July 14, 2010 —
“I have no idea how I do it, I just do it,” says Pam Smoke, who is more or less the spark plug behind the dinner theatre presentations that have been put on as fundraisers for the Hudson Public Library the past few years.
The upcoming presentation, “Death in the Ring” will be Saturday, July 24 at the Hudson Community Center.
The whole idea is one of those things that just seemed to happen, she said. She explained that some years ago she held a themed dinner party that involved a scripted murder mystery. “Everybody had a lot of fun,” she recalls.
Then, some years later, during a library board meeting the question was raised of what to do for a fundraiser, and somehow two and two got added together. The result was a successful murder mystery dinner theater with a Renissance theme. It was a sellout, and everybody thought it was a big success and a lot of fun besides.
That was the first. “Death in the Ring” will be the fourth such presentation of what is becoming a Hudson tradition. The last three presentations have raised over $10,000 for the Hudson Library, which has been gratefully received in this time of tight budgets.
Putting together a presentation like “Death in the Ring” or last fall’s “Affair to Dismember” is a lot of work. “I don’t know how I could do it without a lot of help from volunteers,” Mrs. Smoke said. “My husband Dennis has been especially helpful.”
In fact, it would be safe to say that he’s been more than helpful — he’s served as Master of Ceremonies for all of the presentations, and his droll, wry manner has gone a long way to make the evenings the fun that they are.
But, he helps with a lot of other things, too. The library dinner theaters are very much a family and friends affair, and preparing for them seems to be about as much fun as putting them on. “We laugh a lot,” Mrs. Smoke says. “There’s a lot of improv there. Having fun is what it’s all about.”
Developing one if these shows starts a long time in advance. Over the years, Mrs. Smoke has found several sites on the internet where scripts for the shows can be found, although they usually take a lot of adaptation to be able to work in the atmosphere of the library dinner theatres. “Denise Handy and Abby Smoke have been very helpful at pulling these scripts apart and reassembling them in a way that we can use them.”
The script helps define what else is going to be needed, such as props and settings. Often the scripts have to be modified to match the players available, rather than finding someone to play a given part. “For example, in ‘Death in the Ring’ the script called for a ringmaster. We changed it to ring mistress since it worked better for what we wanted. The fact that I liked the costume that I was already making for the part had nothing to do with it.”
Rehearsals are a lot of fun, too. They usually start a couple months in advance when everyone’s schedule can be made to work. Usually there are a lot of changes made, and a lot of good times to be had. Over the years, a solid crew of friends and family has been assembled that take the lead in putting on the show, but there’s always some coming and going.
Among those that have been long term supporters have been Rick and Denise Handy, Dave and Jan Rickard, Ray Lennard, Abby Smoke, Joshua Stiverson. Mary Tanner in the kitchen has been the saving grace on the “dinner” side of the dinner theater, Mrs. Smoke says. “These people, along with other family members behind the scenes, have been my key people. I couldn’t do it without them.”
So far, “Death in the Ring” seems to be coming together well, and it looks like it will be a fun evening for all. Tickets are still available, at $35 per person. The event is sponsored by the Hudson Public Library Board. Checks should be made payable to Hudson Public Library. Please RSVP by July 16 to Lisa Close at (517) 448-7391. Make reservations early since seating is limited.
Costumes are optional! In fact, costumes are encouraged for the audience — it’s added to the fun of these things, whether being dressed like a pin-striped Chicago Gangster, a medieval monk, or a general Halloween ghoul. The dress-up factor for the audience could be interesting with the circus theme — but what actually happens will be the result of the imagination of the audience. It ought to be interesting to see.
The Library Dinner Theatres have quickly become a Hudson tradition, and a favorite activity of a lot of people. Mrs. Smoke won’t admit to it just yet, but she hints that she’s already got some ideas in mind for the next one. We’re just going to have to wait and see what her fertile imagination will come up with this time.