Thanks to Barbara K. Clark of Hilton Head Island for sharing the story an interesting reunion on the island.
By Barbara K. Clark
The year was 1976 and the month was June. I arrived on Hilton Head Island, leaving my family, friends and my on-air television job behind in Florida. As I drove over the drawbridge (yes, it was a drawbridge back then) I wondered what in the world would I do on an island with one stoplight, no street lights and no television station.
Never miss a local story.
How would I replace my exciting life in the broadcast industry, where just a week prior I was on the live news van covering a bomb scare at the Palm Beach International Airport?
I eagerly awaited Tuesdays and Thursdays, the only days the Packet was published. Reading it cover to cover, the words "Auditions for Man of La Mancha" jumped off the page and into my grateful eyes. A theater! Right here! Live theater!
I arrived that warm summer evening to an un-air-conditioned warehouse with wide open spaces, no stage and a woman sucking on a lemon. That woman would become my first and long-time friend on Hilton Head Island.
Maggie Hancock was auditioning for the lead role in "La Mancha" and for me, the only role was that of a high soprano housekeeper. We both got the parts and now all we needed was the stage. And, thus commenced the building of the Hilton Head Playhouse on a street near Sea Pines Circle that would become known as Dunnagan's Alley.
We spent our days and nights pounding nails and rehearsing in the summer heat.
I remember fondly the bit of a dip in the stage right floor, a reminder every time I stepped on the "boards" that we were physically a part of that building and that a volunteer and not a carpenter had put that part of the stage together.
I also remember that I had to get an understudy as my father was very ill, and I reluctantly gave up the role as my father got worse and passed away on opening night. (But I finally got to play the role last year at May River Theatre in Bluffton.)
The opening kept on being put off as we didn't have a certificate of occupancy. It was the beginning of community theater, from ground zero to a 20-year run.
My, what a great time we had in that warehouse. We formed a theater guild, mainly made up of casts and crews. When we weren't on stage, we were ushering, house managing or tending bar.
Our house was packed -- almost every show, as we were the only theater in the area for a very long time. Islanders knew us by name and would stop us in the grocery store and ask when we would be doing another show. It was hometown community theater at its best.
And on Friday, May 15, the best of the best returned from all over to remember the days of "The Playhouse" as it was fondly called. They came from as far away as New York, Michigan, Texas and Florida. They came from Charleston, Bluffton and, of course, Hilton Head Island.
Some of us were a little grayer, but nonetheless, everyone was recognized and greeted warmly by the members of our "old gang" from Dunnagan's Alley. Why, we even had our longtime after-theater haunt, Remy's (now Roy's Place), cater the event with its famous mac and cheese, hushpuppies and Lowcountry boil.
There were actresses: Carma Kubu, Judi Murphy, Lori Maurer, Starr Acheson, Margaret Crenshaw, Julie Hawn, Lynne Hummell, Charmion Phillips, Karen Beltz , Cinda Seamon, Iva Welton, Jeanne Zailckas and yours truly.
Some of the actors included Jerry Wilcox, Bill Beltz, Gary Swindell, Tom Keating, Todd O'Dell, Mark Cortale, Travis McKinley, Paul Tebrake and John David Rose.
Musicians Penny Rose, Ann Gerschefski, Larry Mercer and Sue Hawkins and daughter Carmen were also among the attendees.
Backstage and front-of-house regulars included Sloan Dunnagan, CJ Barbeau Humphrey, Shannon Mason Kline, Christine Fischer, Julie Geiger Duvall, Matt Mayerling, Emmett McConnell, Terry Bergeron, Norma Van Amberg, Laura Sims, Linda Clapp, Mira Scott, Sarah Takacs and more.
And last, but not least, no theater company is complete without its directors. Dallas Dunnagan, daughter of longtime Playhouse director Bill Dunnagan and herself the Playhouse artistic director for many seasons, was again directing the crew during a photo shoot. And, Megan McCombs, who has both acted and directed, and who currently works with Dallas at the Naples Community Theatre in Florida, was right there beside her.
Several audience members dropped by to reminisce -- and while we tried to do color-coded name tags based on what "role" we once played, we soon realized that none of us can really be "categorized" (actor, production crew, house staff) as for one show we might have been on stage but for another we were running spotlight, building sets, working the box office or seating patrons.
Sending good wishes from afar were Barbara Lisenby Bricker, Nat Gerhart, Poppy Liska Pritchett, Jane Stouffer, Stephanie Levine, Tony Sears, Casey Colgan and dozens of others who commented on the reunion Facebook page.
While legendary Playhouse founder Bill Dunnagan, who currently resides in an assisted living facility in Jacksonville near his daughter Sloan, couldn't be with us in person, he certainly was "center stage" as we all shared our favorite Bill stories and memories.
Friendships and acquaintances were renewed. Tears and laughter were shared. Scrapbooks and photos and videos viewed and a reassurance from yours truly that community theater was alive and well in our area in both the Main Street Youth Theatre and May River Theatre, and the newest theater group, Lean Ensemble Theatre.
A number of folks got together early the next morning (well, early by theater standards) and met at the site of the former Playhouse to walk what is now a greenspace and try to imagine exactly where the stage, backstage, workshops, house, box office -- and of course the "green room" door -- were once located. Afterwards they all went to brunch and reminisced one final time before saying good-bye and promising not to let so many years pass before we did this again.
Our May River Theatre Company considers all who perform and volunteer a member of our May River Theatre "family." That "family" started almost 40 years ago at a little warehouse on Dunnagan's Alley ... across from Remy's.
There's nothing like a theater company to keep the home fires burning, and take it from this homebody who has been acting and directing for almost 40 years here, it was a wonderful, wonderful memory to have everyone come home again.