Byline: JILL HELTON
ST. MARYS -- They are firefighters, social workers, teachers, schoolchildren and retirees.
All have one thing in common -- they have a story to tell, and they are passionate about it.
Theatrical director Jerry Stropnicky has worked with professional and amateur actors alike. He says his latest production, Crooked Rivers: Sisters Three, is best told by local people who come from all walks of life.
"Most of the people in the show had never met, " said Stropnicky, who is from Bloomsburg, Pa. "They come from every part of the county, up and down the economic ladder, white, black, Asian, Latino -- all kinds of people who don't run into each other. And here we are all doing this very hard project together, and it's just amazing.
"That's what keeps me coming back to this kind of work."
The show, which opens Thursday at Crooked River State Park, is five years in the making. Borrowing the concept of the famous Swamp Gravy folk-life show in Colquitt, volunteers combed Camden County for personal stories about the community. Those tales are told through a series of skits that will be presented on stage for the next three weeks.
Stropnicky has directed the Colquitt show and now travels around the country doing similar projects. This is his ninth folk-life play using average people like those in Crooked Rivers: Sisters Three.
Angie Bryant, a veteran of Camden Area Players, said this production is different from typical community theater. She said the real attraction is the history of Camden County and its three cities -- St. Marys, Kingsland and Woodbine -- personified on stage as three bickering, but loving, sisters.
"In community theater, you've got a few who do almost everything and several who like to be on stage, and that's all they want to do. Here, nobody is the star. It is a group performance, and everybody knows that. No one is trying to hog the spotlight and be No. 1, " Bryant said. "They all want the production to succeed, not themselves, and that makes a difference."
Amateurs bring a unique authenticity to the show, said Stropnicky. He used the example of a play in Pennsylvania that used actual steelworkers on stage.
"They ended up getting into a big argument because the director wanted more sparks off the welding, and the actors said, 'You get sparks and it's a lousy weld, ' " recalled Stropnicky.
Audiences in Camden County also will find a genuine quality to the characters and setting, he said.
"They are so close to their own stories, the stories of the place. Out here [at Crooked River State Park], you get a sense of the stories literally coming up out of the ground, " he said.
Anyone who wanted to be a part of the production was given a role.
"That kind of shocks people because they think, 'Well how can it be any good?' " Stropnicky said.
But cast members insist that they are good, in spite of their collective inexperience on stage. Karl Lewis, a rescue worker who lives in St. Marys, said the director has been very forgiving, even when actors flub their lines on occasion.
"The majority of us out here have not done theater, so Jerry's been very patient with work schedules and people's inability, " he said. …