Melodrama: years of boos, hisses, and cheers
By Kami Collins
"You're a dear. An idiot, but a dear."
It's lines like those that make for fantastic community theater, and that is just a sample of what you'll hear this weekend during the annual melodrama during Crawford Pioneer Days. The melodrama has been a part of Pioneer Days since the very first community event, 39 years ago. Although the melodrama has not been part of every Pioneer Days, many of the same people have been involved in the production of the shows and they have a host of memories to share about this cherished piece of the community celebration.
Susie Steckel and Shannon Cole started Pioneer Days as a way to honor and recognize the contributions of those in Crawford who helped build, support and maintain the community. As they were planning the first event, the idea of a melodrama was pitched. George Sibley stepped up to direct the first show, which was titled "The Wild & Wooly West." The first show was a dinner theater, and was about two-and-a-half hours long. The cast was also huge, about 15 actors or so, explained Rick Steckel. He was in that very first show, and he and his wife Kathy have been a part of almost every melodrama since that first one.
He remembers one show that was held during a summer thunderstorm. When the power went out, the actors lit a lantern and held it onstage -- it was the only light in the building. When one of the actresses dropped the lantern and it went out, the audience was left in the dark. Rick remembers he and others -- in costume of course -- standing outside in the rain flipping breakers, trying like heck to get the lights back on. They did, eventually, and the show went on, but it remains one of the more memorable shows he's been in, he said.
Over the years, many in the community have stepped up to direct, including Sandy Long, David Hauze, Liz Heidrick, Tanya Applegate and Kathy Steckel. This year, Rick and Kathy are co-directing. Jan Rogers has been the piano accompanist for many years, and Annette Murray has painted sets. It definitely takes an army of volunteers to pull off the hour long show. "We have fun every single year," Kathy Steckel said.
The melodrama also serves as a good way for youth in the community to become involved at an early age said longtime melodrama actress Tanya "Flossy" Applegate (she is still called Flossy sometimes, after one of the more memorable characters she played). "It's a good way for them to get interested and involved," she said. Her son, along with the children of several of her co-stars, have all been involved since they were young.
For others, the melodrama represents all that is great about the good old days. Drew and Cindy Felix recently returned to the Crawford area after many years gone. They both were involved in the melodramas when Pioneer Days first started, and when they moved back, immediately signed up. "This is why you move back to places like this," Drew explained. "Things have changed but they haven't really changed."
"The melodrama is really important," Tanya said. "I hope it doesn't go away."
Most of the time, the audience is participatory and appreciative, which makes for a better show explained Davy Gallob, who is 16. As with any melodrama, the boos, hisses, catcalls and cheers from the audience really elevate the show and the fun factor. So don't hesitate to call out, whistle and clap as you're watching.
Over the years, they've had ho-hum shows and excellent shows. At one, their least-attended show, they had just nine audience members. Their largest show brought in about 180 people. Cast members also remember bringing their show to a care center. "By the second act, everyone was asleep," Rick said.
Most years, the committee purchases a script, but Rick and Kathy have written a handful as well. The first time they wrote a melodrama was because Rick really wanted to play a pirate. When they perform a popular show, they sometimes recycle the script, changing and tweaking the text and storyline just a bit to keep it fresh.
The hardest part of making sure the melodrama takes to the stage each year is getting a group of people to coordinate schedules to allow for practice. Some are still in school when practices begin; others are volunteering on the ambulance or fire department; and all are working. "But we always end up doing okay," Davy said.
"The annoying thing is that by the time we get it perfected, it's all done," Rick said. Thankfully, if you miss this year's melodrama during Crawford Pioneer Days, the show will be back for an encore during Cherry Days.
The 2017 melodrama is titled "Pillow Talk in Mattress Springs, or, No Rest for the Wicked," and tells the story of the dastardly Professor Big Hairy Nightmare and his evil plan to take over the town. The first showing is Thursday, June 8 at 7 p.m. This show is a dessert theater show and costs $5 at the door. Funds collected on Thursday night will be donated to the North Fork Ambulance Association -- several of the cast members are on the ambulance crew. On Saturday, June 10, two other showings will be at 11:30 a.m. at 1:30 p.m., and cost $3 per person.