Strollers Theatre is back. The reborn theater company will not close this spring, and it will continue to produce at the Bartell Community Theatre.
"Everybody's full of ideas on how to move forward," says the troupe's president, Tony Trout. "I really get the sense that we're hanging together and moving forward with purpose and excitement."
Strollers' production of The Miss Firecracker Contest, previously canceled, is in rehearsal and is scheduled to open May 14. The first of two general membership meetings was scheduled for Sunday, April 13, at which amendments to bylaws were to be considered. Proposed changes would increase the number of board members and, in response to earlier controversy, clarify "the expectation of professional and respectful behavior toward all," according to a company statement.
In January longtime Strollers leader Leo Cooper argued backstage with the director and cast of the company's production of Noises Off, which he was producing. The argument was so loud that it disturbed Mercury Players Theatre, also working in the building.
A spiraling controversy followed. In the space of five weeks the company had three different board presidents and saw at least five of its board members resign. Strollers pulled out of the Bartell and announced that it was going on hiatus as of April 5.
But a new Strollers board was formed at a meeting March 3, during which heads Leo and Lee Ann Cooper resigned. The refreshed board took fast action, meeting with the Bartell two days later to negotiate its continued status as a member company at the shared venue.
The speed at which events occurred for once worked in Strollers' favor. The Bartell had yet to act on the company's departure.
"What it boils down to, after a lengthy discussion, [is that] we have a contractual obligation," says Trout. "And second of all, the Bartell board took no action against the previous Strollers board announcement.... The opinion of the Bartell board was that there was no change in the relationship between Strollers and the Bartell."
Strollers' production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore was to have been its last before going on hiatus. Trout says it was an artistic, financial and critical success. The production also won the company at least one new fan.
"I was working the box office, and on the first Friday a ticket-buyer mentioned that he had acted in the play," says Trout. "That came as a surprise to me, because ours was the Wisconsin premiere of the play.
"As it turns out, he played the role of Donny on Broadway for over 300 performances. He enjoyed the show and said that the second scene was the best rendition that he had seen, including his own show. He saw the ad in the paper and drove down from Columbus where he was acting in the Johnny Depp movie."
For more information, visit the company's new website, strollerstheatre.org.