Each year the Kearsley Park Players proudly bring a little theatrical flair to Flint’s historic Kearsley Park and to other area parks that host the popular Theatre in Our Parks Program.
Under the direction of its talented founder, Kay Kelly, this dedicated theatre troupe is entering its 11th season, offering a wonderful mix of plays to local residents. Last month, following an Opening Night Gala, they performed Shakespeare’s comical Twelfth Night in a series of shows at Kearsley Park, For-Mar Nature Preserve, Linden County Park, Flushing County Park and, new this year, Max Brandon Park in Flint.
This summer, folks can see the children’s play Jack and the Beanstalk and Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical The Mikado. The children’s plays are well-loved by kids of all ages, many who know the stories and can eagerly anticipate what’s going to happen next. “For many children, this is their first live theatre,” Kay says. “They sit on the floor close to the performance.” The season concludes with Oscar Wilde’s memorable comedy The Importance of Being Earnest at the Opera House in Crossroads Village. That one and the musical each require a $5 fee to help with the musical royalties and incidental costs, but the Shakespeare and children’s shows are free.
What’s so great about holding live theatre performances in a Flint park? The spirited plays draw hundreds of neighbors and families together to enjoy a delightful, often hilarious cultural experience at little or no cost to them – plus the Kearsley Park Players and Theatre in Our Parks program are grant-funded. Kay Kelly also serves as the Kearsley Park Project Director and leads a hardworking group of teenagers in extra efforts to keep the premises cleaned-up (and she says they consume plenty of prepared bologna sandwiches in the process!).
For Kearsley Park, which was established in 1917, the positive vibe generated by these performances and other scheduled park activities is a little reminiscent of its early days as a recreational and social focal point of the city. It has newer soccer and baseball fields and a sledding hill, and years ago housed a swimming pool and Safetyville, a miniature city where many residents can recall mastering the basic rules of the road hands-on.
Today the park struggles with vandalism and theft, but groups like Kearsley Park Players, along with ongoing improvements and heightened security measures, have improved the park’s tarnished image, and it has seen increased usage by area residents. “People are coming back to this park and bringing their grandkids because they all have stories about this park,” says Kay. “They’re thrilled that the park has been brought back to life. Families understand the importance of the Kearsley Park Players and of theatre to this community.”
Open auditions for Kearsley Park Players are held annually in April at the Flint School of Performing Arts. It often gives children their start in theatre, taking on roles like fairies and chamber maids. The park’s stately 1925 Donnelly Pavilion, with its wide archways reminiscent of an old castle, naturally invites actors to make grand entrances and is a fantastic setting for live theatre. “This is a really cool place to do theatre in the summer,” says Kay. “We work very hard, but we have a lot of fun! We get to put on theatre in the heart of the city of Flint.”
Getting the costume right for the part is essential to helping the actors authentically portray characters on stage. “I love to give an actor a costume that they feel wonderful in, that helps them with their characterization,” Kay explains. The Players rely on two volunteer costume seamstresses, Diane Harbin and Elaine Kaye, to make sure each costume is perfect. They work closely with Kay to accomplish the design she envisions for each costume, hat and accessory, from frilly ruffs, gowns and breeches to animals and fairies, and they’re always on hand to do trims and buttons, hooks and snaps and hems and seams.
“Sometimes we take a garment and reshape it to make it Shakespearean,” says Diane. “When I first started, we were sewing almost every costume. Over the years, it’s diminished so we’re not making them from scratch as much. We’ve made some good costumes because they’ve lasted.” The materials range from soft velvet to shower curtains, valances and inexpensive fabric scraps. Costumes are often altered slightly and re-used each year in different plays.
Elaine’s favorite projects she has created for the troupe include a jester’s outfit and, more recently, the Milky White cow costume for Jack and the Beanstalk. Sewing is her hobby, and she used to make many of her own clothes until good-quality materials became too expensive and harder to find. “Both of my grandmothers sewed,” she says. “My maternal grandmother was an English professional seamstress.”
Elaine has resided near Kearsley Park since 1984 and is happy to support the Kearsley Park Players. “The plays and events do help keep a presence in the park,” she says. “It’s been cleaned-up considerably since we first moved here.”
The Kearsley Park Players also take their shows on the road to children’s organizations, day camps and after-school programs to expose theatre to area youth. Kay says about 400 people are involved in the company, including cast and crew from ages two to adult. Kay and the troupe are supported by the City of Flint, Genesee County Parks Commission, Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce and Flint Institute of Music, Flint School of Performing Arts, Mott Community College, the Greater Flint Arts Council, the Ruth Mott Foundation and the Frederick and Stella Loeb Charitable Trust.
July schedule for Jack and the Beanstalk
July 9: Kearsley Park Pavilion – 7pm
July 10: On the Road to children’s day camps & parks!
July 10: Linden County Park 7pm
July 11: Max Brandon Park 2pm; Mott Park 3pm; Flushing County Park 7pm
July 12: For-Mar Nature Preserve – 2pm; McKinley Park, Flushing – 3pm
For a complete show schedule, visit kearsleyparkplayers.com.