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The Tred Avon Players kicks off their season with a challenging rendition of The Great Gatsby

By Debra R. Messick

After weathering the cancellation of indoor performances due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tred Avon Players returned this fall with a new website, refreshed logo, updated ticket portal and a full slate of scheduled shows.

The theater troupe, which will mark its 40th anniversary next year, reopens its doors at the Oxford Community Center with a production of The Great Gatsby, which runs from Oct. 28 through Nov. 7. The show will be followed in 2022 by The 39 Steps, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Camelot, and The Savannah Sipping Society, according to TAP president and Gatsby producer John Norton.

While the pandemic forced a halt to indoor performances at its longtime home of the Oxford Community Center for much of 2020 and 2021, even COVID-19 couldn’t keep TAP shows from going on. Ed Langrell, the troupe’s president at the time, heard from supporters pining for entertainment and performers yearning to get back onstage. In spring 2020 he contacted Liza Ledford the Oxford Community Center executive director, asking to partner on a free outdoor production.

“Liza and OCC were a true joy to work with. I picked three smaller shows we had already produced, reuniting original directors and casts. That allowed social distancing and a quick window for opening. There was also a musical revue featuring solo singers, again, due to COVID,” Langrell added. About 100 people, carrying lawn chairs and picnic baskets, flocked to OCC’s spacious patio perimeter for several Sunday shows.

TAP’s longstanding relationship with Oxford Community Center originated with former Oxford postmaster Bill Tull, OCC’s first manager and creator of a community theater program to perform there.

In spring 2021 additional outdoor performances were added, and audience members requested the alfresco offerings continue. Norton followed through and added outdoor performances to the fall calendar.

While monitoring the federal government’s ongoing COVID safety protocols that had also been adopted by other performing venues, The Great Gatsby cast and production members, and loyal TAP audiences, optimistically await the upcoming staging of the show, originally set for 2020.

Langrell loved Los Angeles playwright Simon Levy’s innovative updated 2016 script and style of presentation. He was also inspired seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s New York production of The Woman in White, which incorporated video scenery, and hoped TAP could try something similar. Langrell contacted John Norton, the producer of the TAP production, who called John “Perk” Perkinson to direct. “They loved the idea and have run with it,” Langrell noted. “I can’t wait to see what they do.”

Both Norton and Perkinson bring extensive backgrounds in television and film production, along with an abiding love of live theater. New TAP president John Norton, who’d been bitten by the acting bug in high school but found himself unable to earn a living in the profession, worked behind the scenes for 44 years, starting out as a producer for Baltimore TV stations WBAL and WJZ before being transferred to California to oversee syndicated television program Evening Magazine.

“In 1979, while doing a story on the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, I fell in love with St. Michaels,” Norton recalled. After moving back to the area 11 years ago, he accompanied a friend to a TAP show, which revived his theatrical interest. Retiring from professional TV production in 2018, he’s now “back in production” overseeing The Great Gatsby and charting the group’s forward course as TAP president.

“Being involved with community theater is just a great experience. About 40 people, including actors, director, producer, stage manager, prop, costume people, and lighting people — all volunteers — willingly undertake a huge labor of love to produce quality shows,” he stated. “And our audience patrons have kept on buying seats, and making critical donations keeping us alive, for which we’re so grateful.”

Perkinson worked as a film cameraman at Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis’ Wilmington, North Carolina, studio for 17 years. Relocating to Talbot County six years ago, he’s enjoyed operating a commercial drone photography business and exploring community theater.

When The Great Gatsby production was postponed last year, he immersed himself in studying the story and time period, a plus for undertaking his first TAP directing role. He’s been impressed at the actors’ level of skill and dedication. And he loves the exhilarating feeling of bringing a new show to life, which he calls ‘tennis shoe excitement,’ in reference to the feeling of having new shoes at the start of the school year.

Box office manager Joe Tyler has been an enthusiastic member of the troupe and a director since he performed in a 1987 TAP production of Oliver after college. In 2018 he “led the charge” to integrate digital ticket purchasing. This year he upgraded to a more user-friendly interface, enabling easier online interaction with ticket purchasers, season subscribers and donors.

“The first day the relaunched website went live, five people purchased tickets,” he noted. “We’ve stayed in constant communication with patrons, getting plenty of feedback that they can’t wait, and we can’t either! We’ve survived COVID so far because they hung in there supporting us, and we’re eternally grateful to them.”

A bonus addition to the original TAP calendar includes a musical revue, All Together Now, with two shows scheduled for Nov. 14. The program, designed to help local theater companies around the world reintroduce live, indoor performing, features copyright-free songs to be performed that weekend only, according to Langrell, the program’s producer.

For tickets and more information, visit www.tredavonplayers.org, call 410-226-0061, and follow TAP on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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