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First City Players releases new season
Poster prints by artist Lori Orlowski for five new First City Players productions. Photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

There were five themed tables set up at the First City Players office on May 31 for its season reveal party. One table had sunflowers, pastries, sheet music and calendars. In the middle of the room, a table with Greek food and gold sparkly clothing.

Another table had board games with potato chips and a pair of tiny red Converse shoes. Across the room was a table with a stack of fabrics — and underneath those fabrics was a pea. On top of them, a crown.

Sitting behind the first table as people walked in was a chalkboard with a seemingly impossible equation to figure out.

Those tables offered clues into the new season of productions that First City Players is set to bring to life. The season was announced at the end of May after guests meandered around the room, eating themed snacks from each table and guessing which shows they could be.

Productions were chosen by members of a selection committee who were tasked with reading several scripts to fill five slots, which they started in December. This year’s committee included Matt Armstrong, Clare Bennett, Rebecca Bowlen, Glenn Fazakerley, Lori Orlowski, Jack Finnegan, Kyle Bailey and Lynn Jorgensen and was led by committee chairperson Bridget Mattson. As music director, Deidra Nuss is also consulted for her opinions on the shows.

The slots they fill each year include a fall musical, a classic or contemporary theater challenge, a family show, a multigenerational production and youth programs.

“The challenge slot is where we challenge ourselves, we challenge our actors, we challenge our technical crew and we challenge our audiences,” said FCP Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson. “It doesn’t have to be a challenge like, ‘We’re doing something that is so heavy.’ It could be ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ where we take a well-loved piece of literature — and how do you perform it and look at it differently?”

Mattson, Nelson, and FCP Marketing and Outreach Director Amanda Glanzer first narrow down a large selection of shows for the committee to take a look at. In doing that, they think about community interest, feasibility and cost.

“You choose what you think will please the audience you have and hopefully bring people in that maybe haven’t seen something before because what the play is talking about has something that could spark an interest,” said Nelson.

Each season also includes FCP staple events, “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter,” Divas and Divos, Ketchikan Jazz & Cabaret Festival and Gigglefeet Dance Festival.

FCP’s current season included  “Cabaret,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Upcoming shows are “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Singin’ in the Rain Jr.”

For the past few seasons, Orlowski has been creating original artwork to display the upcoming season, which Nelson said truly captures each show. Those creations were released on May 31 to a crowd of people in the FCP office, when Glanzer and Nelson gave more clues before hanging up her artwork.

The clues for one of the reveals was: It’s a jukebox musical. More than 60 million people have seen the show since it was first produced and it takes place on a Greek island.

• The musical of the season is: “Mama Mia!” It’s set for November in the Ketchikan High School auditorium.

How would FCP staff describe the show?

“Love is found on a Greek Island,” Nelson said on Tuesday.

“One bride, three possible fathers,” Glanzer quipped.

“You’re better at these one-liners than I am,” Nelson added.

Glanzer and Nelson seemed particularly excited about this season’s challenge play. Nelson said it’s her favorite kind of show to direct, adding it has a lot to say and a lot to think about, with strong and interesting characters.

“It’s one, that when I read it, I read … the first scene and I was like, ‘If I don’t stop myself, I’ll read the entire thing in 20 minutes.’ You can’t with that,” Glanzer said on Tuesday. “So I had to put it down, and walk away and think, and chew on it and digest it; and then come back to it and read some more and then force myself to put it down.”

At the reveal party, Nelson gave three clues for the challenge show. It was a 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner and won the Tony Award for drama. The main character of the play is a daughter of a mathematical genius. Then Nelson gave the last clue: the many definitions of the word “proof.”

• {Proof} is set for March 2019 in the Kayhi auditorium. Nelson said as a director and actor, the show is the kind of work that is so satisfying by the end.

“It is a gorgeous show, it’s on a more serious side,” Nelson said at the reveal party. “It definitely is a drama, but it explores the relationship of a daughter with her father who she took care of, who died, who was a mathematical genius. Who also had some mental illness.”

During the party, Nelson gave clues for the next show: Unpredictable, exasperating and boisterous. A sister narrates. The book is by Beverly Cleary.

• “Ramona Quimby” is set for April 2019 in the Kayhi auditorium with Jack Finnegan directing. The show sponsor is AJ’s Burgers.

There are little stories within this year’s multigenerational show, as well an overarching story with Quimby’s father losing his job.

“It’s the story of this community, basically,” Glanzer said on Tuesday. “It’s Ramona’s role within her family, but then there’s things going on with her family members as well.”

This year’s family-friendly show is set for June 2019 in the Kayhi auditorium. Nelson clarified on Tuesday what family-friendly is referring to with their productions. She said you might not bring your 5-year-old, but the show is light-hearted.

“While it might not be for young children, it’s something that is comfortable, has a rewarding message, isn’t necessarily complicated,” Nelson explained. “… That would be our ‘Putnam County’ this year. It’s fun and engaging.”

At the reveal party, Nelson gave a few clues. The film starred Helen Mirren along with other women. It is based on a true story and women bear all for charity.

• The show is “Calendar Girls.” It’s a play based on a film with the same title, where usually it’s the other way around, Nelson said. The show sponsor is Whale’s Tail because they donated 13,000 yards of fabric to FCP.

“I will say that though the women bear all, the audience won’t see all,” Nelson said at the party. “Sorry. If I was going to audition, that would make me feel better.”

This year, young ones participating in FCP’s ArtsCool will be performing a musical that was made from a fairytale story. It won’t be the full adult show, but rather a condensed version of the production in August of 2019.

For example, all of the songs will be there, but some verses will be cut. Some dialogue will be reduced as well. Nelson said the show is a way to get kids loving musical theater.

“It’s a great program to be able to introduce musicals to youth without having the entire two-and-a-half to three hour show that the kids have to carry,” Nelson said.

The clues at the party were: A prince must wed, the music is by Richard Rodgers’ daughter and it was the Broadway debut for Carol Burnett.

• The show is “Once Upon a Mattress.” It’s set for August in the Kayhi auditorium.

Nelson said it’s a charming story that is a sweet retelling of “Princess and the Pea.” It’s a “Getting to Know” show, meaning it was adapted for youth performers.

After the reveal party, the Daily News caught up with some event-goers to hear their input on the upcoming season.

Angela Matthews, whose young daughter was in “Charlotte’s Web,” said she just recently watched “Mama Mia!” because it was put back on Netflix.

“That was one of two tables that I actually guessed what it was,” Matthews said. “I’m super excited about ‘Calendar Girls’ because I love that movie.”

Jackie Jones-Bailey, a FCP costumer, said it’s going to be an exciting season.

“It gives a lot of opportunity for a diverse group of people,” Jones-Bailey said.

As a costumer, did any ideas pop into her head after the season reveal party?

“Immediately,” she said. “I can’t take a day off.”

Barbara Bailey, who also helps with costumes, is looking forward to the new season simply because theater “keeps us always entertained.”

“And something new,” she added. “Some of them I haven’t seen.”

Glanzer said they’re still working on a few more elements of the season, which will be in the brochure that comes out at the Blueberry Arts Festival. FCP is working on times, spaces and venus.

As of right now, Nelson is directing every one of those shows except “Ramona Quimby” which will be directed by Finnegan. Auditions for shows are usually held six to eight weeks before the stated performance and no show is pre-casted. Everyone is encouraged to audition.

Divas and Divos will be in September, Jazz and Cabaret galas are set for January and “Fish Pirate’s Daughter” will be in July of 2019. Gigglefeet Dance Festival will be in August 2019.