A community theater group is hoping a throw-back event with a modern twist will help them to survive.
The group Bartlett Community Theatre in conjunction with St. Ann’s Catholic Church will hold a dinner theater event in October. Group leader Paul Webb said it’s an event with many firsts attached, including the first time the group has tried such a show and the first it’s partnered with St. Ann’s.
“We are excited to be doing this,” said Webb about the show. “I don’t think Memphis has done something like this in a long time.”
The idea came from the play’s director, Howard Pries, who also selected the show “Over the River and Through the Woods” for the dinner theater event. He said he believes the closest dinner theater to Bartlett is in Nashville, and he hopes people will embrace the concept here.
“It’s such a unique, fun experience,” said Pries. “I think people have forgotten how enjoyable and unique (a dinner theater) can be.”
Pries said that dinner theaters were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, but almost became extinct after that. He believes one of the reasons is that younger people became disinterested with the idea as younger people associated it with an older crowd, sub-par food and lousy atmospheres.
That’s something he and the community group are trying to change.
“We’re doing this through promotions on Facebook, trying to reach out to a younger crowd,” Pries said. “We hope, we plan to bring the highest level of production value to the show as possible.”
For $25, dinner-theater-goers will get a spaghetti supper with salad and bread; free (non-alcoholic) drinks; dessert; and the performance. St. Ann’s is providing the venue of their gymnasium and is providing the food. The theater group will provide the production, the talent and materials to build the set, said Pries.
“The church is really excited,” he said. “It’s a chance to bring Broadway-style theater into Bartlett.”
The play itself is a comedy with some dramatic moments that would be suitable for any demographic, including children, Pries said. Centered around an Italian American family in which a single guy’s grandparents cook up a series of schemes to try to keep him from moving across the country to pursue his dream job, Pries said he believed it would be the perfect play to try the dinner-theater concept – especially at St. Ann’s.
“It’s a very family-friendly theme, and there are a lot of Catholic references in it,” he said.
Still, it’s a bit of a risk for the struggling theater group and the church. While Webb and Pries both said they hope the event will be the beginning of a long-term relationship between the two, much of that depends on how well this one goes. It’s an even greater risk for the theater group because it doesn’t have a permanent home. After leaving the Bartlett Performing Arts Center, the group has put on one play, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That was in February at Bartlett High School.
“We’re basically putting all our chips on the table with this one,” said Pries who also said he said he believes the match between the groups is good.
To that end, Pries also said he and St. Ann’s have expressed hope that some of its members would become involved and try out for the play.
“Part of the experience, part of the fun is for the church to open up to its members for auditions,” he said. “It’s the essence of community theater: Involving anything and anyone in the community.”