Jolly Roger Side Show

by Rachel Perry

Some projects involve a lot more than meets the eye. So it has been with The Jolly Roger Side Show, a local theater production group.

Several recent graduates from Brown County High School organized and produced, on their own, a lauded version of Romeo and Juliet at the Brown County Public Library last summer. The driving forces behind the effort, Brandon Kirkham and Dylan Marks, wanted to repeat the experience during this summer’s break from college.

Both completed their freshman year at the University of Evansville theater department in the spring of 2002. An integral part of the department’s requirements includes using the summer months to gain relevant theater experience in order to launch professional portfolios. Brandon, who’s majoring in theater design techniques, and Dylan, a performance major, have a peer who landed a summer job as a production assistant at a theater in Boston.

Although University officials likely envisioned summer jobs with established entities, Brandon and Dylan came up with another idea. Thanks to the generosity of Clenna Perkins (owner of The Mercantile in Nashville), the two took over her old horse barn on State Road 46 West and began the hard work of transforming it into a theater. With the help of several buddies, Brandon and Dylan removed accumulated trash, bought and installed drywall, changed a side-room into a costume/dressing area, revamped the lighting and painted black the interior space. “We wanted a black box style so we could have variation in sets,” explained Brandon.

But when the exterior sign, Yellowwood Theater, went up on the front of the building, problems arose. “We got called by ‘zoning,’ Brandon said. “We had a meeting and all that fun stuff. It didn’t meet the sign ordinance. It was kind of like opening a can of worms.” In order to have a public theater, the property would have to have commercial zoning. Then requirements to meet fire and safety guidelines would necessitate a sprinkler system as well as accessible restrooms and building accessibility for the mobility impaired.

Despite setbacks, the show must go on. The two producers found another venue for performances at the Presbyterian Church (the old Pine Box Theater) in Nashville. Rehearsals continued in the converted horse barn four nights per week and plans for the set and costumes were finalized. “We went to the stage (at the church) the other day and got some measurements to bring back here, “ Dylan explained in a June interview. “I then designed the set at home. I developed a layout of where I thought things should go after we discussed how we thought it should feel and look, and how it should make the audience feel. I’m starting to do the elevations.”

Brandon added, “We’re trying to move toward a professional production. Last year we had to put the set up every night (in the library), so we just went to the store and used props that we built onto a scaffold. But because Dylan and I are at a school that does everything professionally, we’re trying to use what we have learned.”

The argument could certainly be made that the two students are gaining much “real life” theater experience, if not under the mentoring of more conventional production personnel. Learning about zoning and building permits, recruiting volunteers to help, convincing community elders to provide space and projecting a budget, in addition to the myriad details of producing a play, may not be what is expected in a professional portfolio. But the experience will be invaluable no matter what profession is ultimately chosen.

Under the direction of the two drama students, several others have become involved. In all, ten to fifteen of their contemporaries are helping with all aspects of the production including acting, sewing costumes, building sets and participating in decision-making. Brandon’s grandmother has been recruited to help with the costumes.

“The whole thing was that initially Brandon and I had the idea to put on a show and have some fun doing it,” Dylan explained. “We finally decided to do it last year and by about the middle of the production we realized that we didn’t just want it to be a show. We wanted it to be a good show. Now we’re trying to improve it.”

“There’s a lot of talent here that hasn’t been realized or had an outlet,” Brandon added. “We’re not professionals yet, but we wanted to give people an outlet. It fulfils our Bohemian goals and it gives people something to do that’s not fifteen bucks a ticket.”

Brandon Kirkham and Dylan Marks are planning to ask for a $2 donation from each member of the audience. A donation box at the back of the “theater” in the library last year enabled them to cover their costs. Earlier this summer, the producers organized a yard sale to raise money for materials. “Hopefully this year we can get a little more to keep going. To possibly have a ongoing group to do productions in the future,” Brandon said.

Although Brandon and Dylan anticipate getting “real” summer theater jobs next year, their hope is that the Jolly Roger Side Show becomes an active and viable group in Brown County without them. “My mother asked last year why we chose the name ‘Jolly Roger,’” Dylan laughed. “I said because it’s cool. She said, ‘You know what that means, right? Take no prisoners.’ So that’s what I think of for our overall philosophy.”

The play to be produced on August 9, 10, 16 and 17 is Midsummer Night’s Dream. It begins at 8:00 pm each evening in Nashville’s Presbyterian Church at the corner of Jefferson and Van Buren Streets. Be sure to catch a performance and judge for yourself how much these students have learned.