Right outside of Nashville, TN is a community theater outreach program of Bethlehem United Methodist Church. Does this immediately invoke thoughts of “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar?” Well, put away those cliched thoughts as this multi-talented troop takes on in their 16th year of community theater excellence Neil Simon’s rom com “Barefoot In The Park” and produces their own Harlem Shake marketing video.
Under the artistic direction of a Nashville theater community favorite, Dietz Osborne, this program has bloomed quite a bit from its humble start in 1997 when Bethlehem UMC Music & Arts Director Harry Robinson started it as his own version of church softball. Since 2005, they’ve staged for packed audiences two world premiere productions, “Southern Fried Funeral” and “Southern Fried Nuptials” as well as classics like “Annie” and “Fiddler On The Roof.” As a result of strategic marketing, tight budgeting, church support and community underwriting, in 2013, they’ve kicked off their season with capital improvements including state-of-the-art lighting and risers paid for by the program which runs in the black.
In addition to reinvesting in their program, the troop tithes to the church and chooses each year a benefiting charity to highlight which complements the production. During “Annie,” it was Happy Tales Humane where an adoptable dog appeared each night on stage.
This year, the troop are staging “Barefoot In The Park” and have chosen WaterStep as their charity to highlight encouraging patrons to bring shoes which are recycled to bring water to communities globally. Here’s a little more info on this project with director Johnny Peppers.
The Bethlehem Players have brought to “Barefoot In The Park” their own special charm to this tale of young love. Nashville area actors Will Butler and Jami Winfrey are joined on stage by three members of the Bethlehem UMC church, Debbie Robinson, Jim Maden and Mark McNulty. (Yes, a talented relation!) Johnny Peppers lends his incredible directing talents and helped make the creative stage a possibility.
In the meantime, Nashville theater icons Jennifer Richmond and playwright/actor Nate Eppler challenged the Middle Tennessee area theater companies to produce their own Harlem Shake to use in cross-promotion. The Bethlehem Players put the Barefoot smack down on this international trend.
“Barefoot In The Park” is on stage through March 16 and you can get your tickets online at TicketsNashville or via reservations at 616-669-BPAC (2722). They’ll have auditions coming up for their October production of “Hello, Dolly!” and December’s “It’s A Wonderful Life Radio Show” so find them on Facebook or visit their website for more info. And don’t forget the 10% discount for parties of 10 or more.