Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Bard in the park, on wheels, with Fancy Pants

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
July 10, 2014

Brishen Miller and the Argosy

Shakespeare wrote that all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Fancy Pants Theater want to make sure all local parks are a stage, if not the world (not yet, anyway). Zinta Aistars checks in with the principals of the theater troupe.

With avocado green carpeting and orange chairs, a crocheted multi-colored zig-zag afghan tossed over the couch, the 1978 vintage mobile home called Argosy is a vehicle not only for road travel but also for time travel.

"The Bard would have wanted it this way," says Carol Zombro, executive director of Fancy Pants Theater. After all, Zombro argues, didn’t Shakespeare envision his theater performances under the sun and under the stars, out in the open air?

Argosy takes theater there.

Zombro is wearing a neon yellow T-shirt sporting the black silhouette of William Shakespeare, and with her is Ben Hooper, vice executive director, wearing the same shirt in neon green with matching green sneakers, along with a top hat, squeezed down tight over this curly hair. Brishen Miller, president of the board, is in neon pink and top hat, smoke curling from his lit cigarette. 

These three have been together since their years at Loy Norrix High School. They were already treading boards then. Staying together over the coming decade was only natural, and now, Ben Hooper says with a grin, they are all hitting their 30th birthdays in 2014. "I’ve already fallen," he says.

The threesome shares a sense of values. Money means little. Hooper shrugs. "Just keep me and my dog fed." He and Miller majored in theater arts in college, but Zombro tried a more practical route (a major in business) and hated it (she switched to child development). Practicality suits none of them. Getting creative, even in problem-solving, does.

They needed every bit of those creative problem solving skills when the two other organizations that previously made up Studio 246 on northern-most end of the Kalamazoo Mall decided to go in other directions. Fancy Pants could no longer take care of the upkeep of the theater or afford to pay the rent. They had no theater to call home.

"I was in a meeting with Parks and Recreation people to talk about holding theater classes for kids in parks," recalls Zombro. "We were talking about how Portage Celery Flats had closed and now no one was doing Shakespeare in the park. We should do Shakespeare in EVERY park! I said. That day I came home and starting looking on Craigslist. I found this motorhome that same day."

A vision of a traveling theater in the park blossomed. The Argosy was on sale for $27,000. That was the next problem, because Zombro and Fancy Pants had no money. Ever the optimist, Zombro called the owner and pleaded with him to hold the vehicle for two weeks until Fancy Pants could raise the money for a down payment.

"And then I begged and pleaded on our Facebook page for funding, and in one-and-a-half weeks, we had the entire $27,000," Zombro says.

The three headed out to pick up their new motorhome, cash in hand, sight unseen.

"It had an arthritic transmission," Hooper says. "Wouldn’t make it to Florida, but it’s fine for local."

"And we’ve had only one run-in with the law." Hooper grins.

First trip home to Kalamazoo, they were pulled over "by a cranky cop," Zombro says...


Photographer Erik Holladay, left, at photo shoot with Fancy Pants troupe

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