By Kevin Zimmerman
Howard Beach resident and amateur actor Lori Santopetro believes waiting backstage to make an entrance must feel like the seconds before a circus performer gets shot out of a canon.
“The thing for me is, you’re scared beyond words,” said Santopetro. “But then you’re out on that stage and it’s so exciting. You’re alive.”
For the past 15 years, Santropetro has focused on getting that rush from performing for a live audience with dozens of parts in community theater shows around Queens and Long Island.
This week she steps onto the boards again as slightly dim-witted Dori Bunner in Theatre Time’s production of “Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced” at the Colonial Church of Bayside.
Theatre Time’s founders, Whitestone couple Kevin and Judy Vincent, opted for this Christie play because they wanted to stage one of her mysteries that wasn’t as well-known as some of the standard community theater fare such as “The Mousetrap” and “Death on the Nile.” It also has plenty of roles for every level of performer, said Kevin Vincent.
“It’s got a very large cast and a lot of good parts,” said Vincent. “There is a lot of good stuff (for actors) to do, and a lot of suspects.”
The Vincents never suspected they would return to the scene where they first met at an audition in 1996.
After connecting at the Colonial Church, the two forged ahead with their passion for theater and created Theatre Time. The company thrived in Whitestone from 1997 until 2010, when it lost its home and entered a sort of limbo period, said Vincent. When the Colonial Church became available they jumped at the chance to mount their latest production there.
Set in an English village in the post-World War II period, “A Murder is Announced” depicts a gathering of friends and neighbors at a manor home on Friday the 13th. Many of these guests showed up after reading an ad in that morning’s papers, which said a murder would take place at the house that evening at 6:30. And sure enough, at half-past six the drawing room is plunged into darkness and shots ring out. Luckily, one of the guests that evening is amateur sleuth Miss Jane Marple, who quickly sorts out the whole mess.
It’s the second time Long Island resident Marilyn Welsher has tackled Miss Marple in this particular play. Despite her history with the part, she admits having to relearn all of the lines.
“It doesn’t come back,” said Welsher. “But there is familiarity.”
For 40 years, Welsher has been a familiar sight both in front of the footlights and backstage with nearly every theater group in Queens and Suffolk counties. Back then she was a suburban stay-at-home mother with a young son and the desire to get out of the house. She saw an ad in the local paper for a production at the Baldwin, L.I. Y and decided to check it out.
“I thought maybe I’ll go and help out,” said Welsher. “I guess the bug bit me and it has grown and grown.”
Over the years Little Neck resident Sharon Levine’s acting resumé has grown to include parts in musicals and plays. Like a lot of community theater performers, Levine dabbled a bit in collegiate theatrics but never pursued it much beyond that. That is until her daughter started school in Forest Hills.
“At my daughter’s elementary school the parent-teacher group would put on performances for fund-raisers,” said Levine. “I’d go and watch them and I’d be like, I want to be up there. It gets under your skin and into your blood.”
It also helps to have someone with talent leading the group, said Levine.
“Kevin is a great director,” said Levine. “He will suggest a nuance you might not have seen in one of your speeches.”
More importantly than that, said actor Annette Daiell, Vincent brings a skill set you don’t always find at this level.
“Unlike some directors, Kevin is not just a blocker,” said Daiell. “He understands character and even with something as formulaic as Christie he has a vision that helps the actors.”
For Vincent’s part, he acknowledges community theater often gets a bad rap, especially when Broadway is a 7-train ride away. But he and his company pride themselves on the quality they bring to each performance.
That’s one of the reasons many in this cast seek out Theatre Time productions and Vincent’s direction.
Whitestone resident Armand Catenaro has been with the Vincents since the company’s inception. As Catenaro tells it, this former splicer with the telephone company showed up for choir rehearsal at his church only to discover the evening’s session was canceled and in its place were auditions for a new theater group.
Although he fancied himself a singer, he decided to give acting a shot and landed in the cast of Theatre Time’s first production “Room Service.” He’s been coming back ever since.
“I think theater is in my blood,” said Catenaro. “I like being on stage. It’s scary as hell, but it is absolutely thrilling and fulfilling.”
If you Go
“Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced”
When: Through Sept. 29; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
Where: Colonial Church of Bayside, 54-02 217th St., Bayside
Cost: $16/general admission, $14/seniors and students