COOK FOREST – When Karen Allgeier moved to the area in 2003, she had never seen anything quite like the Sawmill Theater in Cook Forest.
The hexagonal rustic theater was a far cry from the traditional stages she had performed on in California.
“I had never done a push stage before coming here,” Allgeier said. “It’s called that because it gets into the audience. Most of the scenes are a presidium scene. Most of the scripts we read are for the mainstream scene.
“The problem is taking something that’s supposed to be presented on a square box and putting it on a rectangle with a curve.”
Allgeier explained that a traditional stage has wings where the cast can wait to make appearances.
“We don’t have wings at the sawmill,” Allgeier said. “We have the stairs and the ‘vom’ at the back of the theatre. It gives us another exit. If you don’t use it, the show stalls. It better engages the audience.”
Allgeier explained that “vom” is short for the Latin word “vomitorium,” a room used by ancient Romans to purge themselves at banquets. The popular legend among amateur theater groups is that the vom is a good place to get rid of nervousness before the performance.
Above the entrance, in public view, is a portrait of theater founder Verna Leith.
“Our stage directions will tell the actor to head over to Verna,” Allgeier said.
Allgeier is currently in rehearsal for the musical version of “Alice in Wonderland”.
“A lot of our actors haven’t done anything in this type of theater,” Allgeier said. “When you go on stage here, the audience is going to be right in your face. (The actors) have to learn how to project their voice because we don’t use microphones. When we do a production number, the performers are around the whole circle.”
There are 26 performers in “Alice in Wonderland”. The youngest actor is 6 years old.
The huddle race characters in Alice use the theater’s four staircases.
“It’s organized chaos. I tell them to listen to what I tell them to do because we can’t do a lot in the script because we’re not on a regular stage,” Allgeier said. “The pushing scene makes an actor engage with the audience.”
Theater lights are older and need to be manually adjusted.
“Ordinary theater lighting goes straight down. We have to use a scissor jack to change the lights at the sawmill.”
There are 11 scenes in Alice and 10 Stagehands.
“I have a good stage team,” Allgeier said. “Actors also lend a hand. We have people who only want to be stagehands.”
With five events scheduled this year, the Scierie is a busy place.
“We only get theater for four rehearsal days,” Allgeier said. “Before that, we rehearse at the Columbia Theater in Brookville. We measured the stage at the sawmill and taped the same area on the floor. When we get to the sawmill, we do a technical rehearsal first. when the kids get used to walking down the stairs to the sound of music.”
Allgeier said recruiting for a musical is easier than for a regular play.
“I did 42 auditions for Alice,” she said. “It’s more difficult with games. We have a problem attracting men.”
All actors and stagehands are volunteers.
Allgeier said the biggest challenge for a community theater is money.
“It affects the games we can afford and the costumes,” Allgeier said. “We collect costumes, but for Alice we had to order costumes. Some costumes were lent to us and we rented others.”
Allgeier became involved in high school theater in California. After enlisting in the Navy and after her children grew up in 1997, she began performing in a community theater group in Escondido, California. called “Theatre”.
“I was acting, but I was also learning how to design sets, stuff stuff and everything about putting together a set. I learned how to write and do special effects,” Allgeier said. “It was on-the-job training and I took it straight away.”
She won two awards for her performances.
“We came to this area in 2003. My first audition for the Brookville Community Theater was in 2004. Since then I’ve done all but two shows. The first show I conducted was in 2005,” said- she declared.
Since then, she has staged shows in several theaters including the Barrow.
“For me it’s a labor of love, I’m not sure for everyone,” said Allgeier, treasurer and director of plays at Brookville Community Theater. “It’s a good lesson for kids. They can stand in front of people and have fun.”
“Alice” is the only musical at the Sawmill Theater this year.
Natalie Battaglia plays the Queen of Hearts and Clarion-Limestone High School’s Riley Lindenpitz will play Alice.
“Alice in Wonderland” premieres at 8 p.m. on August 5, 6, 11, 12, and 13.
There is also a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on August 7.
Tickets are $15 available by phone at 814-927-6655, online or at the Sawmill Center gift shop.