- Kids Corner
History of The Burns Park Players
By Kate Mendeloff
One of the unique aspects of our neighborhood is the existence of a thriving community theater which brings together children in the Burns Park Elementary School, their parents, and neighborhood residents who are “bitten by the bug”. They all work together to produce and perform a musical production at Tappan Middle School every year. This group, the Burns Park Players, has an intriguing history.
The Burns Park Players got their start in April 1984 as a way to raise funds to support sixth graders-then the senior class in elementary school- for their graduation camping trip. The trip had formally been financed by receipts from a neighborhood talent show, “The Wells Street Parking Lot Review”. Sarah Schreiber, resident of Burns Park and mother of a graduating student, wanted to take this farther. She contacted neighbors and fellow sixth grade parents, including Alan and Lisa Dengiz, about putting together a musical as a benefit. Alan, who had studied theater at Wayne State before going on to a career in medicine, volunteered to direct. Sandy(Sandor) Goodhart was the musical director and Lisa helped Sarah produce.
They chose the musical “Grease”, which had recently come out as a movie, and which they felt to easily incorporate student actors in the choruses. It ran one night in the Burns Park Elementary School auditorium and tickets were one dollar! The accompaniment was both piano and drums, but because musical talent was inconsistent, some songs were lip-synched to the soundtrack of the movie. All the sets and props were made of cardboard. Despite the fire hazard, the actors smoked real cigarettes. Nothing burned down, however, and the production was a big hit.
For the next few years, the productions were performed at Burns Park school, “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1985, “Damn Yankees” in 1986 and an original musical by Sandy Goodhart based on Cinderella, called “If the Shoe Fits” in 1987. The interest in the community grew, the production values increased, shows ran for two weekends and the local audiences kept growing, so that by 1988 with their production of “Little Shop of Horrors”, the organization had outgrown the elementary school and the Burns Park Players moved to Tappan Middle School auditorium, where they still perform today.
Soon after that move, in order to satisfy the hunger for more acting opportunities, particularly for non-singers, the Burns Park Players actually mounted two productions a year, beginning with “Dracula” in 1990. Starring Bob Galardi , former principal of Pioneer High School, in the title role, the show featured students as vampire ushers. The dramatic production was performed on Halloween weekend, and included “Frankenstein” and other seasonal choices. But the pressure of producing and rehearsing two shows a year proved too much, and the Players went back to their original structure of a production running in February.
Much of the success of the organization has to do with providing an opportunity for local residents to come together in a supportive and creative way. Set designers Chip and Kathleen Letts, Mark Tucker and Jeri Rosenberg, costume designers including the late Roberta Vandermey, and musicians, singers, dancers and actors have a chance to be part of a real ensemble and to spend the gloomy months of January and February in a congenial theatrical world. (The group brings together beginners and more experienced artists and allows the many left-brained members of our community- scientists and physicians like Joel Swanson, Howard Weinblatt and Margaret Punch, a chance to express their right-brained side. )
Long live the Burns Park Players!
Keep your ears and eyes open to news of this year’s musical, “Once Upon a Mattress”. Perhaps this is the year you can get involved yourself. Check out their website at www.burnsparkplayers.org for audition dates and more information.
1983- The Wells Street Parking Lot Revue
1985-Bye Bye Birdie
1986- Damn Yankees
1987- If the Shoe Fits (original musical by Sandy Goodhart)
1988- Little Shop of Horrors ( move to Tappan)
1989-Annie Get Your Gun
1990- Guys and Dolls
1991- Gypsy. Dracula
1992- South Pacific, Frankenstein
1993- The Music Man
1994- Lil’ Abner
1995- Hello Dolly
1996- Fiddler on the Roof
1997- Crazy For You
1998- My Fair Lady
1999- The Wizard of Oz
2001- Damn Yankees
2003- The Music Man
2004- Bye Bye Birdie
2006- Fiddler on the Roof
2008- Beauty and the Beast
2009- Annie Get Your Gun
2010- Guys and Dolls
2011- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
2012- to come—Once Upon a Mattress