Inside out: Why is RPP moving their first show outside?

October 15, 2021
By Staff Report

By Erica Martin and Alice Court

Live theater is back. Broadway is back. The West End is back. Touring companies are back on the road. And Royal Palm Players is back, too.

At the end of the lost season – last year – RPP began casting, planning and producing the upcoming Superlative Season of Fun! Of course, putting together a full season is challenging under normal circumstances; with COVID complications, the challenge is enormous.

Choosing which shows to produce wasn’t easy. The entire roster of plays, musicals and comedies had to be flexible enough to be staged in the auditorium, as well as outside under the Friends Pavilion, in case COVID took a turn for the worse.

As the COVID numbers continued to rise in Florida throughout the summer, RPP board members spent a few sleepless nights wondering if anyone would buy a ticket to sit in an auditorium to watch their plays. They continued to believe they would be able to present a full season in the auditorium eventually…but that first show had them worried.

“Inherit the Wind” is the opening show of Royal Palm Players 2021/22 season. The story is a fictionalized examination of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” using Darwinism as a mechanism to highlight the dangers of “group think.” Originally written to protest McCarthyism, this trial drama is filled with riveting dialogue and intense, thought-provoking scenes. The dramatic writing, enormous cast and relevant theme led RPP’s Play Reading Committee to view this as a perfect vehicle to present as a staged reading. Rehearsals are intense. There are full sets and costumes, and the play is fully staged and blocked, but actors carry a small script with them. Well known RPP stars anchor the production and it is a perfect way for new faces to the stage to experience a full production without the stress of forgetting lines. 

Meryl Schaffer

At the beginning of September, director Meryl Schaffer and RPP president Alice Court knew they had to make a decision. They talked about all the pros and cons of producing this outside. First, it would be much harder. Lighting, sound, staging, blocking…well everything.  But then they started to brainstorm the pros. Suddenly Meryl’s creative juices took flight. The audience could be part of the full production. Meryl felt free to develop a thrilling new concept for the production. Audience members would be even more involved in the drama. Villagers could enter behind the audience and from the sides truly integrating the audience into the action. 

Once the decision to move outside was made, everyone at RPP started to get excited about other ways to make this first show special. The 5 p.m. show time means the natural light plays a part in the drama. As dusk falls between 5 and 7 p.m., the dialogue on stage darkens.

The passion that director Meryl Schaffer brings to this dramatic reading will not surprise any frequent RPP audience member. Meryl is well acquainted with the difficulty of having a large ensemble flow in our small auditorium space. But as Meryl said, “This is a big show with lovely language, substance and a real message. The large ensemble scenes are thematic to the heart of the show. So I’m excited to move to an outdoor venue that gives me even more ability to capitalize on size and space.”

How do Emmy Award-winning set designer, Laura Brock, and RPP’s sound and lighting designer, Jasmine Deal, plan to deal with the ever-changing natural light? You’ll have to see the production to learn their secrets. Every performance promises to be unique.

Costume designer, Arnie Preston is creating costumes and costume changes that can be achieved easily without the privacy of a dressing room. Turning actors into quick change artists is particularly difficult when cast members are 50+.

The cast of this massive production is as electrifying as the open-air venue. Compelling performances by Jim Grant, Hal McCombs and Boots Tolsdorf lead the action. A supporting cast features a mix of new faces plus more seasoned Royal Palm Players stars and includes Jerry Edgerton, Lynda Grant, Lew Hastings, Kathy James, Sally B. Johnson, Mark Masselink, Sarah McDonald, Andrea Nielsen, Cori Palmere, Peter Powell, Linda Rollyson, Nancy Ryan, Elaine Skypala and Robbie Stanley.

Save the dates – November 11 – 14 to see “Inherit the Wind.” Don’t miss the chance to be part of RPP’s “Superlative Season of Fun!”

Tickets went on sale to sponsors from October 11-15 and will be available to the general public on October 18.