of directing experiences in the Tri-City Area to show the audience how directing community theatre can be frustrating and requires tons of patience.”

“Erin Frye makes good use of both her technical skills and her experience as an educator to portray the overworked stage manager.   Leeds Bird, also in a familiar role, is delightful as the playwright who takes great pride in hearing his precisely chosen words spoken out loud on his community stage.”

When asked what she hopes audiences take away from this fun-filled production, Harper references this arc of experience and talent involved with the production.   “I hope the audience will recognize it takes many people and much effort to bring a play to life on any stage,” she notes.  “But more importantly, I hope the audience will see the genuine joy and love that makes community theatre so amazing to actors, technicians, and audience members alike.  It is a wonderful group of people who create bonds that often last a lifetime.  Essentially, we’re an eclectic sort of family.”

“This production showcases the talent of our actors and technicians.  You truly have to be a skilled actor to accurately portray bad acting, especially if you want to get the laughs. After all, bad actors usually don’t know they’re bad, but good actors surely know bad acting when they see it.” 

“The success of this production relies on great timing and an ensemble who possess the skills to develop very real, believable characters,” she concludes.   “As we rehearsed for this production, we laughed often because we found ourselves experiencing the same goof ups as the characters in this play.” 

“It is so true that  “Art often does imitate life.”

Bay City Players production of ‘PLAY ON!’ will run October 4-6 & 10-13th, Curtain time is 7:30 pm except for Saturday, Oct. 12th and Sunday matinees at 3:00 pm.  Tickets are on sale now at $20.00 for adults and $10.00 for students and can be purchased by phoning 989-835-5555 or visiting


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