Theater's Stars Are Backstage, Too; Volunteers Are Vital to the Success of Players by the Sea, Now in Its 40th Year

Article excerpt

Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

The blood looked real. After mixing chocolate cake mix, corn syrup and red food coloring in a bowl, special effects coordinator Shannon Jones was pleased.

"The blood has to look realistic when someone is bitten by Bat Boy," said Jones, one of the many Players by the Sea volunteers working on and behind the stage of the community theater's latest production.

The Jacksonville Beach-based theater is celebrating 40 seasons of performances this year.

From its first play in December 1966 to this month's Bat Boy, a musical about a boy who is half bat, volunteers have performed almost all of the work that makes the show go on.

All the actors, singers and dancers are volunteers. So are all the set designers, lighting technicians, makeup artists, people in charge of costumes, special effects, props and more.

Many work away from the stage. Members of a special team called the Angel Guild handle the box office out front, where they greet patrons and sell tickets. They also usher and tend the bar in the lobby.

Others, such as those on the mailing committee, work from home, addressing envelopes.

Volunteers even clean the theater, including the restrooms.

"It's very typical of community theater," said Executive Director Joe Schwarz, who has one of the theater's few paid positions.

Directors are paid a small stipend, but for all the months of work they do, it's almost volunteer, Schwarz said.

"People love doing it, that's why," he said. "They love theater, they love being in theater. It's a good social network. It's a great way to spend your time."

The theater, now at 106 Sixth St. N., put on its first production, George, on Dec. 3, 1966, at the Jacksonville Beach Community Center, which used to be downtown.

At a recent volunteer party in Ponte Vedra Beach, one of the founders, Deborah Lucas of Atlantic Beach, flashed back to those days.

Three married couples with theater-related backgrounds got together to plan the Beaches community theater because there was nothing like it at the time, Lucas said.

Ellie and Sammy Sampson of Ponte Vedra Beach, Tibbi and John Thorne of Atlantic Beach and Lucas and her husband, Jonathan, took turns meeting in each other's homes.

"We organized, selected plays, designated directors, found places to perform, appointed an attorney and started a charter," Lucas said.

Gail Featheringill of Jacksonville Beach was one of the first to volunteer for an acting role and has been performing at the theater ever since, for four decades.

She remembers all the places they put on plays, including the Ribault Garden Club building and the old Jacksonville Beach movie theater on First Street and Third Avenue North.

Performing in plays requires a large time commitment, said Featheringill, who is a court reporter in her day job. …