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It’s Showtime: The Riverside Players

Have you heard of the Riverside Players? It is a non-for-profit Community Theater for Franklin County dedicated to providing entertaining, thought-provoking, quality theater for adults, by adults, in response to the thirst for art in a growing community. Last week they had auditions for their new show “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”, which will be performed June 28, 29 and 30 at 7:30pm at the Farmer’s Market. I had the pleasure of doing an online interview with Tara Steffens, one of the founders of the Riverside Players, which you will now have the pleasure of reading ūüôā

How did you decide to set up the Riverside Players?
The founding of Riverside happened because my good friend Clayton¬†Smith and I had a brilliant idea: do theater again. We had done it in¬†high school and had missed it and didn’t see many opportunities for¬†adults. We approached our old high school theater director and friend¬†Tim Buchheit who said he had been thinking the exact same thing. We contacted Michelle Larson who had founded a youth theater some years¬†ago. Together, the four of us founded The Riverside Players in 2006.¬†We did our first show, The Boys Next Door, on our own money and ended¬†up being able to donate 1,000 to the Emmaus Home.¬† Michelle and¬†Clayton have since moved away, but Tim and I have never looked back!

Clayton Smith, Tim Buchheit and Shawn Kohne perform Complete Works of William Shakespeare at The Tin Ceiling Theater in St. Louis. Complete Works traveled around the greater St. Louis Area.

How many members are in the group? Has anybody had previous theatrical experience?
We don’t have a membership roster. Every show we do is open to the¬†entire community. We have 4 current officers: Tim Buchheitt¬†–¬†President, David Dennis – Vice President/God of War, Sarah Serbus –¬†Secretary, Tara Steffens – Treasurer for Life. We have about 10-15¬†people very dedicated, recurring regulars but have had many different¬†people attached to different productions. We do 2, sometimes 3 a year,¬†and people fit in the shows they can to their schedules. No previous¬†experience is necessary – several of our regulars did some high school¬†shows but we have had first timers on many productions. Our officers¬†have loads and loads of professional experience:
1. Tim Buchheit is the director for St. Francis Borgia High school. He¬†has his masters in theater education, has worked for several theater¬†companies including one in Columbia, MO. He regularly directs and tech¬†directs shows at Six Flags as well as performing out there. He’s been¬†involved with WELL over 100 productions.
2. Sarah Serbus¬†just got her Masters in Theatrical Directing this¬†fall. She is teaching high school speech and theater at Wentzville.¬†She’s stage managed¬†shows at Six Flags and Juanitia¬†K. Hammons Hall¬†for Performing Arts. She also claims to be a ninja spy but I can¬†neither confirm nor deny that statement.
3. David Dennis has been in over 40 productions as either actor, music director, director or orchestra. He currently teaches music/choir at Washington Middle school. He has performed with the Marble Stage Theater Company where he has won two featured acting Arts for Life awards.
4. Tara Steffens has been in over 30 productions with various theater groups ranging from The Riverside Players to Stephens College in Columbia, MO. She works full time as a graphic designer but helps coach the St. Francis Borgia High school Speech Team along with Tim and Sarah. She has a degree in Journalism from Mizzou.
5. Several of our regulars have professional experience with The Muny, The Fox and the St. Louis Opera both onstage and behind. We have a lot of amazing talent in the area and we are glad we can help showcase that.

Tim Buchheit, Sarah Serbus and Tara Steffens before the first Murder Mystery Dinner at the Brewery in 2011. Tara and David (not pictured) wrote the show – which was largely improved with the audience.

How do you choose the plays you perform?
David thinks we use magic to pick our plays, but really the 4 board¬†members choose shows that will be fun as well as challenging. We try¬†to consider what our community wants to see and what they can relate¬†to, but we also like to push them out of their comfort zone a little.¬†We take our Mission statement very seriously: “We dedicate ourselves¬†to providing entertaining, thought-provoking, quality theater for
adults, by adults.”¬†We have all suggested shows we’d like to do, we want to, we can afford¬†to do etc. Then the board sits down and makes a decision. We also take¬†suggestions and referrals to newer shows.

The cast of Riverside’s first ever musical sing “save the people” in Godspell. Riverside started producing musicals in 2009 and has had at least one musical every year since.

Are new members welcome?
YES YES¬†YES! The last part of our mission states that “every¬†theatrical experience conducted by The Riverside Players is open to¬†all members of the community with an interest in fostering this¬†artistic pursuit, be it through involvement on stage, behind the scenes or in the audience.”¬†We always need help onstage and backstage and no experience is needed.¬†There is a place for all levels with Riverside and we love seeing new¬†faces. It takes a lot of work and everyone is appreciated. For more¬†information they can contact us at¬†Riverside.Players@gmail.com

The Street Urchins know something you don’t in 2010’s production of LIttle Shop of Horrors (From Left to Right: Danielle Clapper, Holly Szakal, Petra Flores, Haley Fortune, Tiffany Holzem and Tara Steffens).

What is the funniest experience you’ve had on stage?
Well we have had some great, great moments – the doorhandle¬†incident,¬†the super secret ninja camp, “The Great Shawn Kohne¬†Incident of 2007”¬†(this may be¬†the most legendary story of all, which can only be acted¬†out), men in drag‚Ķthe list goes on. That’s the great thing about¬†theater, each show has it’s own¬†stories and joys. Each group creates¬†their own family and has their own inside jokes. ANYtime you’re on¬†stage with Tim Buchheit, you never know what is going to happen. He is¬†GREAT at improv and finding great little humor bits. I know during¬†25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, him and I basically improved¬†the entire show‚Ķas the cast will attest sometimes it was hard to keep it together.¬†Sarah and I have one we still laugh about: During a dress rehearsal my¬†character is supposed to look out the window. Well we working in a¬†VERY tiny space so there wasn’t much backstage. Normally I just barely¬†moved back the curtain a little, but I thought I’d try pulling them¬†open for a little bit more of a dramatic movement. Unfortunately for¬†Sarah, she had a costume change and the only place that she had to do that was right behind the window I was looking out. Attempting to stay¬†in character I said something to the effect of “wow good view” and¬†then we all lost it in a fit of giggles.

Tara Steffens in Chapter 2. This is the scene where she looked out the window and saw Sarah Serbus changing clothes.

How long do you prepare for a play?
That depends on the show. Musicals usually take more rehearsal time¬†since there is more too it – music, lines, dances etc. We usually have¬†an 8 to 9 week schedule for those. Some of our smaller summer shows¬†that aren’t quite as involved have only a 5 or 6 week production. We¬†have, however, done a performance with as little as 2 rehearsals. We don’t promote that as we where all completely stressed and a messed.¬†Thanks to the theater gods, we pulled it off quite well and had a¬†blast doing it.

Keith Cissell¬†(Dressed as a woman) sings to Danny Tobben in 2010’s production of Little Shop of Horrors.

Where do you normally perform?
Since David has joined us we haven’t performed in the same place twice¬†so the joke is we’ll perform in your living room if you ask us (we¬†will actually) but we have performed all over. We’ve done several¬†shows at St. Francis Borgia High School Theater, one at Washington¬†High School, several at The Showboat Theater in Hermann, a few at The¬†Tin Ceiling Theater in St. Louis, The Washington Brewery, one at the¬†Art & Wine Fest for Washington and a few down at the Washington¬†Riverfront. Our next show will be at the Farmers Market, so we really¬†can and will perform where we can.

We are looking for a permanent place to call home and would love to¬†have that be downtown. We are in the process of getting our 501(3)¬©¬†and trying to get grants and things, but we are finding it hard to¬†find some solid support.¬† A lot of our shows and equipment have been¬†purchased¬†with our own money, as we our very passionate and determined¬†to bring quality theater to our area. Our ideal permanent home would¬†be the Calvin Theater. We would love to be a part of bringing that¬†historic building back to it’s former¬†glory. We have some long range¬†plans and each show brings us closer and closer to those goals.

In this photo you can see how Audrey II eats the pit band. Sarah Serbus built a working Audrey II that “swallowed victims” whole. No matter where the venue, the Riverside Players make theatre fun for everyone!

Photos: The Riverside Players archive

To learn more about the Riverside Players, visit their website here. New faces are always welcome, so don’t hesitate to join the group!

About Slava

I am a twenty-something Bulgarian girl in the USA, re-discovering the world through the lens.


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