Elizabeth Guffey is the artistic director of Freeport Players, a community theater group entering its 25th season. The 48-year-old Guffey has been with the group for 12 years and acting since she was a teenager. She started as a volunteer for Freeport Players and in 2010 took the reins of artistic director and manager in 2010, a full-time job that is the realization of a lifelong dream.
This summer, Freeport Players will present “The 39 Steps” from July 18-Aug. 4, at the Freeport Performing Arts Center. Auditions for the group’s September show, “Indoor/Outdoor,” are scheduled for June 2 and 3.
Guffey recently took a few minutes to speak with the Tri-Town Weekly about her organization, the types of shows she likes to stage, and why people should put down their IPads and take in a show once in a while.
Q: How many productions do you folks stage a year?
A: We do three major productions a year. One in the summer, one in the fall, and for the past 10 years an old-time radio show-style production in the winter, similar to “A Prairie Home Companion.” There are other small-scale things we’ll do, such as a one-week run last year with a local playwright and also the occasional reading. Primarily those three productions are our big things.
Q: What do you look for when choosing a production?
A: We like to mix it up. The size of our sandbox is a little limited. We want to make sure our audience base has choices over those three productions and also that they’re going to enjoy it. We have a wide variety of people who participate and a wide variety of tastes. We do look for productions that will provide and encourage people to participate, ranging from the basic to material that will challenge people.
Q: Do you hope to have people participate who have acting experience?
A: We try to have a good mix that runs the spectrum. One of the things I strive for is to put people with experience together with those that don’t so they can learn and grow from each other. That’s been a pretty good model for us. We try to have productions that will allow the experienced performers a chance to grow but also allow for the inexperienced performers. It’s not easy and certainly a challenge. But it’s a chance for our participants to be someone else for a while through acting, always a good break from the stress of our daily lives. For me personally, community theater gave me an opportunity to learn by doing.
Q: Where do you stage your productions?
A: We’ve entered into an agreement with the RSU 5 to do our three main productions at the Freeport Performing Arts Center. We’ve traditionally held our performances at the Freeport High School for as long as I can remember. We have also performed all over town, including empty storefronts, at the library, at the community center, and also the Freeport Factory Stage on Bow Street.
Q: What are some elements of community theater that you think are important?
A: It’s a great outlet for people’s creative energy and because we are open to such a broad range of people. It allows someone to rub shoulders with a lot of different folks. For community members in the audience, it’s great fun to see live theater, something that people aren’t doing as much as they used to. I think people ought to see more theater and be in a room, in the moment. with other people, rather than watching television or an iPad. It’s much more insular. Community theater is a collective experience.
Q: In your 12 years with the Freeport Players, have you seen interest increase or decrease since you started?
A: I would say there has been a decline not in interest, but in barriers. Current economics make it difficult for people to give up that much time because they are working hard and longer hours. There is also more things competing for people’s time and attention then we had even 10 years ago. Community theater can be a time-consuming activity, particularly for the performers. When we do staged readings it does give people an opportunity to participate that is not so time consuming.
Q: What is the age range of the performers?
A: The majority of what we do is best suited for people 18 into their 40s. It’s very difficult to find plays with good roles for seniors and also for young people. Thankfully, the Freeport Family Performing Arts can accommodate the younger ones. We don’t want to poach on their territory. They do a fantastic job.
Q: What is your upcoming production?
A: We have started auditioning for the cast of our summer production, “The 39 Steps,” sort of a sendup of the thriller genre
“We do look for productions that will provide and encourage people to participate,” says Elizabeth Guffey, artistic director of the Freeport Players, a community theater group entering its 25th season.