A Parkway Playhouse Memory – Summer 1979

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We have Parkway Playhouse to thank for 26 years of marriage and a 37-year relationship. It was June 1979, and Parkway Playhouse was embarking on its 33rd season. At that time Parkway was operated by UNCG’s theatre department as a rigorous venue for its drama majors. Luckily for us, a few spots were open to outside students and we—Barb coming from Pittsburgh, PA, and me from Greensboro, NC—made the cut. That summer five productions were cast on a single day and rehearsals often ran simultaneously and long into the night. Each new show opened a few days after the previous one closed. It was non-stop work rehearsing, building sets, sewing costumes—often until 1am. The actors did everything, including box office shifts. But we were both 20, full of youthful energy, and falling in love. I was cast in the season’s first show, You Can’t Take It With You opposite a Parkway Playhouse institution, Mr. W.C. “Mutt” Burton (who had just finished his work on the Peter Sellers/Shirley MacLaine film, Being There at Biltmore House). We had only 10 days of intensive rehearsal to get the show ready for opening. We even had to drive into South Carolina just to buy legal firecrackers to use in the play. This show and the four that followed made for a memorable summer. We didn’t want to leave Parkway Playhouse that August, but luckily for us the theatre gods smiled down on us because 11 years later we married. We still act and direct in our local community theatre. But it is our memories of Parkway Playhouse and the summer of 1979 that hold a very special place in our hearts.

Jon and Barb Young, Reidsville NC

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From Top:
-A scene from Parkway Playhouse’s 1979 production of “You Can’t Take It With You” with star W.C. “Mutt” Burton and Jon Young, seated right as IRS Agent Henderson.
-Jon and Barb Young during a recent visit to the site where they met 37 years ago.
-Parkway Playhouse’s 1979 production of “Guys and Dolls” with Jon Young (4th from left, rear) and Barb (Meisel) Young (3rd from right).

Chelsea Thayer as Essie Carmichael

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I saw my first play at Parkway Playhouse sometime in the late 80’s, Annie Get Your Gun. My grandparents brought me because they thought I might enjoy a musical. Boy, were they right! That was it for me. I was hopelessly devoted to theatre. My first paid acting role was with Parkway in 2001 in Godspell. It was that moment I realized I really could be paid for acting…and I never wanted to do anything else. Having recently moved my family back to the mountains after 12 years away, I knew it was only a matter of time before Parkway Playhouse came back into my life. Even so, auditioning this year was a tough decision for me as a mother of three young kiddos. I have taken the last 8 years off from acting professionally to focus on my lead role of “Mommy.” With the support of my amazing husband, Bryan and my family, I decided the time had come to return to the stage. I have missed acting but I didn’t realized how much until rehearsals began for You Can’t Take it with You. It was like waking up a vital part of me that had been resting, waiting, but not gone. Never gone. Theatre has remained my passion even though my audience has changed and now consists of three small humans. Three small humans who, I should add, are not always appreciative of my dialect work, opera training, and melodramatic re-enactments at the breakfast table. Children are the toughest critics, folks.

Long-time patrons at Parkway Playhouse may remember me as “Peggy” in Godspell, “Elaine” in Arsenic and Old Lace, and Mary Anne/Mary Lou in Exact Center of the Universe.
In addition to returning to the stage at Parkway I have recently returned as the Director of Education for Parkway Playhouse Junior. Since school has just begun, my days consist of chauffeuring children to and fro, working at the playhouse, and reading lots of plays. Songs and choreography moves come to me at odd moments so if you see me doing a jazz square on the dairy aisle at Ingles just know I am working and have not lost my mind…yet.

I could not have chosen a better show to back my return to the stage. The cast is professional in their demeanor, and impressive in their interpretations of the characters. My favorite moments have been watching others find moments and bits with their character. Exercising my acting muscles after a long time has been exciting. I’ve had many “Aha!” moments and of course, the greatest realization, I can still do this. The high-caliber of this show is due, in large part, to the high standards of our director, Chris Hart. He is an actor’s dream to work with. Attentive to detail, true to the heart of the story, and always finding ways to pull the very best from his actors. A rare combination.

Come and see for yourself. I could offer audiences promises of laughter (which there will be), perhaps some tears (I know I’ve shed a few), or a guarantee of a good time (that is a given.) But instead I will say this, You Can’t Take it with You is one of the greatest American plays, and you should know why. I can’t think of a better reason to make a reservation today…we will be waiting.

Whitney Bates as Alice Sycamore

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“You Can’t Take it With You” resonates, I think, with many theatre students and performers like me because of its message. It takes the philosophy of working hard and earning money to get what you want out of life, and the idea of simply following the life you want to lead and finding happiness through the path you choose to follow, and pits those two beliefs against each other in a hilarious clash of two families. Many people who have chosen theatre as their career path have met with some incredulity or frowns from their peers, and especially their families, but choose to follow their passion regardless.
Thankfully for me, my parents have been supportive of my artistic career, so in that sense I have been very lucky. But like Alice Sycamore, I understand that there is much pressure from the world around me to find a secure career like business management or nursing. Even so, a day in my life as a student at ETSU is hectic and filled with dance, music, work, rehearsals, monologues, and whatever happens to be thrown into the mix—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like Grandpa Vanderhof mentions in the show, there will always be people who want to work long days at the office or spend time at Wall Street. Personally, my calling is to spend long nights at the theatre and time in the dance studio. At the end of the day, this play is about people from all walks of life being able to find the commonalities that tie us all together and to enjoy what makes us different. I think that’s a beautiful message to present here at Parkway and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

I love to perform in any capacity!

Grease Actor Spotlight: Olivia Morgan

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Grease has always been something special to me. When I was little, I would watch our VHS copy of it at least twice a week. It was definitely a favorite movie for many years of my life. I always wanted to be in a production of Grease, and when I heard that the playhouse had decided to put one on, I knew I had to be in it.
So far, this is my 16th production since I started acting in 2012. You may have seen me in some Parkway Playhouse Junior productions when I played Miss Hannigan in Annie Jr., The Sour Kangaroo in Seussical Jr., and a Hot Box Dancer in Guys And Dolls Jr.
For the 68th main stage season at the Parkway Playhouse, I was in The King & I, and also A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Mustardseed. For the 69th season I was in All Shook Up as an ensemble member. And this season I played Nancy Wilson in The Ballad Of Frankie Silver.
My favorite part about the entire rehearsal process has definitely been getting to meet all the new people in the cast. Through this process, I’ve gotten closer to new friends that I’ve met during this year, gotten even closer to old friends, and even met some possibly life long friends whom I love with all my heart. It’s truly been an absolutely amazing experience.
One of my favorite parts in the show is when Sonny gets caught in the hall by Mrs. Lynch. The way he rambles on is absolutely hilarious! Basically anything he does makes me laugh hysterically.
You should definitely come see this show, because it is such an energetic and fun experience! The choreography is so fun to watch, and the songs are so exciting! It’s guaranteed to be a fun night of laughing, singing, and dancing in your seat!

BREAKING NEWS

You asked, we listened…

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Thanks to some generous donations and a pretty cool HVAC team (Stickels Service Co., Inc.) we have installed additional air conditioning units at Parkway Playhouse to make your theatre experience more comfortable.
So all you cool cats, put your mittens around your kittens and enjoy Grease in a nice cool theatre!

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Actor Spotlight: Richard Jackson

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“Grease” is something that I’ve loved since I was a kid.  Growing up with 4 older sisters you are introduced to various things and forms of torture, unfortunately.  No I’m kidding, I honestly owe my love for musical theatre to them and can’t thank them enough for forcing me to watch – haha.

This is my first show at Parkway! But I’ve done a variety of shows at Northeast State Community College under the direction of Brad Mckenzie and Elizabeth Sloan.  “Night of the living Dead” (my personal favorite), to the classic “Treasure Island” and an adaption of “A Christmas Carol” set in a steam punk Victorian-esque period where I played Ebenezer Scrooge.  All loads of fun to do and some of my favorite roles.  I was also a Barter Player last summer where we did 3 shows including “The Jungle Book” and “Rapunzel” and I got to play Shere Khan!  I was also in my first two shows (RACE and The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail) this past school year at ETSU.
I am in school at ETSU and will return this year as a senior which I’m very excited about.  Currently I do not have a job outside of Parkway, but in my free time I enjoy hanging with friends and just listening to music, singing, dancing and playing video games or watching Netflix, not much else goes on outside of rehearsal.
It’s hard to choose a favorite song from “Grease.”  I’d say it’s a tie between running “Grease Lightning” and “Summer Lovin.” The energy is just incredible. What my favorite line? Probably “Friggin’A!” it’s like the catch phrase of the T-birds and it’s so ridiculous yet so satisfying to say.
Everyone needs to see “Grease” because it’s so much fun! Which to me is what theatre is all about.  Not every production is gonna leave the audience questioning their lives or have some moral revelation.  Some productions are just fun to watch and so fun that it makes you want to get up on stage and dance and sing with the cast.  I think That’s what “Grease” does and that’s why we love it so much. This cast and crew have given lengthy amounts of time to make this a great show and we couldn’t be happier for people to see it.  Don’t forget to  have fun!

Actor Spotlight: Whitney Bates

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I love to perform in any capacity! Most of what I’ve done before this has been at ETSU–I had a large role in a straight play my first year there, and I was in the ensemble for their recent productions of Oklahoma! and RENT.  And if you’ve been around Johnson City during our summer festivals you might have seen me performing on silks with my amazing friends from Azure Aerial Arts Studio!
A day in my life would absolutely have to be busy. I love to have many different projects all going at the same time! I both work and go to school, majoring in Theatre and minoring in both Music and Dance. I make a point to make time to exercise in the gym and at my aerial studio. I just recently completed some teacher training at my studio, Azure Aerial Arts, so soon my schedule will include helping new students climb and dance and perform. I’m also working on an aerial dance based thesis project to complete my University Honors Scholars program at ETSU, and I plan to graduate in the spring. So deadlines are definitely fast approaching, but I’ll just keep on doing what I love as long as I can!
My favorite moments from this play happen on stage while I’m performing. I like to say that acting is like existing as someone else for a short period of time, so I love to live life as Sandy for a little while each night we perform. It’s a fun world, Rydell High, and it’s not every day you get to wear pleather and dance with a T-Bird.  I love coming out at the end and just sticking it to Danny, but loving him the whole time. “What’s it to ya, Zuko?” or “Tell me about it, Stud.” are two of the best moments for me.
Come to have fun. The music is classic, the costumes are iconic, and the characters are so full of life. It’s really just a fun show. Enjoy the show!