In 1958, a Staples student named Christopher Lloyd urged English teacher Craig Matheson to start a theater program. The 1st play — produced in the brand-new auditorium, in the school’s 1st year on North Avenue — was You Can’t Take It With You.
Over the next 55 years, Staples Players gained national renown. Under just 4 directors — Matheson, Al Pia, Judy Luster and now David Roth — the troupe has sparked the careers of David Marshall Grant, Bradley Jones, Michael Hayden, Leslye Headland, Justin Paul and countless others (including Lloyd).
Now — with an astonishing 12 seniors ready to major or minor in some form of theater next year in college — Players is putting the finishing touches on its next production.
It is — fittingly — You Can’t Take It With You.
In 1958, Matheson’s fledgling actors chose the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy as their 1st show.
“I had no idea how to mount it, how to bring it down on a stage that large,” Matheson recalled years later. “I did very well from an acting point of view, but as a production director I stunk. The set was much too large, so the play lost its intimacy. And it was pink, so it looked even bigger.
“We put it on for one weekend, and were very glad to get an audience both nights. But people thought the show was fine.”
The 2013 production will be quite different. For example, it’s in the intimate Black Box theater (named for Matheson and his predecessor/Roth’s mentor, Pia).
The audience will sit on 3 sides of the stage, making it — well, intimate.
The cast and crew includes 9 seniors who will continue with theater in college: Tyler Jent (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music), Matt Kresch (Northwestern), Grace McDavid-Seidner (Point Park), Adam Mirkine (NYU), Michelle Pauker (University of Miami), Alexandra Rappaport (College of Charleston), Brianna Reedy (University of the Arts), Ryan Shea (UConn), Clay Singer (Carnegie Mellon) and Will Smith (Muhlenberg).
Not in this show, but like those 10 also hoping to make theater their career — as actors, directors or in tech — are Will Cohn (University of North Carolina School of Arts) and Liam Orly (Muhlenberg).
“We provide a place where students can be challenged. It’s a safe environment to become theater artists,” Roth says of his program.
Roth has produced several shows with lots of dancing. The seniors have honed those skills — and it’s paid off. “Lots of schools have tough dance auditions,” Roth notes.
“We’re not a high school of performing arts. But we try to expose our actors to a broad variety of plays.”
Roth calls You Can’t Take It With You “an old-timey farce. We really haven’t done anything like it with them.”
Cast and crew have found it “a huge amount of fun to rehearse,” Roth adds.
Presumably, just as Craig Matheson’s Players did, 55 years ago. Back in the days when dreams of Broadway had not yet danced through Staples’ sparkling new auditorium.
(“You Can’t Take It With You” runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 30, 31 and June 1, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 2 at 3 p.m. For more information, including tickets, click here.)