Footlight Club seeks community spotlight

(Courtesy Photo) Noah Tobin performs as the Cat in the Hat in “Seussical,” the Footlight Club’s Dr. Seuss-themed musical running through Nov. 19 at Eliot Hall.

The Footlight Club—America’s oldest community theater—is looking to raise its profile and raise funds for major renovations, members of the volunteer-run theater’s management team told the Gazette.

“So many people don’t know that the Footlight Club exists,” said Brian Crete, chair of the non-profit theater’s board, The Trustees of Eliot Hall.

The Footlight Club has been in JP residents’ midst since 1877, operating out of Eliot Hall at 7a Eliot Street. It  normally puts on about a half-dozen main-stage plays a year, and has a smaller theater available for members who want to try their hand at “experimental” works as part of the club’s “7a Series.”

Like many community theaters the club is a haven for thespian families. Judi Cook, who manages the theater’s promotional efforts, told the Gazette she got involved two years ago when her eldest son landed a part in the Footlight’s production of the musical “Oliver.”

The club has a long tradition of producing “family-friendly” shows, Cook told the Gazette, including its current production “Seussical,” a musical based on the works of Dr. Seuss.

Those productions feature both children and adults in their cast. “It’s good for the kids to see adults with day-jobs taking time out of their lives to do what they are passionate about,” Cook said.

But Cook’s kids actively sought out musical theater. The Footlight is currently making a concerted effort to reach out to people who are not actively hunting it out.

The theater has started opening up dress rehearsals to community groups—youths from Bikes Not Bombs and The Hyde Square Task Force recently attended a run-through of “Seussical.” And, they are trying to do more to make it out into the community.

Bikes Not Bombs is also selling “Cat in the Hat” hats throughout Seussical’s run, with all of the proceeds going to the nonprofit bike program, said Footlight Club president Maria Wardell.

“We are trying to reach out more, particularly to organizations in JP and the city,” Wardell said.

For the Jamaica Plain Branch Library’s 100th anniversary celebration earlier this year, the club organized a reading of an original theatrical adaptation of the book “The Secret Garden,” which was written in 1911, Crete said. “It was our own adaptation with a few songs from the musical thrown in,” he said.

Crete co-owns the UForge Gallery at 767 Centre St., which was also heavily involved with the JP Branch anniversary celebration. UForge is also plans to host a holiday fair art show at Eliot Hall next month featuring UForge artists, and there will be other collaborations in the future, Crete said.

The Footlight Club is also in the beginning stages of setting up a capital campaign to fund much needed maintenance and improvement work at Eliot Hall, Crete said. The hall needs a new slate roof and major foundation work, and the board of trustees has drawn up a list of other priority improvement, including replacing the hall’s “uncomfortable” main-stage seating and making the space handicapped accessible.

That campaign will probably not begin until next summer or fall, Crete said.

In the meantime, there is plenty going on at the Footlight Club. In addition to the holiday fair, Eliot Hall will host “A Carol Christmas,” a modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” on Dec. 2 and 3, as a fundraiser for the club.

And the first three 2012 productions are listed on the club’s website” “Absurd Person Singular” by Alan Ayckbourn; “Andre Lippa’s Wild Party,” a musical by Lippa based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March; and “Three Sisters,” adapted by David Mamet from the story by Anton Chekhov.


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