The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

December 29, 2013

Jo Ellis: Theater’s the place to be on New Year’s Eve

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Maybe it’s because there’s just a little bit of a wanna-be actor or actress in all of us.

Maybe we want to be entertained with crazy antics, or maybe we just enjoy being voyeurs at the table side of a good story.

Whatever it is, there is something in small communities all over America that pulls us to the stage. It’s always been amazing to me that Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre in Carthage has been so successful for so many years, considering that its entire infrastructure almost totally depends on volunteers.

I wanted to tell you about the upcoming production at Stone’s Throw that happens Tuesday night. A tradition at the theater is producing a one-night-only, audience-participation play each New Year’s Eve. Now, I feel somewhat guilty because I came late to the table, and the house is sold out. The normal seating capacity of 86 has been expanded to 107, so if you don’t already have your ticket, you may have to start this tradition on the eve of 2015.

The play is “The Wedding from Hell,” a comedy/murder mystery dedicated to the notion that everything that can go wrong in a wedding will. It is made more hilarious with the insertion of references to local businesses and people.

Wendy Wolf, who is directing the play, told me that audience-participation shows have always been well-received. Wendy is one of those phenomenal people who amaze us with their ability to do it all. In her day job, she is front-office administrator and public relations manager for the Checkett & Pauly law office. In addition to directing and acting chores (she is playing the hostess in the current play), she heads up the kitchen at Stone’s Throw and is a member of the theater’s board of directors.

She looks like a 20s-something career girl, and I was astounded to learn that Wendy is not only a mother, but a grandmother of a 14-year-old. When I talked with her, just four days before the play’s opening, she had just completed baking a real wedding cake for her daughter’s afternoon nuptials and was well on her way to baking the lopsided mishmash of a wedding cake needed for the play.

You have to admit that’s a strange twist of fate.

The two cakes may, in fact, bear some resemblance. Wendy said the cake for her daughter was decorated beautifully on one side, but the other side replicated an overturned Jeep in a cascading mudslide to illustrate the newlyweds’ love of “mudding.”

When her granddaughter, helping her set the tables in the theater dining room, questioned why the eating utensils and glasses had to be placed so precisely, Wendy got to share her philosophy of volunteerism. “Everyone who walks in that door should be able to leave all their problems behind, and when they reach for that glass of water, it should be there. It’s our payback to the community,” Wendy told her.

Other volunteers must be of the same mind. They come from all walks of life with the same sense of dedication. Deborah Hubbard, a Dollar General employee, “is there all the time,” Wendy said. Jim Height, who also works to keep the food pantry filled at Fairview Christian Church, is a dishwasher extraordinaire. Sid Davis, owner of Big John’s Construction, will be there Tuesday night to ensure that the buffet table is constantly filled. Judge David Mouton often will come and serve, Wendy said. Retirees Ruth and Tom Platt, who help with all kinds of kitchen duties, recently persevered through a long series of phone tag just to make sure they could be counted on.

Those are only a few of the volunteers who keep Stone’s Throw up and running. Besides the kitchen and dining room jobs, there are many other important posts to be manned: stagehands, lighting professionals, costume designers and even yard maintenance workers.

“Up the Down Staircase” is the theater’s next big production, scheduled to open Jan. 31.

“We’re going to need volunteers like crazy for that,” Wendy said.

One word of warning: You might want to exercise a bit of caution. If you’re volunteering too often, you may be tapped as a director on the 15-member board of directors. That’s what happened to Wendy. Judging from her enthusiasm and devotion to the cause, I don’t believe she really minds.

I can call it devotion with complete assurance. Anyone who would talk to me twice — between baking and decorating two wedding cakes and preparing for her daughter’s wedding the same day — has to be devoted to the cause.

ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email news@joplinglobe.com.

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