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Catch an encore performance of 'Staying in' with Butterfield Stage

The Daily Ardmoreite

This spring, as America went into lockdown because of the novel coronavirus, theatre companies around the country shuttered, but that didn’t stop people from creating theatre — far from it. Many artists may still be stuck at home but as the saying goes, “The show must go on!”

Playwrights are finding ways to adapt existing works so that they work in different Zoom or live streaming formats and some playwrights are creating and licensing brand new works specifically to be performed virtually on Zoom, Google Meet or other video conferencing platforms. Two such local playwrights are Charlene Ledbetter and Devon Hacker.

Hailing from Muenster, Devon Hacker has been involved with Butterfield Stage Players since 2015 when he was cast in the ensemble of Bye Bye Birdie. “I had heard from a friend that they needed guys, so I went to the audition.”

Charlene moved to Gainesville from McKinney in 2016. She says, “We were driving around one day and we saw the theatre. My husband said “Hey! You wanted to get re-involved with theatre…” and so I auditioned for Rumors and got cast! Since then I have been involved in different capacities; actor, director, technical director and now playwright.”

When asked how they met, Devon gave a brief retort that I think perfectly sums up their dynamic and their sense of humor. “We worked together on Sweet Charity and she yelled at me to be louder, then we worked together on California Suite and she yelled at me for turning the lights on too early, so it just started with a lot of yelling and she’s been yelling at me ever since.”

All jokes aside, they got to know each other when Charlene was directing a play called Greetings at Garage Door Theatre in Pilot Point. “After my fourth lead actor quit on me, I was given Devon’s name from a mutual friend. Luckily, he agreed to do the show and throughout the rehearsal process we just got to know each other really well. We had quite a lot in common and that’s when I discovered that he also had an artistic side, so when I directed The Creature Creeps at Butterfield, I asked him if he wanted to help with set design. We’ve been collaborating ever since.”

Now, together, they have created Staying In, a theatrical piece set in and filmed over Zoom. They describe it thus, “In the grip of a worldwide pandemic, The Margarine Valley Players, a small town community theatre, knows the show must go on! This show-within-a-show pays homage to the classic farce, featuring a board of directors bravely producing an original, online show to keep their theatre relevant and thriving, despite the obstacles. Five episodes take us from the birth of the idea to the final performance, with much hilarity along the way.”

Charlene says that she got the idea when she watched the 30 Rock Virtual Reunion Special. “I saw that and thought, we could do that…we just need a show. Devon and I had been talking about writing something together for a while, so I called him up and we just started brainstorming. That brainstorming session we came up with 5 different ideas, and the first one we decided to expand upon was Staying In.”

When asked about the writing process, both Charlene and Devon said that while both of them focused on different aspects of the script, the overall process was extremely collaborative, “Sometimes I’d have a funny idea but wouldn’t really have a place for that idea in the section I was writing, so I’d tell Charlene about it and then she’d be able to use it in the section she was writing. So although we both focused on different sections of the script, you can see aspects of both of us throughout the entire thing.”

Charlene said at first, they weren’t sure what the reaction would be to the show, “Butterfield agreed to do the show, but Devon and I were prepared to play all the parts because we didn’t know if anyone would even be interested. Ultimately, we had to add a third day of auditions because we had so many people sign up. It made us realize that people are wanting to act. It’s a case of the proverbial ‘If you write it, they will come.’”

All of the auditions were held over Zoom, so it was different from a regular audition at which you can see the entire actor; their mannerisms & how they use their body. “All we had was a close up of their face. I think that probably made it more difficult for the actors too because whereas in theatre you need to be big, in order to fill up the entire space, for these auditions, you needed to be subtler, because the camera can pick up much smaller expressions.”

How have rehearsals been going? “It’s been fun. Learning what you can and can’t do on Zoom is interesting and seeing these characters we wrote come alive is incredible. Yeah, we wrote them, but the actors are asking questions we never even thought of. They truly have brought these characters to life in ways we never imagined. In fact, part of our marketing strategy came about because we were seeing the incredible work these folks were doing and we wanted to capture some of their characters for short commercials that we could post on the website and social media. It’s been so much fun filming them and we really think that the community will get a kick out of them too!”

Charlene and Devon have had such a great time writing this show and working together that they even started their own production company: Hackbetter Productions (a portmanteau of their last names).

So, what’s next for Hackbetter Productions? “We’ve really enjoyed this process and so, yes, we have definitely discussed some other ideas and have started bringing a few other projects to life. We recently completed Staying In: Christmas Spectacular. It’s funny no matter WHEN you watch and it’s free on YouTube right now! We are also working on an original Youth Zoom Show that will be premiering this Spring.” Be sure to follow Butterfield Stage to stay up to date on future Hackbetter Productions and when they win their first Tony Award, you can say that you saw them get their start at Butterfield Stage in Gainesville, Texas!

Staying In features Amy Brennan, Jessica DeMent, James Dietz, Mary Jo Dollar, Pam Evans, Perry Goodwyn, Courtney Kelley, Nikki King, Megan Krebs, Christian Martinez, John Moragues, McKenna Proffer, Shannon Rivoire, Charles Robnett & Alfred Weser and is produced by special arrangement with Hackbetter Productions.

This encore performance of Staying In is coming will stream from Jan, 22 to Jan. 31. Make a donation of any amount at www.butterfieldstage.org and then Butterfield will send you a link for viewing. View on a laptop, desktop, iPad, mobile phone, or Smart TV with a YouTube app. 

Butterfield is a nonprofit organization under provisions of section 501-C3 of the Internal Revenue Code. Follow us on Facebook & Instagram.