For its 2015-2016 season, the Bethany Area Repertory Theater (BART) plans to feature six comedies to bring entertainment and laughs to the masses.
“Each year we have increased the shows,” said Bob Davis, who founded the organization in 2012. “This year, we have six full theatrical productions, and we’re ending it with a very ambitious project — our first full-scale musical — ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.’ … We thought we’d try to have a season that has a little bit of everything.
“This is entertainment that you can come to and have a good time.”
BART performs annually at Dickens Parlour Theatre, with tickets costing $25 per person per show. To kick off the season, Sept. 17-19 and 24-26, BART will feature “Hate Mail,” a play by Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky.
“If you liked ‘Love Letters,’ you will love ‘Hate Mail.’ It’s a very, very funny play,” said Davis.
BART Board of Directors President Jeff Martini, who stars in the play alongside Heidi McNeeley, said it’s a comedy about the ups and downs of relationships.
“It’s basically two people who start exchanging letters from the time she’s 7, and she invites him to her birthday. They continue to exchange letters to each other until one of them passes away. It’s very touching; it’s a very funny, poignant play,” he said of “Love Letters.” “‘Hate Mail’ is the antithesis of that play,” he explained.
“It’s the same kind of thing. It’s two people who exchange correspondence over the course of a number of years. It’s a rollercoaster relationship. It’s a comedy, it’s touching at times, it’s poignant at times. And very, very funny at times.”
McNeeley, a veteran of the stage, has also been on the BART stage in “The Time Collector” and “Good King Succotash.”
“I feel honored to share the boards with her,” said Martini.
In October, BART will feature “A Tiny Little Secret,” a play by Davis, the theater’s playwright?in-residence. For the holidays, BART will present “Miracle on 34th Street.”
In February, “Private Lives,” a comedy of manners in three acts, will take the stage, followed by another one of Davis’ plays, “An Affair to Forget,” in April.
“This year, two of the plays are mine,” said Davis.
“They are terrific plays, and that’s the reason we’re doing them,” said Martini, who noted the group is simply taking advantage of a local guy who writes “terrific theater.”
The season will conclude in June with Steven Sondheim’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“We want to try and do [a musical] once a season,” said Davis.
“It’s clearly a very popular musical, and Rusty [Hesse], the producer, has done it before on a small stage,” Martini said.
Auditions for “A Tiny Little Secret” will be held Aug. 16 from 1 to 3 p.m. and Aug. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the South Coastal Library. BART currently has approximately 60 members who are involved in everything from acting to costumes and set design. Davis said all are welcome to join and get involved in any area they wish.
Martini said that, although the size of the 55-seat theater can create a challenge or two for the company, it’s a great asset for the actors.
“It’s size — while it can give us production challenges, it’s part of the greatness of that experience, because you’re very intimate with the actors. You are 4 feet from the stage if you’re in the first couple of rows, and there are only five rows,” he said. “It allows us to create a bond and a relationship and an energy with the audience that you don’t get in a big hall. We’re right there.
“I think the size of that theater is one of its greatest strengths. You’re in the middle of the action and you can just feel the energy — much more than you can feel in a large theater. That’s good for the audience, and speaking as an actor, it’s terrific as an actor.”
BART recently joined the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce and will have its official ribbon-cutting on opening night, Sept. 17.
“A big part of their mission right now is to attract retirees and residents to the area. One of the things they’re trying to highlight is the entertainment opportunities in the off-season, and that’s a big part of what we do,” said Martini. “They’re very excited… They plan to highlight what we’re doing because it’s a terrific opportunity for people that are here outside of the summer.”
BART began as a non-profit with the goal of bringing local theater to the Bethany area and, through the Encore Foundation established by theater owner Rich Bloch, providing scholarships to local high school students who seek to pursue a career in the arts, either on or off stage.
“Our rally cry is an initiative the board has embraced, called ‘20 By 20.’ The goal is we will deliver by our 2020 season 20 scholarships to local youth who want to pursue the arts,” said Martini. “That’s a big, audacious goal, but I think a very meaningful one. It gives us and the community something to rally around. It’s not just a community theater that’s just going from week to week. We’ve got a big goal out there that’s a meaningful goal for the local community.
“We believe it’s achievable. We think it’s big, we think it’s audacious, and we think it’s achievable. And it will make a difference — that’s the key thing.”
To achieve that goal, BART is seeking support from the community in the form of sponsorships. Those individuals or businesses who wish to support the arts and BART’s “20 By 20” goal may sponsor individual productions throughout the season. Those who sponsor productions will be honored on the theatre’s Wall of Fame.
“In order to do big things like this with a small theater, we need financial support from the community. We can’t pull off a big musical with 20 people in the audience, with the low ticket prices,” said Davis, noting all donations are tax-deductible. “We need the community support financially, but it’s all for a good cause.”
“Everyone who comes to a show or sponsors a show is actively participating in reaching that ‘20 By 20’ goal,” said Martini.
“It’s in the community, for the community,” added Davis.
Dickens Parlour Theatre is located at 35715 Atlantic Avenue in Millville, just east of Food Lion. To reserve tickets for upcoming shows, visit www.dptmagic.com or call (302) 829-1071. Those who are interested in getting involved or donating to BART may visit www.Facebook.com/BARTinBethany or email firstname.lastname@example.org.