Baldwin Players set the stage for 2013-14 theater season

Building a better 'Mousetrap'

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This is the first in an occasional series looking backstage at the work that goes into putting on a production at community theaters.

For its 55th season, the Baldwin Players community theater group is giving the people what they want.

During the spring production of "There Goes the Bride," the group distributed surveys to patrons, asking what plays they'd like to see in the 2013-14 season.

From among four mysteries and four musicals, players chose Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" and Dan Goggin's "Nunsense" for this season.

On Monday, 19 would-be cast members read for roles such as Christopher Wren and Mrs. Boyle as the group began preparing for its own rendition of the world's longest-running play, "The Mousetrap," which has entertained London theatergoers since 1952.

"In terms of quality, there are a lot of really good choices for all the roles. It's a great position to be in," said Tyson Sears, who is directing "The Mousetrap" for a series of performances in the fall.

He met Tuesday with his production team, which reflects the variety of the theater group in general.

Producer David Grande, who also serves as president of the Baldwin Players, is a longtime veteran of the stage. Mary Rigatti, who is in charge of costumes, has fulfilled a similar role for eight years at Bethel Park High School.

There, she has worked with Travis Wockley, who is going into his senior year at Bethel Park. He is handling lighting, sound and the set for "Mousetrap."

Vallie Brook, a 2013 graduate of South Park High School, is stage manager and assistant director. Mr. Sears, a West Virginia native who studied at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, is all of 26.

He looks forward to taking the helm for the venerable mystery, about a group of suspected murderers who are snowed in together at a guesthouse. One special challenge for the production: The Baldwin Players' stage in Baldwin Community United Methodist Church is in the round, meaning that patrons surround the performers.

"It's more immediate acting," Mr. Sears explained. "No matter where you are, you're constantly 'on.' Really, there's no escape."

The configuration should work well for the atmosphere created within "The Mousetrap."

"I think that in the round, there is a sense of that growing claustrophobia," he said.

Ms. Rigatti is helping to set the scene of the mid-20th-century British mystery by locating the proper costumes.

"To me, that's part of the fun, doing research on the look, what people really wore back then," she said.

The origins of the Baldwin Players date back to the mid-20th century, formed by members of the Baldwin Community United Methodist Church congregation. They performed religious plays at the beginning, before expanding the repertoire in the late 1960s.

"At the time, there were close to 300 patrons, and there was a waiting list to see the shows," Mr. Grande said.

The group has continued its traditions of dinner theater and having the performers at the center of the action.

"In the round is more intimate, because you're always close to the action," Mr. Grande explained.

"Nunsense," scheduled for the spring, will be the Baldwin Players' first musical in 22 years. The idea stemmed from a Valentine's Day benefit show in which participants sang familiar love ballads from Broadway shows.

"People told us, 'You have some people who can really sing. You guys should do some musicals,' " Mr. Grande recalled.

Before the musical, though, comes the mystery. And the Baldwin Players want to keep it that way for the entire run of "The Mousetrap."

"We're asking everyone, please don't tell people how this ends," Mr. Grande said.

The Baldwin Players will perform "The Mousetrap" Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 8-10.

Details and ticket packages -- the troupe covers most of its expenses with admission fees -- are available at thebaldwinplayers.com.

neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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