Tag Archives: theater

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Remembering Bekki Jo Schneider

BEKKI JO SCHNEIDER

NOV. 14, 1946 – MAY 4, 2018

BEKKI JO SCHNEIDER WAS AN ICON. DESPITE HER DEATH, HER CONTRIBUTIONS WILL CONTINUE TO RESONATE IN OUR COMMUNITY – AND BEYOND. IT IS WITH BOTH SADNESS AND MUCH JOY THAT WE CELEBRATE HER LIFE.

BY JON HUFFMAN | COURTESY PHOTOS

THIS TRIBUTE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY ARTS-LOUISVILLE.COM AND IS REPRINTED HERE WITH PERMISSION.


Since her death from cancer on May 4, much has been written about Derby Dinner Playhouse Producer Bekki Jo Schneider and her achievements and contributions to our community and region. She was, after all, an extremely successful business leader in a field – for-profit theatre that’s not Broadway – in which the phrase “extremely successful business” is almost unheard of. The list of awards, citations, and official recognitions she received for her success, locally and nationally, is truly impressive.

And even though she had battled the disease for years, most of us who knew her still wonder how any human malady could actually have the power, the persistence – hell, the sheer nervy balls! – to take down Bekki Jo.

Even as we watched her grow weaker over the course of the last two years, no one – even among those of us younger than her – truly expected to outlive her: She taught us all the folly of underestimating her.

A product of Louisville’s South End, Bekki Jo was a Presentation Academy graduate, attended the University of Louisville, graduated from the University of Kentucky, and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. But if it can be said about anyone in theatre that they learned their craft in the trenches, it can be said so of Bekki Jo.

By the mid-1980s, she had already been the producing director of Shakespeare In Central Park (later, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival), the producer of Louisville Children’s Theatre (later, StageOne Family Theatre), and the producer of Lexington Children’s Theatre – leaving each one more successful than when she arrived.

In 1983, when Bekki Jo purchased Clarksville’s Derby Dinner, along with partner Carolyn Lamb and a small group of investors, it seemed like folly to those who underestimated her; dinner theatres across the country were failing, en masse, at the time.

But Bekki Jo Schneider had always had a dream – to spend her lifetime as a successful theatre artist in her hometown – and she had a plan to get there using methods honed from working in her formative years with the people who invented Louisville professional theatre.

While still in high school, she went to work for The Carriage House Players, the legendary group of local theatre pioneers out of whose ranks evolved Louisville’s professional theatre culture. There, Bekki Jo was both protégé and colleague to C. Douglas Ramey, Ewel Cornett, Richard Block, Monte Priddy, Mitzi Friedlander, Warren Oates and others who collectively created and populated the organizations which became Actors Theatre Of Louisville, StageOne Family Theatre, and Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. At one point in the late ’50s, The Carriage House even briefly became the first dinner-theatre in the region (if not the country).

At The Carriage House, Bekki Jo was “The Kid” who mopped the floor, ran lines with actors, applied their makeup for them, built costumes and sets, stage-managed and jumped into roles with no rehearsal when actors fell ill. Through that hard work as a “kid,” she learned the nuts and bolts of making theatre happen, but – just as important – she learned the craft of managing a company of artists while learning the art of serving Louisville’s local theatre audience.

She carried the lessons of success learned at The Carriage House with her forever and often cited three pillars when describing how to make a life as an impresario, in this order:

1) Take care of your company of artists and technicians and craftspeople as though they’re your family – their loyalty will measure your success.

Bekki Jo said often that her greatest joy as a producer was helping to make actors homeowners, wanting her family of theatre-makers to be firmly planted in the American Middle Class. At Derby Dinner Playhouse, she established a paid, floating “resident” company of actors, singers, and dancers, many of whom performed in several Derby shows a year. Bekki Jo was their willing matriarch, making sure they had work that paid, baby-sitting their kids when the need arose, advising them on everything from car-buying to wedding plans, bailing them out of jail, and providing eight meals a week to everyone working on a show. And she was the first one to hold and console them when life’s tragedies struck. In her lifetime, Bekki Jo employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of actors and craftspeople, many of whom moved here to work for her, then remained and set down roots.

2) Listen to your audience – without them you have nothing.

Bekki Jo’s finger was firmly planted on the pulse of her audience. She was quick to consult them when choosing Derby Dinner seasons. Hard to believe now, but in the 1980s, most dinner theatres didn’t operate with pre-picked seasons; each show opened with a tentative closing date and no definite plan for the next show. By defining theatre seasons, Bekki Jo was able to sell season-ticket packages to local audiences and also to the very lucrative tourbus/vacation circuit, which in turn boosted tourist income throughout Kentuckiana, earning Bekki Jo the kind of favor with local governments that most businesses covet.

3) Work harder and longer than anyone else.

Even through her cancer treatment (at least until the last few months of her life), Bekki Jo was the first one in the building each morning, usually at her office desk before 7 a.m., and often she was still there after the evening’s performance. When her own work was done, she did whoever else’s work needed doing, even if that meant pouring coffee for theatre diners in the evening.

The often-underestimated Carriage House “kid” learned well from her own mentors and, indeed, improved on the lessons gleaned from “The Pioneers,” none of whom achieved the continuous level of success, or earned the accolades, of their protégé. Currently, Derby Dinner Playhouse has over 10,000 season-ticket holders. And year-round, nearly every performance of every show in its 500-seat arena, including the daytime Children’s Theatre season, is sold-out. It is, simply, the most successful theatre in the region.

But Bekki Jo Schneider’s theatre influence extends beyond Clarksville today. The region’s vibrant performing arts community is full of her artistic offspring – the “grandkids” of the Pioneers – who passed through Shakespeare In Central Park, Derby Dinner Playhouse or the classrooms of every local university, where she taught at various times, who moved on to their own careers as theatre-makers and theatre-educators. To list the names would be to create a Who’s Who of today’s Kentuckiana theatre landscape. And beyond Kentuckiana, her protégés have made successful careers in the performing arts across the world.

And that was the fourth pillar on which she based her success: The need to pass it on. Bekki Jo was a fierce believer in the nobility of the artist’s place in the story of human culture. She took her greatest professional pride in knowing that her spirit inhabited even a small sub-chapter in that story, and that because of the joy she brought to her work and the passion she inspired in those who learned from her, that story – the artist’s story – would grow on, would grow beyond her and would continue to flourish in this region she loved so much.

Bekki Jo Schneider is missed, she is mourned, she is thanked.

And by many of us, she will always be celebrated.

Jon Huffman is an actor, writer and director living in Louisville. He is co-artistic director of Fleur De Lis Theatricals.screen-shot-2018-06-05-at-5-18-28-pm


From Derby Dinner Playhouse

It is with profound sadness that we share the passing of our matriarch, Bekki Jo Schneider.

For the past 33 years, Bekki has been the co-owner and producer of Derby Dinner Playhouse, but she has been much more than that. Sharing her talents freely with our community and our patrons, she guided Derby Dinner Playhouse into a new era. Leaving behind the stigma that was dinner theatre, she created a vibrant, welcoming venue, producing theatre of a caliber never before experienced by Southern Indiana theatergoers.

While Bekki’s resume includes other venues all across our region, her heart and soul belonged to Derby Dinner Playhouse. She worked tirelessly to bring and keep the Playhouse in the forefront of the arts community in the Metro Louisville area.

Under her leadership, the patronage of Derby Dinner Playhouse grew from hundreds to thousands. She gained the trust of our patrons by listening to them and meeting their needs from the moment they walked through the front door.

Bekki directed more than 150 plays and musicals during her time here at The Playhouse ranging from classics like Camelot and Arsenic and Old Lace to contemporary, ground breaking shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Dreamgirls.

During her tenure at Derby Dinner Playhouse, Bekki’s boundless energy led her to sit on hundreds of boards, teach thousands of students and mentor countless individuals.

Bekki’s vision for Derby Dinner Playhouse was clear. She created a safe place for artists from across the country; a place where they could come together to hone their craft and in doing so, give our community the greatest gift possible: a place to gather, share, experience and love one another. All of us here at The Playhouse look forward to carrying on her legacy, knowing that the impact of her presence in our community will be felt forever.


BEKKI JO SCHNEIDER

Rebecca Jo (Schneider) Saunders, “Bekki Jo” passed away Friday, May 4, 2018, at Norton Hospital in St. Matthews after a long illness. She was born Nov. 14, 1946 to the late Rogerlene and Joseph Schneider of Louisville.

Bekki Jo has been co-owner and producer of Derby Dinner Playhouse since 1985. A familiar face in area theatrical circles, she has amassed an extensive career wearing every hat known in the theatrical world. As a Producer and Artistic Director, she has worked for Lexington Children’s Theatre, Metroversity Summer Theatre, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, and has directed more than 600 productions in the United States and England. As a teacher, she taught theatre to students from kindergarten to college level at The Lexington School, Louisville Children’s Theatre, Jefferson County Schools, the University of Kentucky, Indiana University Southeast, Spalding University and the Kentucky Department of Education. She is a past board member of Leadership Southern Indiana, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and is past President of the National Dinner Theatre Association.

Over the years, Bekki Jo has received many distinguished awards for community and artistic achievement, the most recent being the 2017 Dan Mangeot Lifetime Achievement Memorial Award, the 2017 Leadership Southern Indiana Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2016 Arts-Louisville/Broadway World Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 2016 Indiana Leadership Association Distinguished Leader Award. Although her theatrical career has spanned the globe, the work she took the most pride in was as friend, mentor, educator, sister, mother, and Nana to many.

Bekki Jo is survived by her partner, David Myers; sons, Dudley Saunders Jr. and Jeremy Saunders; daughter, Karen Marion; stepdaughters, Annie Myers and Sally Scott; nephew, Jason Grant; grandchildren, Haley Marion, Livingston Marion, Madeline Grant, Rianissa Jo Saunders, Oliver Scott, Simon Scott and Lucy Scott.

In lieu of visitation, a celebration of her life will be held at a later time.

Memorial gifts may be sent to Kentucky Shakespeare, 323 W Broadway #401, Louisville, KY, 40202 or made online at http://kyshakespeare.com/donate.

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Derby Dinner Does It Right

1By JD Dotson | Photos by Christian Watson & JD Dotson

Open for nearly 45 years, Derby Dinner

Playhouse remains the only dinner theater of its

type in the Louisville/Southern Indiana region.

The theater in the round setup immerses the

audience in the action. There is not a bad seat in

the house, with actors entering and exiting the

centrally-located stage through the audience.

The shows range from huge Broadway mega-hits

to children’s programming, holiday favorites and

lighthearted comedies and musical acts.

I recently had the great pleasure of seeing

“Mamma Mia!” this season, a musical set to the

infectious music of Abba and was completely

amazed at what a brilliant production I witnessed.

The music and dancing had me singing along and

tapping my feet the whole time. Some of those

Abba songs are still stuck in my head.

I brought my hubby along, and we started out

with dinner, which is served buffet style with a

salad bar. I felt it was my duty to try everything for

the sake of being thorough. My spinach salad was

fresh and delicious, and the salad bar was loaded

with toppings as well as broccoli and tomato/

cucumber salads. I have a strict rule to not fill up

on salad when a buffet is involved but made an

exception for the sake of journalism. The buffet

was equally delightful on my second trip. Fried

chicken, pasta, carved turkey, broccoli and rice,

and a baked potato, and being a serious member

of the clean-plate club, I filled up. Luckily, we held

off on dessert until intermission.

The pre-show entertainment, or FootNotes,

consists of a group of men and women serenading

the audience during their meal with classic

Broadway show tunes and dancing. Then: There’s

my server! He was just here at our table taking a

drink order and – all of a sudden – he was singing

and dancing on the stage.

Derby Dinner Playhouse 525 Marriott Drive Clarksville 812.288.8281 derbydinner.com

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville
812.288.8281
derbydinner.com

The FootNotes are made up of talented

performers doing double duty entertaining and

simultaneously serving. Our server did such a

great job at both. In between songs, the FootNotes

introduce new dessert items on the menu and the

cocktail of the day. The preshow ends with plenty

of time for a run to the buffet one last time before

the main event.

The first act began, and the audience was

immediately thrown on the docks of Greek Isle,

or a prairie, or a battlefield, depending on the

production. You feel as if you’re in the middle of

the action. Oh, and there’s my server again! He

was just here a few minutes ago getting my drink

order. He was everywhere – a super talented singerdancer

and still right there if we needed anything.

Intermission came and so did pecan pie ala

mode and hummingbird cake. I am a fan of dessert

in general, and this dessert did not disappoint.

Fresh and delicious, my sweet tooth was satiated

just in time for Act 2.

I have driven cross country and through the

state of Oklahoma. Thanks to Derby Dinner

Playhouse, the musical (“Oklahoma”) is so much

more entertaining than the state.

Thanks to this local – albeit nationally-heralded

theater – I have watched it snow inside for the

stage version of my favorite holiday classic “White

Christmas,” relived my young adulthood singalongs

to Abba and been transported to a Greek Isle with

“Mamma Mia!” and went back to my childhood

with the “Sound of Music.”

Derby Dinner Playhouse continues to bring the

best performances to our community and beyond.

The acting, singing, dinner and dessert all combine

for a perfect evening.3


Derby Dinner Playhouse continues to bring the best

performances to our community – and beyond.


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Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “OKLAHOMA!”

oklahoma-photo-2018Derby Dinner Playhouse will present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timeless musical OKLAHOMA!, opening April 11 and running through May 27, 2018.  For ticket information please call 812-288-8281 or visit

 

OKLAHOMA! is set in the Western Indian Territory in 1907 and tells the romantic tale of farm girl Laurey and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly and the sinister and frightening farmhand Jud Fry.  This Broadway musical favorite brings the west alive with jubilant dance numbers, enchanting songs, and features some of the most memorable music ever written.  Musical highlights include “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin”, “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top”, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, “Kansas City”, and more!

 

OKLAHOMA! is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. It was Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration and remains their most innovative, having set the standards and established the rules of musical theatre still being followed today.  OKLAHOMA! debuted on Broadway in 1943 and the popular film version debuted in 1955, starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.

 

OKLAHOMA! is under the direction of Lee Buckholz with choreography by Heather Paige Folsom and Musical Direction by Scott Bradley.  The cast will include DDP newcomers Kaitlyn Sage as Laurey and Ryan Skerchak as Curly.  Other cast members are Matthew Brennan, Cami Glauser Bibelhauser, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Bobby Conte, and more!

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Not Throwing Away My Shot

My experience auditioning for Derby Dinner Playhouse

BY REMY SISK | PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN WATSONscreen-shot-2018-01-31-at-4-22-05-pm

AS A MUSICAL THEATRE ACTOR in Kentuckiana, I have often wondered what it would be like to be on the stage of Derby Dinner Playhouse, the region’s preeminent dinner theatre.

The quality of Derby productions is always top-notch, from their technical production value to their supremely talented casts.

I’d thought about auditioning at Derby’s periodic open calls on multiple occasions, but for whatever reason – I thought I wasn’t good enough, I thought there wasn’t a role for me, etc. – I had backed out each time. However, at their recent January call, one of the auditionees was a semi-awkward 26-year-old tenor whose palms were sweaty and water bottle was almost empty upon arrival…in other words, it was me.

I have a problem that many musical theatre performers can likely relate to: I am not great at auditioning.

I can sing my song well, do my monologue proficiently and look natural the whole time while at home, with a coach or in the car, but the second you put me in front of a table of individuals judging my ability, I overthink the song, fumble the monologue and look uncomfortable doing both.

But this audition wasn’t for a smaller local company; it was for Derby Dinner Playhouse, a professional theatre where, if I were to be cast, I would be able to call myself a paid, working actor. With that knowledge, I resolved to make this audition my best in years.

Derby’s criteria for an audition is a one-minute monologue as well as 16 bars of music or one full song – both fairly standard.

My monologue choice was easy. I have one that I’ve used on a few different occasions, and I knew it was the one I wanted to perform. It’s from the groundbreaking play “The Laramie Project” and is spoken by a college student who recounts getting into an argument with his parents when he tells them he’ll be auditioning for “Angels in America.” The monologue fits me, as it’s meant for a younger actor, is a little awkward and goofy and also deals with some deep subject matter. I re-read it a couple times, made some new choices and it was ready to go. The song, on the other hand, was a much trickier selection.

Any musical theatre actor has their “book” or catalog of songs they’ve collected over the years that fit their voice well, show it off or are just particularly right for them.

I started looking through my book and couldn’t make a choice. “I’m Alive” from “Next to Normal” is usually my go-to, but I felt it wasn’t the fit for this audition. “Moving too Fast” from “The Last Five Years” was another option, but it also seemed wrong. “This World Will Remember Me” from “Bonnie & Clyde” almost became my selection, but Derby actually did that show not too long ago and I wanted to avoid comparisons. After further deliberation, I settled on “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin.” My only hesitation was that it can often be seen as an “overdone” audition song, but I knew it fit my voice and was an appropriate choice for the venue. Right or wrong, the decision was made.

I worked with a friend of mine who is also a vocal coach a few days before the big day, and we selected the portion of the song I’d be performing at the audition. Derby asks for 16 bars or one full song, and we both thought it safest to go with 16 bars to save myself from the possible embarrassment of being cut off mid-song. We tweaked a few things here and there, and the cut – the last minute or so of the revival version of “Corner in the Sky” – was as ready as it would ever be.

I started audition day at Please & Thank You (a coffee shop in Louisville) reading over my monologue and trying to keep my nerves from getting the best of me.

I swung by FedEx to pick up my resume and headshot before heading home to make possibly the hardest choice of the day: my audition outfit. I looked through button-downs, t-shirts, dress pants, jeans and, at long last, settled on an open-collar henley (Google it) and dark, skinny jeans. My “type” in musical theatre is usually on the edgier or rock side of things, so I wanted to give that off while also not looking like an actual rocker (my torn-up black jeans did almost make the cut, however).

Driving to Derby, I sang “Corner of the Sky” once, but knew I was just going to psych myself out if I beat it to death. So, as I crossed the Second Street Bridge in 30-degree weather, I threw the windows down and blasted David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise,” singing it all at the top of my lungs. Maybe not the most conventional audition prep, but it weirdly put me at ease.

I pulled up to the theater and walked into a room of about 30 other people, some of whom I knew. Many had traveled from hours away for the audition, and the ages spanned from teenagers to older adults. We were eventually ushered to Derby Dinner’s rehearsal hall, where Associate Producer Lee Buckholz and Director of Children’s Theatre/Performing Arts Academy Tina Jo Wallac were waiting for us.

Everything from there on was executed in the most professional manner with all instructions and information relayed in a manner that was both clear and kind. With an affable smile, Buckholz let us know that we would be coming in 10 at a time to sing 16 bars (if auditionees had prepared a full song, they now needed to select their best 16 bars) and then possibly perform their monologue if he and Wallace wanted to see more. The first group of 10 went in and, with almost no service on my phone, I was left with only my thoughts for 20 minutes or so.

I could’ve looked over my monologue or my song but decided to just trust that I had prepared all I could. I would go in and give it my best shot, knowing all the while that there’s nothing I could have done differently in advance. And even if I was going to mess up and botch the audition completely, the experience of auditioning for a professional theatre and putting myself out there would be gratifying enough.

They called the next 10, and in we went. We all took a seat and handed in our resumes. With that same genuine affability, Buckholz called us up one by one to show the accompanist our music cut and then do what we came here to do. I was called maybe seventh or eighth, so I had plenty of time to watch as several extremely talented individuals performed their songs and, in some cases, their monologues.

When he called my name, I handed my music to the pianist and took my spot on the X in front of Buckholz and Wallace. The room was massive with mirrored walls and high ceilings, and there I was alone in the middle of it with two people watching from 15 feet away. My only hope in that moment was that I wouldn’t mess my song up enough to not get to do my monologue. Admittedly, as someone who’s been in theatre for years, I understand that not being asked for the monologue doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want you – it just means they’ve seen “enough.” Nonetheless, I was confident about my monologue and very much wanted to be able to perform it.

The pianist gave me my starting note and off we went. Bizarrely, I actually felt comfortable singing the song. It went well, and – as far as I could tell – my high note at the end was on pitch. I finished, and by the grace of God heard the words, “Do you have a monologue?” I sure did and launched right into it. I thought I did it justice, and I even got some laughs from the other auditionees in the room. I finished that as well, sat back down and suddenly noticed my heart was racing. The adrenaline was surging strong, and I was thankful there were only a couple more to go in our group. While the next person was going over their music with the accompanist, a woman next to me leaned over and whispered, “That was fantastic!” It probably meant nothing to her, but her compliment made me feel so tremendously relaxed as I waited for us to be released.

Buckholz told us that as the choreographer was ill, there would be no movement call, so we were free to go. I walked outside across the snow-covered lawn to my car. Ordinarily, leaving an audition, I feel down on myself, frustrated with myself and annoyed with myself for my inability to do better. But, I left feeling positive, knowing that possibly for the first time in my life, my audition went as well as it could’ve gone. Now, that doesn’t mean I gave a Broadway-worthy audition, but I performed at a level I was proud of. I gave it my best shot in a supportive environment after preparing as much as I could without overdoing it, and whether or not I get called in for a show, that feeling made the whole experience more than worth it.

Interested in auditioning? 

Derby Dinner’s next open call is 1 p.m. Aug. 24 and no appointment is necessary. Just show up at the theater at 525 Marriott Drive in Clarksville and have a one-minute monologue memorized and 16 bars of music or one full song prepared (bring sheet music for the accompanist!). Be sure to bring a resume and headshot and be prepared for a dance combination to be taught. As Derby Dinner is a professional theatre, previous theatrical experience is required, and you must have availability to rehearse in the day and perform at night. 

For more information visit derbydinner.com or contact Annie Myers at amyers@derbydinner. com or 812.288.2632 ext. 114.