What do disappearing pachyderms, magicians and Masons have in common? Find out on Sept. 13.
Vanishing Elephant Players, a volunteer company of actors and theater enthusiasts based in Bay City, hosts a special "Hullabaloo!" at the historic Masonic Temple on Sept. 13. The open house and variety show fundraiser will be a celebration of its upcoming season and an invitation for the community to bring forth their own ideas and sign on as volunteers. The variety show will feature past and present Vanishing Elephant Players members as the theater launches its third season of work.
Vanishing Elephant Players is volunteer company of actors and theater enthusiasts based in Bay City.The Vanishing Elephant Players [VEP], are about “Putting community back in community theater.” Because they don’t need to appeal to a larger audience to meet high overhead costs, the VEP put on lesser-known and sometimes edgy productions. Established in mid-2017, the Vanishing Elephant players offer full-length plays, cabarets, storytelling, and improvisational works.
The VEP is the theater branch of the Friends of the Historic Masonic Temple
The VEP’s relationship with the Masonic Temple began when the theater group used the space to put on shows. But over the last year, it made sense for the company to join forces with the Friends of the Historic Masonic Temple and take advantage of community connections and resources.
Considered a gem among Bay City’s many historic buildings, The Masonic Temple was built in 1893. It was rebuilt from existing floor plans in 1903 after a devastating fire. It is one of the earliest examples of Moorish architecture in the U.S. and is on the National Registry for historic places. The building has three stages, numerous quirky hallways, and special rooms making it truly a magical place now earmarked to become a fully functioning art and performance center. All profits raised from Vanishing Elephant Player shows go toward the renovation of this amazing space. For more photos of the theater, visit Route Bay City's Nov. 29 story.
It is also the relationship with the temple that gave the Vanishing Elephant Players its name. When the players for the company first came together, they were looking for a name that would grab people’s attention and make a statement of community connection. Harry Houdini was a Mason and his most famous illusion was making an elephant vanish. Once Ryan Sequin made other founding members aware of this dramatic connection to the past, it became obvious that “Vanishing Elephant Players” was the perfect name for the fledgling group.
Plans for future
Erica Tatum, the company's Artistic Director, says the plan is to offer theater-based workshops and more full-length plays in 2020.Erica Tatum, Artistic Director for Vanishing Elephant Players, is excited about the changes and expansions happening with the theater company. Besides expanding the number of full-length plays and increasing their musical and story-based events, the members of the VEP are planning to offer theater-based workshops in 2020. These include resume-building classes, vocal instruction, and stage-combat workshops.
According to Tatum, “Fighting scenes on stage are a very specific type of work requiring lots of different techniques and props. The dynamics involved are very demanding and specialized, often playing into dance choreography. This kind of training is something that many actors only get through classes at an acting school. We want to make it accessible right here in Bay City.”
The resume-building workshop will provide the practical step-by-step actions needed for those who wish to make being in theater part of their lives. “You need to be able to sell yourself,” Tatum explained, “This workshop will cover how someone goes about getting experience and creating a format to present themselves to the industry.” Vocal workshops, singing workshops and audition workshops are also being looked at as a possibility.
The current schedule for 2020 includes:
- Jan. 17: Dead of Winter: A Ghostly Storytelling Event
- Feb. 29: Oddball's Ball: VEP’s Improv Night
- March 12-15: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
- June 26-28: The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman
Prices for VEP events make participating in live theater accessible, with average ticket prices about $10. The Masonic Temple has a full concession counter where refreshments such as popcorn, candy, light snacks, and soft drinks are available. The bigger events offer mixed drinks, wine, and beer.
The Vanishing Elephant Players want to connect
The Vanishing Elephant Players are interested in coordinating with other organizations to do themed plays and productions where expenses and profits are shared. Tatum explained this further: “Let’s say we wanted to do a play about women and the challenges of being a single mother, we might reach out to a local woman’s organization to see if they would be interested in working together. This allows us to combine insights and talents as we create something locally anchored, new and reality-based.”
The Vanishing Elephant Players want to “bury their fingers into the community.” There is no opportunity, idea or connection that they’re not interested in exploring. If it’s about sharing and growing and using the performing arts to connect, they want to talk about it. The VEP and its members hope to fill in the gaps between large venues and local acting companies; to make theater personal, available and raw.
The Masonic Temple’s lack of technology — stage settings, costumes, soundboards, lighting, etc. — can be a challenge, but it is also an asset. Working in this environment demands that players strip theater down to its essentials.
“Story-based, actor-based, and audience-involved theater is what happens at VEP. At our last event, "The Complete History of America [Abridged]," we used ‘thrust style’ staging. The actors came down off the stage and were performing on the floor in the center of the audience. You could see the actors sweat; you could smell the makeup and the costumes. This is theater up-close, personal and very real,” Tatum says.
"The Complete History of America (Abridged)" was the company's last production.A call for new members
The Vanishing Elephant Players wants to expand its core group. For the coming season, the VEP is calling for writers, actors, lighting and sound technicians, costume designers, make-up artists, and musicians. Musicians are especially wanted in order to expand for cabaret events. The VEP also is looking for people interested in working behind the scenes, such as scooping popcorn, ushering people to their seats, and cleaning up afterward.
To learn more about the company, visit the group's Facebook page.