Live theater returns to the tent

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Bob Hansen

Nancy, played by Nicole Leis, dances in the Nettle Creek Players production of "Oliver!"

>>  UPDATE: On Wednesday, July 6, Nettle Creek Players posted the following message on Facebook:

Due to unexpected circumstances Nettle Creek Players regret to announce that our production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum ” has been canceled. Our next production “The Gin Game” begins on July 22nd.
We hope to see you then. Thank you

Nettle Creek Players is a live, intimate experience

If Kel and Garry Wilson had been any closer to the action in “Oliver!” they would have been listed in the program as members of the Nettle Creek Players 2022 cast.
They came to Hagerstown from Sulfur Springs and sat in the front row as they watched live theater for the first time. Nettle Creek Players performs in a tent that holds just under 100 people and the stage area – actually the pavement at 150 N. Plum Street — goes right under the seats. The farthest anyone can sit is three rows away.
“This is fantastic,” Garry said afterwards. “The interaction – it’s not social media, it’s live.”
Nettle Creek launched “Oliver!” on June 24, its first production in the tent since COVID hit in 2020. Audience members seemed to enjoy the mean stares that came their way from the evil Bill Sikes, played by Patrick Vaughn. And they chuckled as Fagin, played by Greg Gasman, made light of trouble moving one of the set pieces off the stage.
For some in the audience, like Scott Rauch, attending has been a long-time tradition, but he and his wife, Cynthia Rauch, had not been there since 2018.
Scott, of Richmond, who is now retired, began his relationship with NCP as a teenager, almost 50 years ago when a friend asked him to be in “My Fair Lady.” He agreed to it, as long as he didn’t have any lines. It was, he said, an easy role: “I got to sing, dance and flirt.”
This season’s “Oliver!” involved a mix of local children, actors from community-based theaters in the area and professionals from many parts of the U.S.
Gilda Lewis, who is active in Connersville’s Imagine Performing Arts theater group, played Mrs. Bedwin and is the troupe’s musical director. This is her fourth summer with NCP. “I love it; it just keeps getting better and better,” she said. “I had to get the chorus together for the kids and the ensemble, and get all their parts together.”
Charley Rinehart, a student at Hagerstown High School, performed for the first time and seemed to enjoy being one of the urchins in 19th century London. She also helped move the scene-setting props on and off-stage. She will also be stage manager for NCP’s next production, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Jeff Dickey, NCP’s board president, shared conversation with Denny Burns at the ticket-taking booth. Burns recently joined NCP’s board.
Dickey said it’s been gratifying to him to see local children blossom on the Nettle Creek stage. He spoke of one of the boys in “Oliver!” saying he had a so-so audition. But after director Greg Gasman chose him for a part, the youngster has become self-confident and turned out to be a good actor and singer.
An experience like that is what brought Brad Dale back to Nettle Creek Players. Several alumni decided to restart the group in 2017, after a 20-year absence from Hagerstown. Dale took his first role in a 1977 production of “Annie Get Your Gun” but then started a 35-year career in restaurant management and didn’t come back to the theater.
“Three years ago when I was asked to help with NCP, I did it for two reasons. One, the people that I worked with in the 70s on stage. They took a young awkward kid and made him one of their own,” he said. “Two, my home town, Hagerstown.”
This summer, Nettle Creek Players is producing three plays. The first, “Oliver!” ended Saturday. The comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” runs two weekends, starting Friday. A two-person tragicomedy, “The Gin Game,” will wrap up the season starting July 22.
Tickets to all shows are available at the Nettle Creek Players website, nettlecreekplayers.com and at each show.

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