The Right Stage for Grand Island
by Liz Boyle
A fine layer of sawdust coats precariously stacked platforms and a Tetris-like jumble of furniture that spans the mid- to late-twentieth century. Fifteen feet up, a row of wedding dresses dangle next to plastic breastplate armor and a half dozen gilded fairy wings. Nearby, a hat that could have belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy rests alongside a tropical umbrella and bag of pirate gold. In the distance and the dark, the clarion call of the stage manager rings out: “Five minutes to places!” Costumes rustle, shush, and sidle up to heavy black curtains – the actors are about to take the stage, and the show is about to start.
The actors are about to take the stage, and the show is about to start.
Welcome to Grand Island Little Theatre (GILT), located at 3180 West US Highway 34 inside of College Park. A stage for 150 working volunteers, Grand Island Little Theatre produces five shows every season and conducts an annual children’s repertory theater with educational workshops. “If you want to be part of the family and are interested in theater at all, this is the place to be,” said veteran volunteer Cheryl Schuett. “The people are understanding. They’re helpful. They’ll teach you what you need to know because they’re interested in developing skilled actors and backstage people.” Schuett, formerly a teacher with Grand Island Public Schools, began her volunteer career in 1968 with Camelot and has served ever since in roles from musical direction to makeup design.
With the exception of the children’s theater production, each show holds between six and eight weeks of rehearsal, with directors building the schedule around actors’ conflicts. “The hard thing [about directing in community theater],” said USA Today bestselling author Julie Miller with a laugh, “is that you can’t require anyone to do anything.”
Miller began her volunteer work with GILT in 1993 and has worked as an actor, a director, and in a plethora of backstage technical roles. Unlike what one might see in a professional or equity theater, the production team for every show in the community theater is there without the incentive of a paycheck. That builds a sense of trust and community within each show. One of the most interesting components for Miller is the overall representation from the public within the volunteer base.
“I get to meet people I’d probably never meet in any other circumstance. We have different jobs or we’re at different stages in our lives: some are retired or some have young families. For the few weeks you’re doing the show, you get to be friends and family with some pretty neat people,” she said.
Volunteers have different reasons for becoming involved in live theater. For Rachel Pischnotte, an elementary school music teacher who became active in GILT in 2012, the challenge of a production is the lure: “It’s hard because you have to learn and memorize, but the show is the payoff.”
For actor Jeremy Johnson, it’s the opportunity to shed his own skin; “I enjoy being somebody else for a time. I like the thrill of being on stage. Especially making people laugh.” Johnson, who works in service and parts at Ken’s Appliance, made his acting debut in Miller’s 2013 production of The Mousetrap, but he volunteered behind the scenes for three years before that. Regardless of their different motivations for getting involved, most volunteers at GILT say they stay for the same reason: the people.
Regardless of their different motivations for getting involved, most volunteers at GILT say they stay for the same reason: the people.
In addition to its five regular-season productions, GILT hosts a children’s theater workshop unique to this region. The week-long summer repertory theater boasts an all volunteer staff of trained educators who teach students in grades three through eight in several components of a theatrical production. Students in the 2016 program learned about accents, costumes, makeup, set painting, pantomime, and vocal projection in addition to producing the show Twain’s Tales. Students rehearsed for a mere 16 hours prior to two public performances on the final day of their camp.
Season tickets for the Grand Island Little Theatre can be purchased through the GILT box office, as can show sponsorships and tickets to individual shows. The theater also offers group rates for businesses or groups wishing to provide a different type of entertainment for corporate or social gatherings.
Since its inception in 1960, Grand Island Little Theatre has been housed in a number of places around town and has produced scores of shows. It has collected hundreds of costumes, props, and accessories. It has seen a myriad of local talent perform on stage or toil behind it to create quality live theater. Despite the changes in scenery or faces playing in roles, GILT has always had just one mission: to educate, entertain, and enlighten through the talents of its volunteers.
Raise the curtain on 2017 show dates at GITheatre.org.
Liz Boyle is a Grand Island Little Theatre board memberand has volunteered at GILT for the last five years as an actor, director, and technician.
Photographs of GILT’s 2015 production of The Lion, the Witch and theWardrobe courtesy of Matt Dixon.