00 News & Updates, 2010 Annie, 2011 Vintage Hitchcock

USP Members Awarded for Excellence at ICTA

Jana DeZwarte shouted out "I LOVE YOU PELLA!" when she accepted the ICTA Award for Actress in a Featured Role for her portryal of Miss Hannigan in "Annie."

The Iowa Community Theatre Association (ICTA) held their annual festival in Newton this past weekend. Union Street Players (USP) has been a long time member and supporter of ICTA, though it has been a long time since USP has actively engaged in the annual ICTA festival and competition.

This year, ICTA was looking for a member theatre to perform at the festival, and so a group of cast from USP’s recent production “Vintage Hitchcock” chose to perform one of the three Hitchcock radio plays at the festival. While most of the festival productions were part of a national competition (winner moves on to regionals with the chance of moving on to the national event), USP chose to be a “showcase” production at the festival and not engage in the competition.

Nevertheless, Jonathon Gregg and Mark Moreland, two of the ensemble troup who performed “Vintage Hitchcock” were awarded for “Excellence in Character Acting” by the festival judges at a ceremony on Sunday morning.

On Saturday night, ICTA awarded USP’s Jana DeZwarte their annual “Award of Excellence” for an Actress in a Featured Role. Jana won the award for her portrayal of Miss Hannigan in last December’s production of Annie.

USP is proud of our productions and the incredible group of actors who grace our stage. Congratulations to Jana, Jonathon and Mark!

Jonathan Gregg in "Vintage Hitchcock"
Mark Moreland in "Vintage Hitchcock"
00 News & Updates

USP is Real “Community” Theatre

We approach the New Year holiday, and it’s natural to have a little time of introspection. Where have we been? Where do we find ourselves? Where are we going?

Union Street Players ended 2010 with one of the most successful, if not the most successful, production in our 23 years. Annie capped another successful season. KOLD Radio warmed audiences with laughter in the spring.  Charlotte’s Web delighted audience members of all ages (with a cast of all ages) this past summer.

As I stood back stage a few weeks ago, I marveled at what community theatre represents. Well over one hundred people made up the cast, band, and production crew for Annie. People drove from miles round to be part of it. Other than a very small gift USP provides to our directors, no one is paid for their time or compensated for their talents when it comes to USP productions. Each year, hundreds of people come together to devote themselves to putting on a handful of performances. It’s not about money and it’s not about fame. At the heart of it, community theatre is really about community.

USP is looking forward to another great season in 2011 with three productions we know our audiences will love. We begin the year by taking our audiences back to the days of old-time radio. Vintage Hitchcock is a compilation of three radio plays by the master of suspense himself. This summer, the fable of The Princess and the Pea comes to life in a funny, musical classic made famous by Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress. We end the year with a heartwarming, music-filled, family Christmas offering, A Tinkerman Christmas, written by our own Walk of Fame member, Beverly Graves.

Will you help keep community theatre alive and growing? USP is a non-profit organization and we depend on the financial support of local individuals and businesses. The support of our patrons allow us to continually improve the quality of our productions while keeping ticket prices reasonable. As we come to the end of the year and you consider your tax-deductible giving, I would ask that you consider making a donation to Union Street Players.

Checks should be made out to Union Street Players and can be mailed to 712 Union St., Pella, IA 50219. If you would like to make a donation using your credit card, please call 641-620-9107 and ask for Tom or Wendy.

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2010 Annie

No More “Tomorrow” for Annie

Cast Photo of Union Street Players production of "Annie"

The stage is (almost) bare. The final curtain has dropped. This is the last installment of “Daddy’s Dailies.”

For the cast and crew of Union Street Players’ production of Annie, the week of post-production blues has likely set in. It is not unusual to experience a let down the first week after production. There’s the physical let down after a couple of weeks of long evenings of rehearsal/performance, short nights of sleep, and the intense adrenaline rushes that come from being on stage. There’s the emotional let down after the climactic actors high of performing gives way to the pile of things (like Christmas shopping, work projects, school assignments, etc.) that got shoved to the back burner for the past few weeks. There is also a social let down that comes when about 100 people spend hours a day together for weeks on end and it comes to an abrupt stop. Not that we aren’t all overdue for a little rest, relaxation and regular routine. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if things feel a little out of whack for the next week or so. Post production blues are a normal part of the experience (as are “actor’s nightmares,” so watch out!).

Final attendance figures for Annie were:

Fri Dec 3: 277
Sat Dec 4: 285
Sun Dec 5: 327

Thu Dec 9: 300
Fri Dec 10: 319
Sat Dec 11: 300

Total: 1808
Average: 301

While record keeping USP shows through our 23 year history has been erratic, there is no doubt that Annie ranks among the biggest, best attended, and highest grossing productions of all time. Congratulations to everyone for making it such a spectacular show!

Next Up

Pat Moriarity moves from the Producer’s chair to the Director’s chair for Vintage Hitchcock. This is a great show for adults who may be intimidated by the thought of all those lines to memorize. Hitchcock is a live radio play produced like the live radio theater shows of the last century. Actors read the script and use their voices to create different characters and sound effects.

Auditions are set for mid-January. Stay tuned to www.unionstreetplayers.com or follow us on Twitter @unionstplayers for more information. You can also contact Pat directly by emailing him at mort@iowatelecom.net.

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2010 Annie

Blizzard of Activity as Final Performance of Annie Arrives

When you produce a show at Christmas time in Iowa, you take risks. We’ve been blessed with great weather the past two weekends, but it looks like that is about to change. A blizzard warning covers the state of Iowa as the cast and crew of  Annie prepare for our final performance.

The show will go on.

People are still calling asking for tickets. We have been keeping a waiting list and encourage those people to come to the Pella Community Center 15 minutes before curtain can wait on line for any unclaimed seats. If we have patrons who can’t make it because of weather, those seats may become available to purchase. On Friday night, there were several people who were able to get seats at the last minute.

Theatre is Like a Box of Chocolates

It was a lively and energetic crowd who packed the seats last night. The sold out crowd enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

I was sitting with Jim Emmert (who plays Cop/Foley Man) during “the half” last night. He was talking about the fact that someday actors in Hollywood will become obsolete as computer graphics will be able to create perfect looking people and can manipulate the pixels into perfect performances.

I thought about that as the evening wore on. There is something unique and special about live theatre. It is a “live” performance and almost anything can happen at any moment. The sheer possibility of the unexpected which happens when humans perform creates a healthy anticipation. You never know what you’re going to get. Every performance is different.

So it was last night. In the final climactic moment of the show, as the strains of “Getting a New Deal for Christmas” ring out, Annie (Rachel Peter) hugs her found stray dog and then runs into Daddy Warbucks’ (that would be me) arms. In that final moment of the show I pick Annie up and spin her around. I grabbed Rachel, picked her up and spun her around.

That’s when her wig flew off.

Fortunately, it held to the back of her head by a bobby pin. So as it flopped loosely behind her, I picked it up and put it back on top of her head. I felt awful that this was Rachel’s last moment on stage, but at least it was a very memorable one!

Live theatre is (to quote Forrest Gump) like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get!

Final performance today! Hannah Emmert will play Annie for the final curtain.

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2010 Annie

Waiting, Waiting

Producer Pat Moriarity Warms Up the Cast of Annie during "The Half"

One of the things I love about theatre are the moments behind the scenes that most theater-goers never experience. As audience members enter the auditorium and settle into their seats, the 78 cast members and additional production team members of Annie pack into a room on the top floor of the Pella Community Center. It is known among stage veterans as “the half,” the 30 minutes before curtain. It can seem an eternal wait.

For Union Street Players, “the half” generally begins with a quick pep talk from director or producer. With musicals like Annie, the Music Director will often lead the cast in a quick warm-up song. Often a physical exercise to get the blood pumping is also included along with vocal exercises and tongue twisters to prepare mouths, teeth, lips and tongue to project lines clearly.

Once that is done, the cast waits for the cue for “places.” Actors talk, laugh, and share stories. There are hugs and high-fives. Pictures are taken. Some read books, newspapers and magazines. At the bottom of this post I’ve posted some more pictures I took during “The Half” before last night’s performance.

Waiting List

Speaking of waiting, the final two performances of Annie are sold out. A waiting list has been started for those who would be interested in purchasing a seat should tickets be returned or if there is a confirmed “no show.” Those on the waiting list are asked to show up 15 minutes before curtain (7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday) and, if seats are available, names will be called from the list in the order they were originally received.

Packed House for Thursday’s Show

A big pat on the back for cast and crew who kept the energy up and presented a great show on Thursday to a sold-out, packed house. Thursday performances are notorious for being “low energy” as people rush from busy jobs and lives to the show. After four days without performing, there’s always the increased threat of dropped lines, missed entrances or botched moments. That didn’t happen on Thursday as everyone performed up to the high standard set last weekend.

Closing Night for One

While tomorrow afternoon’s performance will be the closing performance for everyone, tonight’s performance will be Rachel Peter’s last performance in the lead role. Hannah Emmert will play Annie in the final performance on Saturday. Both girls have done an exceptional job in the role and have been exemplary in their selfless sharing of the starring duties. Well done, ladies.

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2010 Annie

An Actor’s Nightmare (Almost)

Hannah Emmert and Tom Vander Well in Union Street Players production of "Annie"

I’ve written before about the very real phenomenon called an “actor’s nightmare.” It’s when you dream that someone grabs you in a panic and reminds you that you’re on. Suddenly you remember that you were cast in a play but you can’t remember what the play was, what role you’re playing, nor can you remember studying any of your lines. You are then thrust onto the stage as everyone looks at you waiting for you to deliver your line. If it’s a true actor’s nightmare you’ll realize at this point that you’re standing in your underwear.

During last night’s performance of Annie, I came close to experiencing a variation on an actor’s nightmare. In the second act, just before the grand finale, I run off stage for a costume change. I have to get out of my suit and into my tuxedo in 90 seconds. My wife Wendy is there waiting to help and we have the whole process down to a well rehearsed quick change.

Last night I made my sprint off stage and down the steps to the clothes racks in the back hallway. It was then that the actor’s nightmare set in. There was no tuxedo. There was no Wendy. In that moment, I realized I’d forgotten to set my tux backstage before the show. There are no adequate words to describe the sheer panic that sets in this moment of time, though “terror” comes close (after a Warbucks-esque expletive).

Where’s Wendy? Did she forget, too?
Is she getting my tux?
Should I sprint for the dressing room? (No way. Not enough time.)
Should I just go on in my current costume? (Not an option, I’d peeled of my bow-tie as I ran off and it would take me more than 90 seconds to re-tie it)

In that moment, a dark, frizzy-haired figure came sprinting around the corner with a bulky bundle in hand. For you movie buffs, Joan Cusack‘s frantic run in the film Broadcast News flitted through my brain at that moment. Wendy dumped my tux on the floor and we began throwing on the pieces. My ears were perked to the song on stage. We were running out of time. Vest on. Button. Button. Button. Hurry Coat on.

Where’s the bow tie?” I hear Wendy whisper. “I CAN’T FIND THE TIE!”

“I don’t know!! It was with the tux in the dressing room (back by the auditorium entrance)!!” I replied

“THERE’S NO BOW TIE!” she repeated. “Are you off stage again?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “Wait – YES! I have a few seconds off stage before the final scene!”

“I’ll get it!” Wendy exclaimed in a whisper.

I resigned myself. For now, I’ll have to go on stage in a tux without a bow tie. Warbucks will be a casual kind of formal tonight. We have no choice. Wendy sprinted off as I marched up the steps to the back stage door and remembered to tie my shoes.

I don’t know how she did it, but Wendy made a sprint worthy of Usain Bolt back to the dressing room. Just as the moment for my entrance arrived, she ran through the back stage entrance with my bow tie in hand. Fortunately, it was  the kind that clips on.  I was fully aware that everyone on stage was wondering where in the world I was as Wendy anxiously tried to get the tie hooked.

“THERE!” she cried.

I sprinted on stage before Wendy had a chance to straighten it. It was about four inches left of center. Think. How am I going to fix it? Fortunately, my first line is to direct everyone’s attention to the staircase where Annie emerges in her iconic red dress and curly hair. I simply turned my back to the audience raised my hand to the grand staircase and delivered my line. Knowing that everyone was looking for Annie, I reached up and yanked my tie in place.

Whew.  Major crisis averted. Focus now.

I owe Wendy big-tim (and she knows it).


Besides that little potential tragedy, last night’s performance went really well. The crowd seemed livelier than Friday night’s audience. Hannah Emmert did a masterful job in her first performance as Annie.

Today’s matinee at 2:00 p.m. is nearly sold out. There are a few tickets left in the balcony. Get to the community center early (I’d suggest 1:20) if you want to get one of the remaining seats.

As for next weekends performances, the floor seats are nearly gone. Thursday remains your best hope for a seat on the main floor. Balcony seats are still available. Don’t worry. You won’t be disappointed with a balcony seat. The view is great and the younger key cast members are mic’d so you can hear all the lines.

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2010 Annie

“Annie” Wows Packed House on Opening Night

Cast Photo of Union Street Players production of "Annie"

Friday can technically be ruled a sell out, as there were precious few balcony seats left last night for the opening night of Annie. The official count is being listed as 277 delighted audience members who packed into the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium and gave a standing ovation to Rachel Peter and the rest of the cast on opening night.

The show went without any major glitches. There were the various and sundry mishaps that happen in almost any performance. A spilled tray of water here, a slipped line there. I especially thought it was cute when Annie called me “President Roosevelt” in the final scene before she caught herself. My favorite moment of the night was, however, when I was talking to the President on the phone with cigar in hand. When I slammed my hand on the desk, the cigar which has been drying out on stage for several weeks disintegrated into a puff of flying tobacco debris (Gotta remember to have Drake get that humidor fixed!).

Biggest cast ever?

Yesterday I encouraged people to count the number of cast members in Annie. Some people actually did. The cast of Annie numbers 78. Director Cyndi Atkins reminded me that it might have been 80 but a few actors had to drop out of the cast.

Special Guests in the Audience

In last nights audience were two board members of the Iowa Community Theater Association (ICTA) who came to town to judge the show for ICTA’s annual community theater awards. Stay tuned to www.unionstreetplayers.com for any further news on that front in the months ahead.


  • Tonight will be opening night for Hannah Emmert who takes over the reins of the lead role. Break a leg, Hannah!
  • USP is proud to offer the opportunity for people who have never been on stage before to get a taste of live theatre. Over 30 of the 78 cast members in Annie are making their USP stage debut, and many of them are on stage for the first time (or the first time in many years).
  • Speaking of stage debuts, the youngest cast member of Annie is Madeline Kelly. Madeline, at 11 weeks old, isn’t even old enough to say she’s “cutting her teeth” on stage. Madeline is the daughter of Mat and Anne McCullough Kelly. Look for Madeline and her mom in the Hooverville chorus!
  • Being in a USP show is also a family affair for many people. Glancing over the program you can find about 15 parent/child pairs on stage. There are more family couplings if you add siblings and spouses!

Ticket Update

As of last night, there remain balacony seats available for both shows this weekend! We recommend you come to the Pella Community center a half-hour before curtain to purchase your ticket. The ticket table is located in the hallway right outside the auditorium.