Veteran actor, director and teacher Kevin Biddle is preparing to reprise his role of Senex in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a fast-paced musical farce with a talented cast of local favorites.
Actors in the Lebanon Community Theatre (LCT) show include Biddle, Larry Sheaf, Jason Capello, Rick Kopecky, Jodi Loose, Shelby Snyder, and Adam Estep. Rick Graybill is the director.
According to LCT, it is a play “that promises to have audiences rolling on the floor.” “Forum,” based on the plays of Plautus, a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period, is replete with the ever-funny bit of mistaken identities.
The show runs Thursday, Nov. 4. through Sunday, Nov. 14. For complete information and to order tickets, visit LCT’s website or call 717-833-5428.
“It is extra satisfying to be doing this play now,” said Biddle. “Our planned production in 2019 was cut short by the pandemic, and we were all determined to treat our audiences to this fun production as soon as we were able to bring it back. Now is the time.”
“Forum” is just the latest show for Biddle, who has been entertaining audiences since 1979
“My passion for theater actually started earlier than that,” Biddle explained. “I remember seeing my older brother Bill in a production of ‘Guys and Dolls,’ when I was in high school (Salem High School in New Jersey). I was mesmerized by the costumes, sets, and choreography, and knew then that I loved theater.”
A few years later, in 1979, Biddle was cast as Mr. Bumble in “Oliver!” He followed up with roles such as Max in “Sound of Music,” the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” and Teddy in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
There was no turning back: Biddle has been performing, directing and/or choreographing ever since.
How his dual passions of teaching and the theater relate
Biddle, an alumnus of Lebanon Valley College, has been teaching American history in the Elizabethtown Area School District for the past 33 years.
“Teaching has always been my passion, but theater is a natural fit,” said Biddle. “To teach, you must be able to captivate that student audience and keep their attention. Teaching American history this length of time has taught me that theater and teaching fit like a glove.”
Biddle is also the director of Music Ministry at Christ Church UCC in Annville. He has been doing this for the last 28 years.
He balanced his college education with theater involvement at Lebanon Valley College.
“I was very active in the LVC theater program, the shows there are student directed/run,” explained Biddle. “I was able to direct ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ as a student there.”
Biddle also gained invaluable experience working at the LVC Summer Dinner Theater, sponsored by the Palmyra Rotary Club.
“I was able to perform in and direct multiple shows, including ‘Oklahoma,’ ‘The Music Man,’ ‘Li’l Abner,’ and others,” he said.
When asked about some of his favorite roles, Biddle mentioned Edna in “Hairspray,” Pseudololus in an earlier production of “Forum,” Mayor Shinn in “The Music Man,” and the Chairman in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”
Biddle becomes a professional
Biddle looks fondly back at the summer of 1984, when he successfully auditioned to hone his performing skills at Hersheypark. He spent the summer singing and dancing in a children’s show called “Just Believe!”
“Ten years later I was cast in another show, ‘Pasta Mania,’” Biddle noted.
Working at Hersheypark allowed Biddle to earn his Actors Equity Card, a card for the Actors’ Equity Association, a labor union representing over 49,000 U.S. actors and stage managers. This opened the door for him to audition for several Broadway and touring shows.
He was cast as a six-month replacement in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” as Ishaacor/the Baker.
“Unfortunately, there was a cast change,” Biddle recalled. “Donny Osmond was re-cast as Joseph. The music for the show had to be lowered to fit his range, which took me out of my range. That was the last equity show I auditioned for.”
Fond memories at the Lebanon Community Theatre
When asked to list a few directing favorites, he mentioned, “I have directed ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ and, most recently, ‘Into the Woods.’ That show has always been on my bucket list.
“I assisted with a production of it 25 years ago and have always wanted to direct a Stephen Sondheim piece. Sondheim has such deep characters, intricate storylines, and amazing music. It is extremely challenging to direct, and I am so thankful that LCT gave me that opportunity.”
Then along came the pandemic
Everyone was affected in some way by the pandemic, but the theater and the arts community was stopped in its tracks. Biddle was among the victims.
“During the pandemic I felt very isolated,” he recalled. “Theater has been part of my life for so many years, it was strange to go week after week, month after month without a rehearsal or a performance.”
He did get fulfillment, however, by serving as the liturgist at Christ Church. Hymns and anthems were livestreamed only, without a congregation present.
“The past year was difficult for so many,” observed Biddle. “I feel fortunate that I was able to continue working from home during the 2020-21 school year, and to be able to do some things creatively at Christ Church.”
Late July, the LCT had a soft reopening in the show “Greater Tuna,” a two-man show in which Biddle performed alongside fellow veteran actor/director Larry Sheaf.
“It was awesome, finally, to get to be able to do ‘Greater Tuna’ with Larry Sheaf this summer and get back on stage again!”
Read more: Larry Sheaf just keeps going and going
Biddle shares some advice with young actors or aspiring directors
“Take risks! You must think outside the box and take risks to do theater,” urged Biddle. “If you stay in your comfort zone you will never grow as an actor or director.”
He sums it up this way: “I am proud to sit in the back row of the theater and hear an audience react to a production I have directed. The audiences at LCT have been so incredibly kind.”
A word of advice. Don’t miss Biddle and his fellow actors taking the LCT stage in November performing “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
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