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Phoenix Readers spice up the season

By Wayne Hinshaw

For the Salisbury Post

The newest theater group in town is the Phoenix Readers. Well, they are not brand new, since they organized months ago, but they have hit their Christmas schedule with the “Phoenix Readers Christmas” presentation.

I had the pleasure of listening to their opening readings at John Calvin Presbyterian Church this past Sunday afternoon  Now, I have no expertise at all in evaluating any theater production other than if I enjoyed it, or I didn’t. In this show of the Readers, I did enjoy what I heard and saw.

I had no real idea what the “reader’s theater” might be. I know what storytellers or folks reading stories do. You know that they gather around, maybe in a rocking chair, with the children sitting on the floor and adults in the background listening to “The Night Before Christmas” or something like that.

That’s not what the Phoenix Readers do. They are divided into a group of 6 with 3 men and 3 women sitting on bar stools in a line reading and playing off each others’ readings. They rely on vocal expressions and facial expressions for the most part, with limited movement, to deliver a story. 

Their readings might be a story, a poem or the lyrics from a Christmas carol. They might read the writings of  a famous writer like Shakespeare or even a letter written by President John F. Kennedy. They even read some writings from newspaper columnists.

The show is all in the presentation. Their voices chime in together one after the other reading the lines of the story. Voices pop up all up and down the line of readers in no certain order, keeping your eyes following the voice sounds. When you focus on a reader, expect to see their facial expressions straining to help tell the story.

The voices move fast and then faster, then slow, then very slow. The pitch of the voices can be high but might be low. There is a rhythm to the presentation.

Moving up and down, the voices reminded me of the pistons in a fine-tuned automobile engine going up and down, back and forth, not skipping a beat like in a musical production.  On occasion, the readers use their arms, either from excitement or planned emphasis. At one point, Nick Bishop, Shawn Van Wellendael and Mike Cline were pumping their arms up and down and side to side, and then there was no motion again.

Van Wellendael’s clear, commanding voice really puts the emphasis to the point of the story, along with his pointing finger and a somewhat devilish smile, even at Christmas. That story needed that devilish smile.

Bishop’s snowman tie seemed to fit the “no costume” idea, along with Mike Cline’s red-and-green shirt. Kate Davis, in the center of the line, seemed to even out the voices from the women and the men, keeping the rhythm of sound moving.

I don’t have a program of the complete number of readings, but I remember a few of the titles such as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” song lyrics, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” lyrics,  “All I Need for Christmas is You” lyrics and the 1897, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa” letter.

The “Martha Washington’s Fruitcake” directions got a great response when read:

          Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks,

          and beat them (whites) to a froth.

          

Then work the 4 pounds of butter to a cream, and put the whites of

         the eggs to it, a cup  at  time, until well-worked.

Then add 4 pounds of sugar (finely powdered) to it in the same

  manner (one cup at a time).

Then add the egg yolks and  5 pounds of flour and fruit to it.

   

         Add to it mace, nutmeg, and wine and brandy.

   

        Two hours will bake it. (350 degrees)

As the audience settled comfortably into their seats, suddenly two of the women in the group, (Becky Porter, Linda Jones) rose from their stools and walked into the audience, placing Santa hats on some of the now surprised listeners, bringing sheepish smiles to their faces.  Big smiles spread on the faces of others in the audience, enjoying the somewhat embarrassed look on the faces of those under the Santa hats.

For a pleasant hour of listening pleasure, go hear the Phoenix Readers. It will be an hour away from the hustle of shopping and the noise of cheering for your football teams. You might enjoy the “slowed down pace” of the readings.

This reader’s theater group is the result of Dr. Jim Epperson’s vision and talent in putting it together with the Center for Faith and the Arts. He selected the readings. There are two groups of Phoenix Readers with 6 people in each group presenting the shows. The readers must “be able to read and be at least 55 years old.”

The second readers group is composed of Ray Davies, Buddy Farnan, Robert Jones, Julie Cline, Rebekah Harrison and Mary Ann McCubbins.

The Phoenix Readers perform at no charge. Here’s a schedule of upcoming performances:

Sunday, Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. – Center for Faith & the Arts, Salisbury

Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. – Oak Park Retirement, Salisbury

Monday, Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. – Morningside Assisted Living Senior Community, Concord

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