Reporter’s note: This is the second profile in a LebTown exclusive series on people involved in Art and the Arts in Lebanon County. As the veil of COVID-19 continues to lift, we are pleased to draw attention to this important segment of our local culture. Read the first profile in the series about Lebanon’s Katie Trainer here.

The ringing of a rotary telephone signals the start of Karen’s story. The year is 1976.

“Mrs. Dundore, this is Miss Parks, Karen’s music teacher. ELCO High School is doing Finian’s Rainbow, and they need some younger children for the cast. I would like to help Karen audition for a part.” Permission granted.

With coaching from Mrs. Kirsh, Karen’s piano teacher, to “never stop singing and be confident,” Karen won the plum role of Diane at the age of ten.

“I can remember standing on stage behind a red velvet curtain as the orchestra played the overture,” Karen recalls. “The excitement filled me from somewhere deep in my being. At that moment, I knew I would always be involved with performing arts.”

Karen’s life journey included marriage and children, along with involvement in theater as time permitted. But she never let her dream slip away as she waited for just the right time.

Karen Gulotta directing a cast rehearsal of Children of Eden, Jr. (Jack Cantwell)
Another shot of Karen Gulotta directing a cast rehearsal of Children of Eden, Jr. (Jack Cantwell)

“It has been a lifelong dream to open a children’s theater. I knew it had to be a place where children could learn about themselves and the world around them,” Karen said.

The educator and the children’s theater idea

The idea that would later become the St. James Players continued to percolate throughout Karen’s career as an educator.

“I have been an educator since 1986,” Karen said. “I am currently the Special Populations Coordinator at the CTC. I understand what children think and worry about. I enjoy incorporating my skills as an educator into theater rehearsals. After every rehearsal, we set aside time to discuss topics that children need to learn about. We talk about all kinds of things, like bullying, our feelings, suicide, mental health, just to name a few. We always look for the good in others and learn the power of the compliment to others. We also identify all the things that make us special as individuals. The children know they can always talk freely and are listened to.”

Yet another example of Karen Gulotta’s caring spirit. She is working part-time at Deraco’s Café and Restaurant in Lebanon for the summer. Here she poses with Deraco’s manager, Jenn McCurdy, who also manages the St. James Players’ box office as a volunteer. (Jack Cantwell)

Children’s perspective

The next St. James Players production’s, Children of Eden, Jr.’s, performance dates are Aug. 6, 7, and 8. Call or text the box office for tickets 717-450-0006.

Here are observations from two of the cast members –

Quinn Schultz – At age 12, Quinn is already a “stage veteran,” having appeared in multiple St. James Players productions. He will appear as a storyteller and singer in Children of Eden, Jr.

“It’s not a big part, but lots of fun,” Quinn said. “I learn new things all [of] the time. One of the cast members showed me how to use notecards to remember lines. I am using the idea now.”

Karen Gulotta poses with Quinn Schultz. (Jack Cantwell)
Quinn Schultz and Mary Stewart in Wind in the Willows, pre-pandemic. (Provided)

Trinitee Hoffman – At age 17, Trinitee has landed the plum dual-role of Eve and Noah’s wife in the upcoming production. She plans to pursue theater as a career and places great value in her St. James Players experience.

“I love choreography as well as performing,” Trinitee said. “Karen allowed me to choreograph two of the songs in Wind in the Willows. Kirstyn Schaeffer was a great mentor too. This opportunity was priceless.”

Karen Gulotta poses with Trinitee Hoffman. (Jack Cantwell)

Peace, quiet, and the dream that becomes reality

There is a special place in Karen’s heart for Oracoke Island, part of the North Carolina Outer Banks region. It is the place where Karen can relax and think.

“I feel at peace there. My mind is clear, and when I am there, I can formulate creative ideas,” Karen said. “The St. James Players concept was born while I sat on a beach during an 8-month stay on the island in 2018. I was involved in a theater project on the island. When I moved back home in August 2018, I was having a yard sale and a neighbor stopped by and told me about a space at the St. James Church in Lebanon. I went to this church as a child with my parents. I knew the space well. It needed a lot of work, but we had a team of people help us clean it up, and we produced our first show, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The idea was now a reality.”

Every show up to the start of the pandemic was a sellout.

And then came the pandemic

We all have our own stories of survival and adjustment when COVID-19 dominated the news and our lives. Karen’s adjustment was just one story.

Karen remembers, “Being a social butterfly, the shutdown was very hard for me. I missed my theatre kids and the people I worked with at the theatre. We did produce one online show and a radio production.”

Continuing her story, Karen said, “Just before the pandemic, I finally felt like we were in a rhythm of producing shows and adding items like sound and lighting equipment. The St. James Church kindly suspended rent obligations during the pandemic. On the upside, we did some needed renovations with the money saved. We installed a new floor, remodeled the bathroom, and painted, all with volunteer help. This work used up our savings. Our wishlist now is to find a donor or a sponsor for a play or musical to help us grow our light and sound capabilities.”

Back to the future

The St. James Players are now phasing back into live theatre. They just closed The Enchanted Bookshop with 50% capacity.

“Our shows usually sell out, so this is only a start,” said Karen. “We are in rehearsal for Children of Eden, Jr., which will be performed on Aug. 6, 7, and 8. Tickets and information are available by calling or texting 717-450-0006. We are also working on plans for a fall production that we will announce on our Facebook page. Look for news about a Nov. fundraiser and a possible Christmas production. No pandemic can hold us down.”

Karen speaks about other benefits

“The St. James Players is about building a community and helping each other. I love to see the older children interact with the little children; in today’s world, children look up to the athlete who earns millions. We have role models in our community if we just look for them,” Karen said. “The St. James Players is a place where children are safe and feel valued. They are given freedom to express themselves on and off the stage. They learn much more than stage directions. They learn how very wonderful and special they are inside and out.”

LebTown has had the pleasure of covering Karen and the St. James Players prior to the pandemic. Read that coverage by following the links below.

Read More: St. James Players to start 2020 with Fractured Fairy Tales, Enchanted Bookshop

Read More: It’s A Wonderful Life coming to Lebanon stage, tickets scarce

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