By Peter Paylor
“It kind of becomes your family,” she says. “All my family lives out of town so the Guild becomes my in-town family.
I’ve made some of the best friends of my life in the theatre.”
If you’ve been to the Pinnacle Playhouse, you’ll have seen the wonderful photos lining the “Green Room” walls, celebrating past productions by the Belleville Theatre Guild. Before each new season, five plays from the previous year are added to the wall and five plays from the past come down. I took a walk down this photographic memory lane recently with long-time stage manager and set decorator, Judy Bridle. She was about to show me the photos from her first production when she realized that they were no longer on the wall. The wall only goes back sixteen years; Judy’s work for the Guild goes back almost twenty.
Judy first discovered the Guild as a season subscriber in the late 1980’s. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” she says, “but after my marriage ended, I got fed up trying to find someone to go with.” That’s when she decided to get involved behind the stage. She approached her friend, long-time Guild member Phil Bowerman and Bowerman introduced her to director Liz Marshall. “Liz was just putting a production team together for An Inspector Calls. Liz was very welcoming,” she says.” She asked me if I was interested in doing set décor. It was a lovely garden set. I was pleased with the way it turned out. More importantly, Liz was pleased with the way it turned out. I’ve worked with Liz on almost every play she’s done since. She’s been such an inspiration to me.”
Since trying her hand at set décor, Judy has worked as an assistant stage manager and then as a stage manager and then, in 2004, she was invited to be the Guild’s Vice President. She served as the Guild’s President from 2005 to 2008 and Past President from 2008 to 2011. She has been the Guild’s Technical Director for the past three years.
“It kind of becomes your family,” she says. “All my family lives out of town so the Guild becomes my in-town family. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life in the theatre.”
“I love the way community theatre provides a creative outlet for me,” she says. “It keeps my mind alive. There are always,” she pauses, “challenges.” I ask if she’s ever been on stage. “Once,” she says. “It was another Liz Marshall production, Ring Round the Moon. I was dressed as a maid. I didn’t have any lines. It was just the easiest way to get the props on and off the stage.”
Next year, Judy will mark her twentieth anniversary at the Guild with two productions. First up, she will be doing set décor once again for Liz Marshall when Liz directs John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar and then later in the season she will be stage managing James Yaffe’s Cliffhanger for Lisa Morris. It will be Morris’s first full-length play as a director. “I’ll be a sponge,” says Morris. “I’m going to soak up as much of those twenty years of experience as I can.”
In the meantime, Judy is stage managing the upcoming Guild production of The Sting. “It’s cleverly presented, very imaginative, and highly entertaining,” she says. “Audiences are going to see a great show with lots of new faces. They’re going to see gun-toting gangsters, good guys and bad guys.” What they won’t see is what’s going on backstage thanks to Judy.
“I’m not done yet,” she says as we wrap up our trip down memory lane. “I’m having too much fun.”
The Sting runs until April 20th.