Death, life and steampunk
Garage Door Theater presents Western with punky twist
Pilot Point Community Opera House is setting up to present the old Western farce, “The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch” Feb. 21.
A traditional farce is loaded with clichés, director Charlene Ledbetter said. The play, written in the 1970s, has some social political undertones.
“Since it’s a farce, we’re just poking fun at the whole thing,” she said. “Since it’s a Western, and I wanted to have fun with it, and make it something new and fresh, we decided to steampunk the whole thing.”
Steampunk is defined by Merriam-Webster as “science fiction dealing with 19th-century societies dominated by historical or imagined steam-powered technology.” Think old-timey robots and such, powered by steam.
The evening of Feb. 6 was the first practice off-book, meaning no scripts allowed on stage during the rehearsal, she said.
“It’s very stressful for the actors,” she said. “It’s when they learn, ‘Oh, I know this part, but I don’t know this part.’ It’s a necessary part of being on stage.”
Everyone involved laughs a lot during rehearsals, production manager Monica David said.
“We haven’t done a Western of any kind, so I thought it’s time, since we’re in horse country,” she said. “The steampunk, we’ve never done steampunk before. The guns are going to be amazing because they’re really going to shoot fire.”
Props for the stage are still under construction, but the costumes are set, and songs are being rehearsed, she said.
“When the guy wrote this way back when, he put in a bunch of cowboy at the time, and that makes sense. It’s a cowboy kind of Western,” she said. “But I decided to kind of ‘Moulin Rouge’ it.”
There will still be some Western songs performed throughout. Some will be performed by Jace Bridwell, who will play the guitar as part of his role as the Narrator, she said.
This will be the third play directed by Ledbetter he has performed in, he said.
“She asked me if I would audition; I said of course,” he said.
Being from Gainesville, he said, he’s been around Pilot Point but he’s becoming more familiar with the city by being involved with the Opera House.
The narrator will be performing songs like “Red River Valley” and a couple of other classic cowboy songs, Ledbetter said.
“But we’re also featuring a song by Queen; we’re also featuring a song by the Dixie Chicks; we’re also featuring a song from the musical ‘Paint Your Wagon,’” she said. “And so, we’re just having a lot of fun with this one.”
The playwright suggests several songs that permission from the artists’ is needed to use, she said.
“So, I called Monica and I said, ‘Look, I want to ‘Moulin Rouge’ this; I want to put some new songs in,’” she said. “That’s what I loved about ‘Moulin Rouge’ when it was new, because they were singing the Beetles set in this old classic storyline. It was different.”
There’s also a “Monty Python” song sung by a character referred to as the undertaker, she said.
New people come in to audition for every play, David said. The roles of the school marm and the sheriff are played by people who have never been in a play before, she said.
The Opera House theater was built in 2016, she said. The stage part has been around since at least 2008.
“After I retired in 2016 or 2015, they asked if I would be the production manager,” she said. “And I said, ‘Only if we get new lights, we get new sound and we actually make it into a theater,’ so little by little we’re making this into a theater.”
The theater itself is still a work in progress, she said.
“We’re just having a lot of fun,” Ledbetter said. “I promise you will not regret seeing ‘Sneaky Fitch.’ It’s way different than the way most people I think probably think they’re coming to a melodrama or something like that. It’s not like that.”
The title of the play reads death and life, not life and death for a reason, she said.
“I’m not giving any plot points away when I say something happens to this ne’er-do-well and he dies, but somehow magically comes back to life,” she said. “And now the town that hated him as a hobo, hates him even worse now that he’s seemingly immortal.”
The story from there is about the townspeople’s reaction, another way of saying small town drama, and there are gunfights, she said.
“There will be loud noises and explosions,” she said.