By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
Gail Cooper has been with Bryn Athyn Community Theater for 30 years and is just now crossing her final passion piece off the bucket list.
“This is the last one I really wanted to do,” Cooper said about the production of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which she directed and produced. “I think there are some truths in this show about how we need to become better people.”
Cooper was first given the novel by her grandmother when she was 10, and now, at 65, it still resonates. The novel details the transition from childhood to womanhood of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March.
While BAct is certainly not the first theater group to take on the work, Cooper believes it’s truest to the book. She adapted the text for the stage herself, and as playwright has included substance that usually gets overlooked. For example, there is a strong focus on character development.
“Each character has a besetting fault that they try to address,” like shyness, temper, social ambition and selfishness, she said. “We can see it more closely, how each girl matures.”
This is something that Cooper envisioned, but has been realized in the acting. BAct is able to draw from its members, of which there are about 40, from students at Bryn Athyn College, Academy of the New Church High School students and Bryn Athyn Elementary, and others in the community. In this play, many of the lead parts are played by elementary school students.
“Everybody knows there’s a cast, not everyone knows there’s a lighting guy, makeup, hair, costumes and other crew,” Scott Cooper, Gail’s husband, said. “It’s pretty tech-intensive.”
That’s easy to believe after seeing the behind-the-scenes work being done by the all-volunteer crew. On any given afternoon, between auditions in August and the first showtime on Oct. 23, crew members were onstage at Mitchell Performing Arts Center building sets, seeking costumes, rehearsing, working on lighting and sound, and attending to various other duties.
The opportunity to perform at the Mitchell Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of Bryn Athyn College, is both a blessing and a burden. The group gets to use a beautiful, 400-capacity venue geared for professional lighting and set designs, but they also have the responsibility of performing up to the space.
“We’re a small group, and a lot of the same people do different jobs,” Scott said. He will be playing the part of Mr. Lawrence, who is the girls’ neighbor, in BAct’s production.
And apart from the plays they perform, he and Gail actually have an interesting story of their own. Both attended Academy of the New Church High School together, and now have been married and living together in Bryn Athyn for 42 years. They even found careers on their old stomping grounds.
Gail is a longtime Latin teacher at the high school, and Scott has been security chief for the schools over the last six years. As for theater, Gail was the first to join BAct, but after an acting seminar, Scott was hooked, too, and the two even got their family involved.
“All four of our children have been up on stage, at one time or another, in a BAct show,” Gail said.
But their work is something they want to share with the community, one that’s so important to their lives.
“This is a town that’s always liked the arts,” Gail said. “Bryn Athyn attracts people that have a real value for beauty.”
BAct will be performing ‘Little Women’ four times from Oct. 23 to 25 at Mitchell Performing Arts Center, 800 Tomlinson Road in Bryn Athyn. For tickets or more information, visit www.BAct.org.