The St. James Players have officially opened the curtains on a new location, new show, and new children’s program.
The local theater group was originally based at the St. James Lutheran Church (their namesake) before the building was sold. They then relocated to their current location in the Lebanon Valley Mall across from Mancino’s.
The previous location was 1,700 square feet, while the new location is 4,500 square feet. In addition to being larger, the new location has a large lobby well-suited for selling concessions and merchandise and dedicated spaces for a green room and dressing rooms.
“The type of shows I can do and the way I can direct them, it’s a whole new world for me [with] the larger space,” said company founder and director Karen Dundore-Gulotta.
For nine months, Dundore-Gulotta and her partner, who are both retired, often spent 12- to 15-hour days working on building the new location, with the help of volunteers. That hard work paid off, as the community has had an overall positive response.
“I’ve received many messages about how much people have enjoyed the shows that we’ve been doing,” said Dundore-Gulotta. “They really love our new facility and what we were able to build here.”
The St. James Players successfully hosted two shows at the new location so far, with “Musicville” in July and “Newsies” in September. “Musicville” was part of a summer camp for children they held that was sponsored by Lebanon-based nonprofit Making a Difference. “Newsies,” which featured an all-ages cast, was sold-out for five of its performances and well-attended at the other three.
The St. James Players’ next show is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The Lebanon-based author of the adaptation, Jack Ferry, will co-direct the show alongside Dundore-Gulotta.
“I’m just really excited that we have a local author so he can showcase his talents in our space and be a role model to kids and show them they can do anything as long as they believe in themselves,” said Dundore-Gulotta.
Working with Ferry has also been helpful for Dundore-Gulotta in directing.
“For me, it’s a new experience,” said Dundore-Gulotta. “If I’m not sure what intention he has had with the words he wrote, I can just ask him, he’s right there next to me.”
There will be eight performances of the show, running every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from Dec. 7 to 17. While tickets can be purchased at the door, it is recommended to book them ahead of time in case they sell out. Tickets are available for $15 each at stjames.booktix.com.
The St. James Players were also able to start an after-school theater program called Star Academy. The program is open to children ages 7 through 14 on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“It means everything to me,” said Dundore-Gulotta of providing this service to the community. “I always said that I wanted to build something that I didn’t have as a young person in this community, and that’s really what I set out to do.”
Theater has always been important to Dundore-Gulotta, who has been performing since 1976 and directing for many years.
“I’ve always wanted to run my own theater in my own way,” she said. “For me, this is a dream that’s become a reality. There are mornings I wake up and I can’t believe I’m living the life I’m living.”
Dundore-Gulotta was a special education teacher for 37 years and uses that experience to write the curriculum for the St. James Players’ children’s programs and work with children (with and without disabilities) involved in production.
“Children with disabilities are always welcome to join our group, and we have a wonderful time together,” she said.
She enjoys being able to work with children and has made them a central part of the St. James Players.
“We take all ages in our regular shows, but our focus is always on children,” said Dundore-Gulotta. “I’m having the time of my life and I think I look forward to it as much as the children.”
While children are the primary focus, the St. James Players are open to everyone.
“We always say we have people ages 5 to 105,” said Dundore-Gulotta. “In our main stage shows, we have people of all ages, all backgrounds, all ability levels.”
The fact that the cast and crew are composed of a different group of people every show reflects this commitment to diversity.
“We get new people all the time and they all bring something different,” said Dundore-Gulotta. “I really enjoy just sitting back and watching new friendships develop and the collaboration between people happen in front of my eyes.”
Overall, she hopes the St. James Players continue to welcome new people and be an asset to the community.
“To me, (the St. James Players) means community, friendship, and quality entertainment,” said Dundore-Gulotta.
For more information about the St. James Players, visit their website at thestjamesplayers.org.
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