It’s like a muse. An urge to jump into a Broadway musical or television production. A yearning to relive that high school or college stage excitement. Whatever it was, a group of nonprofessionals longing to immerse themselves in the intricacies of what makes theater magical—whether it was acting, or creating lighting, sets, costumes and then promoting it—stepped out of their comfort zone to form the nonprofit Playcrafters Theatre Company 61 years ago. Their celebratory brunch of their 60-year commitment was held recently at the Bellport Country Club.
Because of COVID restrictions last year, a monthly remembrance of each decade including playbills, clips of shows, snapshots of actors emoting, were all painstakingly gathered, scanned and photoshopped by Playcrafters’ archivist Michele DePalo, a member since 1975. Meetings then were via Zoom; when the decades were shown, invigorating the 85 members. Out of that total, 64 attended.
(When the invite went out, the R.S.V.P.s came whizzing back quickly, complete with brunch payment.) And it wasn’t just locals.
“Marilou and Martin VanZanten flew up from Florida,” said John Hannon, Bellport Chamber president and a 60th Anniversary Brunch Committee member. (Hannon has been president twice and is a director on the board.) “Marilou started with us in 1971.”
Hannon and DePalo sat in the Bellport Village gazebo, discussing this theater group’s history with the Advance recently.
It was this simple: Bellport residents wanted to start a community theater group, explained DePalo.
“That’s part of the beauty,” added Hannon. “In one show you could be the star. In another you could produce. In another you can sell tickets.” Hannon should know. He’s starred as actor, and served as producer, lighting designer, director and scenic designer.
“Bell, Book and Candle” and “Bus Stop,” rather ambitious plays, were their first offerings.
So where were they performed?
“I think right here,” said Hannon, looking straight at the Community Center.
Since 2012, Playcrafters has been showcasing theater at the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area in their community auditorium. (Sets are stored in trailers in the back.) But other sites that involved lugging sets back and forth, were Bellport Middle School, Bellport High School, Christ Episcopal Church as well as productions at the village bandshell. Banners back then announced their performances across South Country Road. They were written up in the Long Island Advance.
Coming up on Sunday, Sept. 12, is their Old Tyme Radio Show at Post Morrow at 2 p.m. It’s free and outside; bring your own chairs and a nonperishable food item as your admission for a food pantry donation.
Hannon described the overall performance process. It could include 20 members in cast and production including stage design, costumes, you name it. Members take on dual hats, he said.
“We do hold auditions,” he said of advertised casting calls. “Most of the time it’s open to anyone. There are 30 rehearsals before a performance, and usually our shows are one set.”
Hannon credited George Loizides with leadership. His wife, Kathy Loizides, is the current Playcrafters president.
“George was a teacher at Ward Melville High School,” Hannon explained. “He walked us through with each step. He’s our quintessential actor and does everything.” Loizides has been stage manager, director, actor. “George was instrumental in starting our Reader’s Theatre (actors read from a script with some costumes and props).” “Love Letters” was one of them. They also put on cabaret shows.
A core group pitches in for whatever is needed, DePalo said. Among them, physicist Dr. Joe Skelly still climbs a ladder to perfect the lighting; Kathy Loizides is the costumer.
Members like DePalo and Hannon, from East Patchogue, are local, but several come in from Babylon, Northport and Huntington, too.
Not surprisingly, young alums have gone on to Broadway and television. Those include Margaret W. Smith Memorial Scholarship and Desmond W. Burke Memorial Scholarship winners from Bellport High School, like Kristen Rohde, TV actress, HBO’s “Oz,” and others; Joe Forbrich, TV movies and live theater including Broadway’s “Lucky Guy”; and Melissa Giattino, Radio City Rockette, Broadway singer/dancer.
Both Hannon and DePalo agree the lure is that when it all comes together on opening night, the efforts are transformative. “There is a magic to it,” agreed Hannon.