Mike Cline: Memories of PPT

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 3, 2012

Editor’s Note: Piedmont Players is gearing up for their 50th anniversary. The 50th Anniversary Gala will be held Saturday, March 3 at the Meroney, with a reception silent auction and show, as well as an after-show party on the Norvell stage.
Tickets are $50 and are on sale now. Call 704-633-5471 to reserve tickets.
By Mike Cline
For The Salisbury Post
Happy Anniversary Piedmont Players Theatre.
You’re fifty years old, and it’s cause for a celebration.
The late Betty Anne Stanback, a charter member of PPT, once wrote the following: “Community theatre was an idea whose time had come for Salisbury, but there were a lot of us during the long days and longer nights in the fall of 1961 who weren’t all sure community theatre had come to stay.”
Well, PPT, look at you now.
When the curtain went up on the first performance of “Bell, Book and Candle” a half-century ago, I wonder if cast members Tom Harrell, Barbara Goette, Mary Kate Newell, David Newell and Larry Berry envisioned what they had started. Could they have imagined that 50 years later, Piedmont Players would not only be producing close to a dozen shows per year, but would be operating in downtown Salisbury in an incredible facility which houses two separate theatres? Probably not. Who would have?
But the love of theatre prevailed, and through the work of hundreds, make that thousands of people, you, Piedmont Players, continue onward.
My personal involvement with PPT began in the Spring of 1975 when I worked on the backstage crew for “Anything Goes” and “Play It Again, Sam,” which marked the end of Bonnie Royster as director, by her own choice.
The Fall of 1975 brought a new season and a new director. I decided to try out for “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Weird things happen sometimes, and I was cast in a supporting role. Although the show wasn’t well-received, especially by George Raynor, who was at that time reviewing the shows for the Salisbury Post, I enjoyed participating in the production. I was fortunate that I was able to work with established PPT actors Peg Barnes, Bill Stanback, Frank Montgomery, Karl Hales, Gerald Honaker and that wonderful teddy bear of a man, John Hartlege. I learned as much as I could from these fine folks and was fortunate that I was able to do other shows later with most of them.
I was told by fellow cast members during “Arsenic” rehearsals that critic Raynor pulled no punches in his reviews. If he didn’t like a show or an actor, he could “cut you to ribbons” with his pen. Somehow, I escaped the Raynor guillotine. A brief reference in the “Arsenic” review stated that I was a newcomer and performed “adequately” in my small role, even if my name appeared in print as Mike Line. Close enough, Mr. Raynor. Thanks for not suggesting I pack and leave town.
As it turned out, the next director stayed through only two productions. It was “suggested” she pack and move on, which she did, leaving PPT without a director for the rest of the season.
Catawba drama icons Karl Hales and Hoyt McCachren finished the season in the director’s chair.
The fall of 1976 ushered in the tenure of director Hubert Rolling, and he hit the ground running. I was fortunate to be cast, along with a group of wonderfully talented people, in the spring 1977 production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Perfectly cast from top-to-bottom, “Fiddler” was an absolute smash, every performance a sell-out, if my memory serves me. It remains one of my favorite shows in which I participated. And it was during “Fiddler” that I met the incredible Alice Mooney, a dear lady. Fortunately for me, I had the pleasure to work with Alice in several more shows. Being on stage with her was a joy.
I always preferred appearing in musicals, but I did venture into some straight shows. “The Good Doctor” was one, and again I escaped the wrath of Raynor. He wrote that I “was excellent as the professional ‘drowned man’ and also first rate as the terrified sexton in the tooth pulling sketch.” This time he got my name right. I was in “Night Watch” (with Alice Mooney), a mystery / thriller.
It was Alice’s show all the way, but Mr. Raynor wrote “the subsidiary roles are played with mixed results. The outstanding performance of this clutch of actors came from young Mike Cline, who was genuinely funny in a role that had genuinely funny possibilities. Every tale of suspense needs comic relief to refuel it for more terror.” I particularly enjoy the “young” reference these days. For “The Desk Set,” he wrote that “Cline’s numerous visits to the data room brightened the stage each time.” And he reported that my performance in “The Sound of Music” was “outstanding.” That might be stretching it, but he said that I “while young, is now experienced and versatile, moving easily with changing characterizations in different roles.”
At this point, I must come clean. I was once cast in a part for which I never could grasp the feel of the character, and because of that, I never felt comfortable during the entire run of the play. Instead of writing that I stunk, which I did, he didn’t mention me at all in the review. That is, perhaps, the nicest thing he ever did for me.
“Mame,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Gypsy,” “Oklahoma,” “Li’l Abner” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” followed for me. Each was a remarkable experience, with the exception of “Mame.” The dances were tough to learn, and during the course of rigorous rehearsals, I developed shin splints in both legs and had to be dropped from the chorus the week before we opened. I could barely walk across a room. But that’s OK. The family spotlight of that show was wife Julie’s performance of Agnes Gooch.
I have had the delight to appear in about 18 PPT productions onstage and a number of others on backstage crews. I guess my favorite shows that I did are “Fiddler,” “The Sound of Music,” “Li’l Abner” and “Best Little Whorehouse.”
But, hands down, the greatest part of doing PPT shows will always be the camaraderie of the volunteers who spend countless hours getting a show to fruition. I have met so many incredible and wonderful people doing local theatre. I am blessed to this day, twenty- some years since I was on a stage, to be friends with so many of the guys and dolls I met in Hedrick Little Theatre and Keppel Auditorium. Many I consider family, not just friends.
So, here’s to you, Piedmont Players Theatre. Thank you for all the opportunities and great times you have given me. It has been a giant part of my life.
And once again, I wish you a happy anniversary.