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Arts and Entertainment

SLT Produces New Play By Local Playwright Sandy Johnson

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(Poster design courtesy Springfield Little Theatre)
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Springfield Little Theatre will host the world premiere of the play "Sticks" by local playwright Sandy Leigh Johnson, at our education facility, The Judith Enyeart Reynolds School of the Performing Arts for Springfield Little Theatre, 237 S. Florence, October 10-13.  Johnson told us on “Arts News” that “several years ago when I wrote the play, one of the driving forces of writing (it) was the fact that I didn’t feel there were enough plays starring older women.”  Her husband, John Johnson, directed this production, and the author herself plays the lead role of Gypsy.         

“Sticks” is set in a knitting shop owned by a lady in her late forties to early fifties named Gypsy (after the famous musical). Owning the knit shot was Gypsy’s “little dream,” said Sandy Johnson. Gypsy and her cousin Dorcas (also named for a character from a musical, in this case “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers”) are both going through menopause.  “The play talks about things from marital affairs to midlife crisis, menopause,” and yes, knitting, said Johnson. “And they are sassier than you think two little ladies in a knit shop would be. But (the script) also talks about not putting people in boxes, not labeling people to make things convenient for yourself. “(Gypsy) is part of a group of five friends, four women and one man, who identifies as a gay man. They’ve been friends since high school,” added Sandy Johnson.

Another character, a “magical older lady” enters the scene.  Her name is Glinda—and yes, she’s named after the “Good Witch of the North” in “The Wizard of Oz,” because, explained Sandy Johnson, “these characters grew up in the era of watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on TV every year when they were little. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ meant a lot to them.  And this lady seems to enter their lives, and this is where we get into the fact that this play is written in ‘magical realism.’ We’re looking at a setting that is reality, real peoples’ lives. These characters are ‘real people.’ And yet, some magical things happen to them, especially when they’re struggling—or even when they’re trying to choose joy and happiness in their lives.”

We even get to see the five main characters when they were teenagers. “Well, I like to say that ‘flashbacks’ are better than ‘hot flashes,’” Sandy Johnson said with a sly grin. “But one of the reasons I chose to have them flash back to their high school years is to give them a direct look at ‘look at what you used to be like when you had energy all the time, when you never let hope run out, when something bad happened to you and you found a creative way around it with no problem. You just went for it, and never thought about being afraid, or about failure.’” The play’s main message is how to keep happiness, creativity, hope, faith and love alive, no matter what your age.

Asked how he got involved as director (not to mention scenic designer, lighting designer, and set builder among other things!), John Johnson said he “first became involved with it almost a year ago, when we did the initial stage reading. Then Sandy took about a year to re-write, do some corrections, based primarily on audience reaction, suggestions from others that had good ideas on how to restructure the play. Then I became involved as the director. We had the auditions back in August… and,” he said, indicating Sandy, “I made her audition! I needed to see her do the character onstage, interact with the other group members that are there. So it’s been a process of a little over two months now. We’ve done a lot of rewriting, we’ve done a lot of adding and cutting—again, as you have live actors actually reading the roles and moving around you find things that work and things that don’t work. But it’s been a fun process, dealing with a new play where you have the ability to do that.” In other words, the script wasn’t set in stone, and they’ve been able to revise as they’ve gone along. “We had the playwright right there, so making quick corrections, additions or deletions” can be done “spur-of-the-moment, right when it’s happening.”

Now that the premiere production of “Sticks” is about to take place, Sandy Johnson said the script “is pretty much where I want it to be, when I really heavily pursue getting it published, getting it produced in other cities.”

Performances of “Sticks” are Thurs-Sat Oct 10-12 at 7:00pm and Sunday Oct. 13 at 2:00pm, all at the SLT Education Department facility. Tickets are $8 students/seniors, $10 adults. Call 869-1334 or visit www.springfieldlittletheatre.org.