The Heritage Players presents Lend Me A Tenor opening March 16, 2012 at Pice Auditorium in Catonsville, MD. Here, the group’s president, Katie McIntyre Sheldon, and Director Damien Gibbons share a little Heritage history, their mission of giving back to the community, and their vision for this classic farce.
Katie McIntyre Sheldon
Teresa: Tell us about the beginnings of The Heritage Players, your role, and how you become connected with the theatre company.
Katie: Heritage started in 1975 at Ames United Methodist Church in Pikesville, and then moved to Catonsville United Methodist Church in 1996. I started in 2000 stage managing The Secret Garden. I had always loved theatre and was involved with drama in high school, but I truly feel like I found my niche when I found the The Heritage Players. I stage-managed several shows and became involved on the board as Member-at-large. After about a year, I ran for VP and did that for a few years until our President left and I had to take over. I’ve been going back and forth as President now for a few years.
How do you choose your shows? What lead to the selection of Lend Me a Tenor ?
Katie: Years ago, we used to have a play selection committee that would get together and select the shows and then try and find directors. About five or so years ago we stopped doing that and instead went in search of directors. They would bring to us shows they were interested in directing, and from there we would decide as a group what would be the best fit for our talent pool and space. This has continued to serve us very well, and also provide us with lots of new directors over the years. Lend Me a Tenor has actually been coming up on our list of shows for years now and I’m so glad that we are finally able to do it.
Each show is tied to a bit of philanthropy. Explain what prompted this, and where some of the proceeds for Tenor will be donated.
Katie: I think this is an extremely important part of what makes Heritage such a special theatre company. Each cast of our shows chooses a charity in which a portion of our proceeds will be donated too. In the past we’ve donated as much as several thousand dollars from a single show. I really love when we choose a local charity, especially one that somehow ties into the theme of the show. The cast of Lend Me a Tenor has chosen Music is Medicine which encourages music therapy in pediatric oncology patients. This charity was started by a local teenager several years ago right at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Since moving to Spring Grove, we also donate to the Patient Fund as part of our contract.
How many Heritage productions are presented per year, and how is a director chosen?
Katie: Right now we have been producing two shows a year, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. We are excited to be adding a Summer show this year, our first one here at Spring Grove. We also hope to be adding some Cabaret Nights in the coming year which much like an “open mic night,” which allow local talent to be showcased and performers to have the opportunity to do songs/scenes from shows we may not be able to do right now.
We like directors to come to us with their “wish list” of shows that they want to direct. We try to keep things ‘family friendly’ for the most part, although we have been branching out more since moving to our new home. For space reasons we are still confined to smaller shows with a cast size of around 20 or less and minimal sets. Starting with Lend Me a Tenor, our whole next season will feature two first time directors, as well as two “new to Heritage” directors.
Director Damien Gibbon
What is your background in regards to theater?
Damien: I’ve been involved in theatre since I was a child. I took a break when I entered the Navy after high school, and didn’t start up again until about five years ago when my wife and I moved to Baltimore. I was cast as a co-lead (alongside Lend Me a Tenor cast member Tricia Morgan) in a Salem Players production, and haven’t stopped since then!
How did you become involved with The Heritage Players?
Damien: When I was cast as the lead in Mort (based on the Terry Pratchett novel of the same name and directed by Lend Me a Tenor’s Assistant Director Tim Van Sant) I had the chance to act with Heritage regular John Sheldon. Later, I shared the stage with other Heritage alums Katie Sheldon and Ashley Gerhardt, and they encouraged me to audition for a Heritage production. I made my debut with the company in last fall’s A Few Good Men, directed by Katie and assistant directed by Ashley.
How would you describe your directing style?
Damien: I like to let the actors bring their perspective and takes on their characters to the role, while I provide direction on dialogue and blocking that I feel is important to get “just so.” I feel that’s the most important element in making every show unique, even if an audience member has seen it several times before. It’s the style I have most preferred in the past as an actor working with a director and with an experienced group like I have in this cast, it’s been a very easy process.
What have been the most challenging experiences working on this production?
Damien: Well, as it’s my directorial debut a major challenge has been figuring out exactly what my role is! For example, at Salem Players and in other companies I’ve been with, the director often does much of the production work and I was prepared to do that, only to find out that at Heritage, the stage manager and producer provide that support. This allows the director and assistant director to focus on what’s going on onstage, and eliminates many of the distractions that can bog them down with administrative duties. Once I figured that out, the biggest challenge became envisioning and describing how I’d like to see the set, costumes, blocking, and dialogue presented.
What has been the most rewarding thing about directing the show?
Damien: By far the most rewarding part is being a part of this team of individuals who work so hard to make this happen. From the production staff – working on all of the details – to the actors working on their lines, this production has been a lot of effort and an absolute joy. Sitting in the director’s seat and watching it all come together is a new perspective for me, and is both very humbling and very exhilarating.
Which character in the show is your favorite?
Damien: Tough question and I don’t know that any director should ever answer that one! All of the characters have such unique personalities and personal foibles! Every one of them has a neuroses that make them special, from the perpetually anxious Saunders to the ambitious Diana, from our humble hero Max to his star-struck girlfriend Maggie, each of them adds a flavor to the stew that is this show. I honestly couldn’t choose one that I would most like to portray as an actor, though the impertinent Bellhop and passionate Tito would also certainly be high on the list! Alas, unless I were in an Elizabethan-style theatre, the spicy Maria and grand Julia are not available to me…