Hyde Park Community Players is now in its tenth year, but it continues to see many of the same faces coming back to act.
This loyal community, which includes the author of this article, has stayed attached to the company because of its welcoming environment. Being one of the Players, as the company is affectionately known, doesn’t just give people the chance to direct a play or act. In contrast to the often competitive and isolating world of the acting industry, the Players gives people the chance to grow in a nurturing environment.
“There is a sense of community,” said actor Leslie Browne. “The Players are very supportive of each other.”
Some of the company’s actors have been in its plays since childhood. Meara MacGregor has been acting with the Players since she was fourteen; her first role was playing a fangirl in the company’s production of Picasso at Lapin Agile.
“My only line was ‘Oh my God!’, which I said over and over again,” said MacGregor.
Since that role nine years ago, MacGregor has been involved with every one of the Players’ mainstage productions as an actor or part of the crew. She has been in every Summer Shakespeare play, coming back from school to act in the productions during her summer breaks. And this year, MacGregor is making her debut as the director of the company’s newest production, She Kills Monsters.
This kind of long-term involvement is common to the Hyde Park Players, which is a volunteer-run community theater. One of the things the company seeks to maintain is a diverse cast. The company has tailored its entry process to encourage actors of all ages and experience levels to get involved.
“Anyone with a desire to act can audition,” said founding member Corinna Christman. “No one needs a headshot or résumé.”
To appeal to different actors (and audiences), the Players also stages a wide range of productions, ranging from classical works such as Antigone to contemporary plays like Proof.
Actor Paul Upshaw credits the Players with much of his start in theatre, saying that he hadn’t been in a play since sixth grade. He had taken acting classes, but was new to auditioning. Still, in 2016 he auditioned for—and was cast in—the Players’ production of Clybourne Park. Being in the play built his confidence.
“The Hyde Park Community Players took me to the next level,” Paul explained. “The Players gave me a voice.”
For the past two years, Paul has been represented by the Stewart Talent Agency and has been auditioning for television roles.
The Players’ process of selecting what plays they will put on is as user-friendly as possible, to encourage involvement. They created an official process for vetting plays in 2013, with different selection committees for each season.
“There is great representation from the community in the selection committee,” said founding member and organizer Christman. “It is a very lengthy process, and can take a couple of weeks or longer.”
Even if people are not chosen as part of the cast, they are invited to become involved in the production as members of the crew.
To give budding directors the chance to practice their skills, the Players also put on stage readings, which require less preparation because they don’t use full sets or costumes.
“The stage readings encourage more people to explore theater and plays they may think about doing on a larger scale in the future,” said Laura MacGregor, a member of the Players and the host of a monthly staged reading series.
For MacGregor, a highlight of the readings is conversation over baked goods at the end. This break gives people the chance to chat about the play and get to know each other.
“Half of being part of the Players is actually the play. The other half is getting to know people and being around people you like,” said Allen.
She Kills Monsters opens Friday, March 13 at 8pm with an audience-invited dress rehearsal. The price is “pay what you will.” Official opening night is Saturday, March 14, at 8pm. A reception follows the performance. On Sunday, March 15 at 2pm, all RPG gamers who bring their character sheets will get a discount on the ticket price. After the play there will be a free panel discussion with local luminaries from the RPG and comic book communities. The play will be open through March 22. All performances will be held at University Church, 5655 S. University Ave. $15, $12 with a discount. hydeparkcommunityplayers.org
Vanessa Ellis is a longtime member of the Hyde Park Community Players and one of the company’s former board members. She directed the Players’ production of Clybourne Park as well as a number of staged readings, including Raising the Roof, which she also co-wrote.