My friend and I discovered what seemed to be the perfect solution to see high-quality community theater performances without buying tickets. No, we didn’t sneak in the backstage door. Just as the larger venues like the Warner Theatre rely on a phalanx of volunteers, small theaters with big talent also need people to take or sell tickets at the gate, quickly set up extra seating for overflow crowds, restock the restrooms, and sell snacks and drinks under the tent next to the outdoor theater.
The theater was literally “in the woods,” on the grounds of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, a most charming site that overlooks the 18th-century Neapolitan crèche, an amazing display that is believed to have been a gift to the King of Sardinia in honor of his coronation in 1720. Dramatic and rare, the display is the perfect fusion for an outdoor playhouse and a Benedictine Abbey.
Many of the actors came from New York City with impressive resumes, and there has been a cast of very talented youngsters in the shows, including a 14-year-old who was playing Beethoven on the piano at age four. The theater has a roof and three open sides — no air-conditioning needed.
My friend offered to pair up with another volunteer on the ticket-taking assignment and I thought it would be fun to hand out cold drinks, frozen treats, bags of chips and some really special offerings from the Southbury Baking Company — chocolate-covered Oreos dusted with edible gold glitter. Even though they were tightly wrapped in cellophane, I kept finding gold flecks on my hands and clothing. I was asked so often about the gold-dusted cookies that I felt obligated to sample one so I could describe them. And yes, they were as luscious as one might imagine.
The first show of that season wasn’t a play, but rather an appearance by prolific children’s author and illustrator Tomie dePaola. He was joined on stage by Mother Dolores Hart, both reading from his books as costumed youngsters interpreted the stories in dance and drama. It was utterly charming and the crowd was thrilled, especially with Tomie greeting his fans and autographing all the books. I recall it was a warm day for that matinee and I nearly sold out the popsicles and Klondike bars, and ran out of napkins.
The second show that August was not only a play, but one of the most iconic and beloved Broadway plays of all time, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Of course, I’ve heard of it, and am aware there was a movie also that was wildly popular, but I never actually saw either one and had minimal knowledge about the story line.
Opening night featured a delightful break at intermission with wine and artisanal cheeses with specially chosen crackers and dipping sauces. There were a LOT of cheese selections and it dawned on me that intermission was drawing near and everything had to be opened, sliced and plattered. The two other volunteers madly rushed about with me to make all that happen, but I still managed to watch the magical blending of tragedy and comedy unfolding on the stage.
I was looking forward to reprising my volunteerism another season but unfortunately the theater troupe departed Connecticut. The lovely outdoor venue still awaits the next Broadway show-stopper and maybe I’ll cover the front end next time. That’s a lot more drama, but isn’t that why we go to the theater?