British theatre on center stage in Southland
The Drama Group, a community theatre located in Chicago Heights, is celebrating 15 years of being involved in a dramatic exchange program with The Stables Theatre in Hastings, England.
This weekend’s performances of “Taking Steps,” a British farce written by Alan Ayckbourn, will close the latest edition of the annual exchange, making it the longest-running dramatic exchange program in the country, according to Tina Zagone.
Zagone, of Olympia Fields, is in charge of marketing and publicity for The Drama Group. She has been associated with the theatre since 1974 in several other capacities as well, including dancer, choreographer, actor and director. She was instrumental in getting the theatres from Illinois and England together.
“The exchange program started in 1999,” Zagone said. “I directed, and my late husband Richard Zagone produced the first Drama Group production that was performed at the DG studio and at the Stables — ‘Spoon River Anthology.’ ”
Zagone said the exchange program has been rich with friendships and cultural enlightenment, and was started to showcase the unique styles of American and British playwrights, actors and directors.
“It’s been rewarding to see a legacy grow and thrive,” she said, adding that when writing a grant application for the program, they attempted to find another program of its kind occurring in the country but were unable to find any at the time.
“Taking Steps” is one of Ayckbourn’s rare true farces, in which he replaces all of the door gags with floor gags, according to Zagone.
Three stories of a “haunted” house are superimposed on one another, and action on multiple levels takes place simultaneously within the same space. The house is for sale beyond its worth, and the relationships between the characters disintegrate and blossom in the course of a rainy night.
Nine actors and crew members from the Hastings theatre have taken up temporary residence in Chicago Heights during the past few weeks, in order to bring the production to life. They range in age from 20 to 68.
Frank Jenks, the stage manager, has been a part of the drama exchange since its inception, and actor Andrew John White has been involved in three previous exchange productions.
“This has allowed him (White) to develop a personal friendship with his ongoing host, Phil Serviss,” Zagone said. “They have each attended weddings and celebrations in both countries.”
Directing the show is Ian Morson, a professor in Hastings. He is celebrating 50 years of being involved in amateur drama, having acted during his university days and in drama groups around North London, then acting and directing in groups based in Cornwall and Cyprus.
“This is an exhilarating British farce comedy performed by the actors who know it so well, and the authentic accents are delightful,” Zagone said, adding that the all-volunteer Drama Group has been “bringing Broadway to the southern suburbs of Chicago since 1931.
“Become a part of the legacy of The Exchange Program as we celebrate our 15th anniversary.”