Living Columns & Blogs

Tribute to Jodie Dupuis, the 'Dancing Elf' and first lady of May River Theatre Co.

Jodie Dupuis
Jodie Dupuis Submitted photo

Thanks to Barbara Robinson Clark of Hilton Head Island for sharing her thoughts about the late Jodie Dupuis.


By Barbara Robinson Clark

She danced her way into my life in 1979 at the now defunct Hilton Head Playhouse. She was Josephine (Jodie) Dupuis, 5-foot-2 and a size 0, an elflike woman who lived and breathed theater and dance.

Jodie was the choreographer for numerous musicals at the Hilton Head Playhouse on Dunnagans Alley. She choreographed "Oklahoma," our first show together, and worked with me again on "Kiss Me Kate," "Fiddler on the Roof" (Jodie was the Fiddler in the only show I remember her making an onstage cameo performance), "Brigadoon," "How to Succeed in Business," "My Fair Lady," "Music Man," "Annie," "Sugar" and many more.

During this time, Jodie and "Mr. Jodie," as we affectionately called her husband, Ed, lived in Savannah, and Jodie commuted back and forth to fulfill her love for the theater. She teamed up with Bill Dunnagan, the director of the Playhouse. They were an interesting combo, many times reminding me of oil and water before coming together to produce a smooth and professional performance that was most always a sold-out show with standing ovations.

At that time, the Hilton Head Playhouse was the only theater on the island and in Bluffton. It was a true community theater with community spirit. Participation was phenomenal, not only from the actors and production crews who formed the theater family, but from the community that supported it by attending shows and advertising in the theater program.

In the 1990s, Ed's job took them away from the area, and we lost our dancing elf. Ten years later, Ed retired to Bluffton, and he and Jodie bought a home in Moss Creek. But there was no more Hilton Head Playhouse for Jodie to be involved in. So, as Ed says, "We started our own theater."

They started the May River Theatre, and Bluffton is the better for it. Jodie brought the true spirit of community theater back to the area in 2001. The town of Bluffton houses the theater in Ulmer Auditorium at town hall. People attending are often heard to say, "This is just like the old Hilton Head Playhouse."

But, let me tell you, it is more. Jodie and Ed poured their hearts and souls into what has become "The Best Little Community Theatre" around. The theater produces four shows a year, three of which are musicals. The theater family is a strong unit, with almost a theater company feel. Anyone who auditions and is cast soon becomes a part of the family and is welcomed with open arms. The success of this theater is due to the dedication that both Ed and Jodie poured into it -- and Jodie's passion.

It was difficult to "just say no" when Jodie asked you to do something for the theater, and many remember her idiosyncrasies as a director/choreographer. We always knew when she was nervous about a particular scene as she sat in the audience twirling her hair around her finger. If someone tried to direct, she would always remind them, "There is only one director." She choreographed her numbers with pennies, and a few years ago I told her that based on our longevity working together I should be graduated to a quarter. So the next show I was the only silver metal on the choreography plan.

There are so many memories associated with Jodie. Her energy was boundless -- not only would she direct and choreograph, but she would sew costumes, paint scenery and throw one heck of a cast party.

Jodie died Jan. 21, but lives on in our hearts and our performances. Some of us are now directing and choreographing the shows at May River Theatre. I was privileged to direct "Annie" in February, a show in which I performed Miss Hannagan under Jodie 30 years ago at the Hilton Head Playhouse. It was a bittersweet experience for me.

Jodie lived for the May River Theatre, and the theater is alive today because of her. When cancer took Jodie to her stage in heaven, a core group of her theater family, including yours truly, came together to place a plaque to honor her forever on the Ulmer Auditorium stage. Sporting the comedy/tragedy masks, it reads:

The Jodie Dupuis Stage

Bluffton's "First Lady of Theatre"

Dedicated to Her Vision, Drive & Talent

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