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RCLT: The show must go on

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Christina Stock Photo Pictured, from left, standing: Dan Coleman, Gina Montague, Denise Samuels, Chris Samuels and Chris Wipperman. Sitting, from left: Trisha Hart, Derek Palacios, Shelly Forrester and Mia Van. The cast of Roswell Community Little Theatre’s comedy, “Francine’s Will,” is looking forward to performing after having to keep the doors shut since March due to the pandemic.

Roswell Community Little Theatre planning to open with ‘Francine’s Will’

By Christina Stock

Roswell Daily Record

The Roswell Community Little Theatre (RCLT) is planning to be the first theater in Roswell to open its doors this year, performing the comedy play “Francine’s Will,” premiering on Sept. 11.

The play about the death, and the reading of the will, of Francine, her greedy relatives and faithful servants, was supposed to have kicked off in March, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the nation and New Mexico into social isolation and everything was shut down.

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Dan Coleman is a new face on stage and was just elected as RCLT’s vice president. Asked why they are planning to open, he said that the main reasons of needing to open the theater are to provide the funds to pay its utilities, and its roof is still in need of repairs.

“We can’t float along without the income,” Coleman said.

At press time, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most recent executive order regarding pandemic-related restrictions are in effect through Sept. 18, including the public health order by the New Mexico Department of Health of Aug. 28, which states that — unless amended — “close-contact recreational facilities” such as event and performance venues must remain closed.

In a phone interview on Sept. 4, Coleman said that the RCLT board is still hopeful the governor will permit a restricted opening of the theater by the time of the premiere, especially as a local church has been renting the facility for worship services on Sundays, which is permitted at 40% capacity in enclosed indoor spaces according to the current public health order.

Asked what the RCLT board will do if the regulations for opening don’t change for theaters, Coleman said, “We are going to follow all the safety protocols and safety guidelines out there, but we feel like the show must go on and the community needs something.

“We’ve actually had somebody call the state troopers with the knowledge that we are opening,” Coleman said. “They have called and talked to the president of our board (Alethea Hartwell) and they were informed.”

Coleman said the board has contacted the organizers of Alien Motor Speedway, another entertainment venue to open. “They gave us the contact info for the legal council and they actually sent us paperwork to post on the door and paperwork to hand out to the state police if they do come,” he said.

Asked how many people can safely attend, Coleman said, “About 50 — (it) depends on the size of the group. When they come in in fives, we’ll seat them together. And then the next ones 6 feet apart. We can have 50 safely.”

Coleman said the theater will follow all safety guidelines churches have in place.

“We will have masks and hand sanitizers,” he said. “All of the workers at the theater are going to have on masks, except for the ones on stage, and they’re going to be a safe distance away. We have ushers and are going to seat people with social distancing in mind. We are going to follow all the safety protocols and safety guidelines out there, but we feel like the show must go on and the community needs it.

“Let’s get people out, get them to laugh. This play is funny and there is a lot to laugh in this one. Hopefully, we’ll have pretty good turnouts. I think we will,” Coleman said.

The new date for the play brought other challenges, RCLT director Louise Montague said. Some people had to be recast because it didn’t fit in with their new work schedule.

“People are so anxious to get out and do something, we have no competition,” she said.

What to know about “Francine’s Will”

Christina Stock Photo
Standing in the background, from left, are Gina Montague, Dan Coleman and Denise Samuels, the staff of the late Francine. Sitting, from left, are Mina Van, Shelly Forrester and Derek Palacio, the heirs to Francine. Standing, reading the will is Chris Samuels as attorney. In this scene, the attorney is ready to read the will of the late Francine, which will disgruntle her relatives, much to the delight of her former employees.

The storyline of “Francine’s Will” is as follows: “Francine Faraday dies and leaves her entire estate to her longtime companion H.P. Manly. While the loyal members of Francine’s staff are delighted, her money-hungry relatives are furious. Though the will is ironclad, the relatives find that they can inherit Francine’s fortune if H.P. dies of “natural” causes. As the family plots H.P.’s demise, the staff schemes to save him, resulting in counter-plots and mixed-up romances aplenty.”

“Dan Coleman is playing the butler, it’s his first time,” Montague said. “He is doing very well. I am so glad he came out to audition.”

“I’ve been attending plays for all theater companies in town, every single play for the last 10 years,” Coleman said. “My mother and I used to go to all of them and then she passed away five years ago and then I’ve continued going just as we always did. When I see one, I would wonder what she would have thought, what would she have said and so it is just a lot of fun. Then, I just decided that it would be cool to be on the stage and in a play, so I auditioned for one previous play and didn’t make it. She already had a newbie in that play and didn’t want to take on two. So then I did audition for this one and got the part.”

Another new face on stage is Chris Wipperman. He said that he and his wife moved to Roswell only last year from Kansas City, Missouri, where he had been a police officer. His wife Angela Wipperman is in charge of sound and lights for this production.

“We were ready for a change of pace,” Wipperman said about his reason to move to Roswell. “She (Angela Wipperman) has family in Tularosa area, so we wanted to be closer to them. Roswell was a good-looking city so we moved down here and we had friends made here with Trish (Trisha Hart), she had mentioned she was in a play and had some casting issues after the play was delayed originally. She said, ‘Why don’t you come down and audition?’ I grew up in high school doing theater and always wanted to get into theater, but in Kansas City, it’s a lot of different people trying to get in. So she said come down and audition, and I was the only one auditioning, so I guess I got the part. I play Brad, who is a gold digger, but actually comes from money so he is kind of an upper-crust kind of person who is trying to maintain that lifestyle by marrying into money.”

Wipperman said that his only issue with his role is that he has to play such a stuck-up, snobby person, which isn’t him at all. “So trying to portray that and bring that across is a bit of a challenge,” he said.

Wipperman is sure that this will not be the last role for him. “Apparently, they are always looking for males to participate. So it sounds like there are going to be a lot of opportunities in the future and my wife loves the technical aspect of it so it gives us both a chance to work on something together, where she can be backstage,” he said.

A well-known RCLT actor, assistant director — and soon, director — is Denise Samuels. “I play the maid and bless her heart, she’s just a little bit dingy,” she said and chuckled. “Subtleties are lost on her. But she has such a big heart and really cares about Francine, the old lady who passed away. She’s a fun character to play. I love being on stage. We have a great cast. We all get along very well. Sometimes we get into trouble for giggling too much. We have a good time.”

Samuels said that she is going to direct for the first time this season. “It’s called ‘Dearly Beloved’ and it’s going to be in the fourth slot in April/May,” she said.

Goddard High School sophomore Mia Van is cast as Brenda Lawson. “Brenda Lawson is a snobby, bratty child who likes to get her way,” she said. “I think it’s really fun getting to play the opposite of who I really am. I am really nice, modest, but in this role, I get to be the worst person and it’s fun.”

Other cast members are Shelly Forrester who plays Tiffany, a gold digger; Trisha Hart plays Lydia, the mother; Gina Montague is cast as Roxanne, the secretary; Derek Palacios plays the lead, Stanley; Chris Samuel is Chester, the attorney.

Showings of “Francine’s Will” are planned for the RCLT, 1717 S. Union Ave., Sept. 11 to 13, 18 to 20, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more information, visit roswelltheatre.com or call 575-622-1982.

Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.