Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 19, 2018

Summer theater performers keep the tradition alive

Jul 25, 2017
Photo by: Brooks Taylor Old Threshers’ Summer Theatre presented “Girl Next Door” over the weekend. The play was written by Neil and Caroline Schaffner in 1948.

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News


Keeping it alive.

That’s why Peggy Crew, Brian Iles, Dave Forrester and others return year after year to do a Neil and Caroline Shaffner play for the Old Threshers Summer Theatre.

Crew, who acted in shows before directing them the past decade, said the productions are dear to her heart. “I became a director to keep the action going. It is very important to keep tent theater alive,” she said before Sunday’s performance of “Girl Next Door” at the Theatre Museum on the grounds of the Old Threshers Reunion.

Crew and her cohorts never run out of material as the Schaffners were legendary in Toby and Susie tent show productions in the early to mid-20th Century. Girl Next Door was written in 1948 and the director said the show has been done before but it has been several decades between performances.

This year’s production centers around a marriage and a proposal with an evil twist. Toby (Tobias T. Tolliver) finds true romance in an unexpected way. It is billed as true family entertainment.

Brian Iles of Mt. Pleasant has played Toby in the productions for quite a few years and was grand marshal of last year’s Harvest Parade for Old Threshers.

The play was hosted on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon. It is also featured several nights during Old Threshers. “The crowd is much larger during Old Threshers,” Crew noted. “In fact, it generally is sold out so if you want tickets, you better get them early.”

Tent theatre always has had a home on the Old Threshers’ grounds. It began as a tent show on the south side of McMillan Park. A portion of that tent still serves as the curtain for the theatre since it was moved indoors.

Auditions for the annual production begin in February or March, Crew said. “That way, they can learn their lines before we start rehearsals.” Rehearsals start in May and are scheduled four nights a week and on Saturdays.

She said most of the crew remains intact from year to year but said new performers are always welcome and if interested, prospective actors and actresses should contact her.

Most of the performers are from the county, although one actress is from Iowa City and an actor from Nashville, Ill., joins the cast during Old Threshers.

“We’ve been doing it so long together that we are kind of a family,” she stated. “Most of the performers have been doing it for years and they are all here to support each other.”

The shows during the summer theatre and Old Threshers are always Toby and Susie productions.

“It is something that is good entertainment for the whole family,” Crew said. “We always have a lot of families in the audience year after year.”

Crew said she hopes to continue directing the plays “as long as I can.”

Other cast members in addition to those already mentioned include Joshua Morey, Mt. Pleasant; Scott Jennings, Winfield; Dale Papp, Nashville, Ill.; Ashley Hobbs, Mt. Pleasant; Wanda Jennings, Winfield; Melissa Kessler, Iowa City; and Savannah Bennett, New London.

In addition to Crew, the staff includes Kessler, Gregg Crew, Jeannette Rice and Kitt Rice. Ron Peiffer is the drummer.

Following Old Threshers, the summer theatre will go on the road, Crew said, for two performances the weekend after Old Threshers at the Corn Show in Pulaski, Iowa. Summer theatre made its first appearance at the Corn Show last year and was invited back.

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