Q&A: The Footlight Club’s President on Upcoming Shows, Volunteering, Auditions and More

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The Footlight Club is the longest running community theater in the entire country and it's home is right here in Jamaica Plain. Footlight's President Kristin MacDougall fielded questions about the club's history, upcoming shows and more.

The Footlight Club

The footlights and the fence of The Footlight Club as part of the set for 'Sweethearts' in 1894.

Q: Why is it called The Footlight Club?

MacDougall: According to our Club historian, Paul Campbell, the founding members met on January 29, 1877 to vote on a name for their new theater club. It was between Footlight, Jamaica Plain or Jabberwocky (from a Lewis Carroll poem.) Footlight won out, with eight yeas and one nay. We still have footlights on our stage today. We use light bulbs now, but until 1896, they were gas lamps! A metal fence warned performers to keep their skirts away from the flames.

Q: How are shows chosen to be performed?

MacDougall: A team of members researches and reads tons of plays and musicals, then recommends the next season. We like getting suggestions from the JP community. After all, we want to put on shows that our neighbors want to see, be in or work on. We’ll start planning our 2020-2021 season this summer. If JP News readers want to recommend shows, they can send ideas through the form on our website. When submitting suggestions, remember that we are looking for shows that offer meaningful roles for a diverse community.

Q: Tell us about the present show and the next shows?

MacDougall: Our next main stage show is Cabaret, a dark and sexy musical set in the world of a seedy nightclub in Berlin, 1931. It features choreography by Bob Fosse and songs by Kander and Ebb like “Willkommen,” “Money,” and of course “Cabaret.” JP’s own Amanda Palmer played the Emcee in the ART’s fantastic 2010 production. In June, we’re doing “The Importance of Being Earnest,” an 1895 farce by Oscar Wilde. We love putting on Oscar Wilde plays. They’re family friendly, educational and funny. As a bonus, The Footlight Club was around while Wilde was writing, and our historic theater surrounds you with the aesthetic of his era. His plays look great at The Footlight Club.

Q: What have been your favorite shows The Footlight Club has performed?

MacDougall: I don’t have a favorite show, but I do have favorite kind of show: those that are meaningful to our performers, crews and audiences for whatever reason. One recent example that stands out is our first full scale sensory-friendly performance: Honk!, in November. It was just the best. The theater was full of groups and families having a nice time. After the performance, the cast stayed in costume and signed autographs. We’re planning to have more sensory-friendly performances in the future. By the way, sensory-friendly shows are great for all audiences, including folks with very young children who might not be able to sit still for a whole show. At the sensory-friendly performances, getting out of your seat or making noise is ok!

Q: How can someone learn more about getting involved with The Footlight Club?

MacDougall: You can learn about getting involved by liking us on Facebook or joining our email list. That’s how we share news about auditions, volunteer opportunities and shows. We also have an info table at every performance, where you can ask questions, sign up, or just chat.

Q: The Footlight Club is all volunteers. How many hours do people volunteer?

MacDougall: It varies. Lots of volunteers come in occasionally, for an hour or two, to help with jobs like sewing, set building and painting, ushering or stamping big mailings. It’s an excellent way to meet new people and keep your skills sharp. Volunteers who are on a show production team can put in a few hours a day over a 2-3 month period. Most of our volunteering happens evenings and weekends. If you’re interested, sign up on our website and we’ll try to find a spot that fits your schedule and interests.

Q: Does someone need headshots and the regular actor stuff to audition? Could they just come into an audition like any Joe off the street?

MacDougall: Anyone can audition! Lots of our performers had never been on stage before coming to The Footlight Club, or are coming back to theatre after many years away. One thing to keep in mind is that some auditions are more competitive than others, and if you don’t get cast you’re certainly not alone. Just sign up to audition and give it a shot! You don’t need a fancy headshot. A plain old printout of your favorite head and shoulders selfie is just fine. Our upcoming audition notices are posted on our website. We also announce them on Facebook and through our email list.

Q: How many members are there of The Footlight Club?

MacDougall: Right now we have about 300 members. People are welcome to join any time, but, because we are more than halfway through our season, for the best value, I’d recommend getting individual tickets for this season’s remaining shows and joining as a member for our next season, which opens in September. With annual membership you’ll get tickets to four mainstage shows: Harvey, Legally Blonde, Clybourne Park, and The Drowsy Chaperone. You’ll also get a friends and family voucher and free admission to 7A Series shows. You can join as a member in person at showtime or online.

Q: What else would you like people to know about The Footlight Club?

MacDougall: We really appreciate all of the support that JP has given us. Our neighbors have kept us going for over 142 years! Thanks to the generosity of the community, we were recently able to replace our seats and upgrade our fire safety systems. Our next big project is to finally make our historic theater more accessible. Right now the only way to access our main stage is to climb a big flight of stairs. That limits who can participate at The Footlight Club, and that has to change. We are raising funds for our accessibility project, which includes a lift and ramp, and we hope to start building soon. If any of JP News readers would like to support our project to make local theater more accessible to all, they can make a tax-deductible donation through our website.