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The Playing Space to perform its first show next month

By Michelle Kealey

Staff Writer

AGAWAM With a vision of bringing more community theater back to the area, Pat Haynes recently formed The Playing Space, a non-profit community theater organization, that will perform its first show next month at the Agawam Public Library.

Haynes, the president of the group, which includes five board members, said that she had travelled to Brooklyn, NY, with a few people involved with local theater to see a friend perform in "a show most theaters around here would not do" The Full Monty.

She said that the show was cast with local actors from that area and on the ride back to Massachusetts, she and her friends began to talk about how they wanted to open up their own place and "have a little more control over theater in places where it no longer exists."

Haynes explained that she was brought up in Agawam and participated in community theater groups in Agawam, Springfield and Chicopee, then went on to do professional theater on the road.

She added that when she returned to the area eight years ago, she found that many of the community theater groups no longer existed.

"I was finding myself in Connecticut doing theater," she said, adding that there are some theaters in the area, but not as many as in the past.

Haynes said that she had a friend who belonged to a local theater group that went under and she decided to "pick it up."

She added that she is in the process of going through the legal paperwork to take over the non-profit. Although she cannot release the name of the former non-profit, she said it was a Springfield-based organization.

Haynes said that she is not yet the official director of the organization, but once that paperwork is complete, she can begin looking for grants, which will help the organization search for space to renovate.

However, she did not want to wait that long to begin the theater group.

The Agawam Public Library offered the venue for The Playing Space to perform and the Senior Center offered the organization a place to rehearse.

"We just started rehearsing [three] weeks ago," she said.

Haynes explained that the first show is a children's performance, but she hopes to also perform adult shows in the future.

She said that since the organization is in its first stages without a solid financial foundation, she needed to involve the community.

She added that one of the best ways to involve the community is to include children.

Haynes said that she held auditions for the show, but because it was done so quickly, no one showed up.

She knew a few people who helped her find some local actors to perform in the show, which will be a musical adaptation of Marlo Thomas's children's book Free to Be ... You and Me.

She added that there are not a lot of children's shows out there and the play she chose is "a name a lot of people will know."

She explained that she chose the musical because the stories are "timeless" and the show expresses diversity and includes the message that people "want to be who they can be and not who [people say] they should be."

She also chose the musical and the performance dates near Sept. 11 because the message is about diversity and forgiveness.

Although she was hoping to cast children in the show, the performers are all adults. The performance will feature Robert H. Clark III of West Springfield, John Woytowicz of Springfield, Amy Szczepaniuk Meek of Williamburg and Amanda Davis of South Hadley.

Myungsun "Sunny" Ro, a junior at Agawam High School, is the accompanist for the show. The performance will be directed by Robert H. Clark III.

"We really jumped right in with both feet," Haynes said.

She explained that her long-term goal and the "best case scenario" would be to find a backer and build a "little black box" or lease a building to house the organization.

She also said that she would like to create an after-school program, which would include original works by the children, play readings and other workshops for young people and anyone else interested.

She added that the community theater would take place at night, which she said would be similar to the Agawam Repertory Theater (ART) that used to exist in the community.

Haynes said that there is children's theater around, and mentioned the Red Door Theater as an example. However, she said that there are not many opportunities for children to write an original piece and see it performed.

With limited funds to begin the organization, Haynes is using money that was left behind by a relative who passed away a couple years ago to jump start the organization.

She said that her aunt left some money to 12 nieces and nephews, which they never knew she had.

Haynes said that she wanted to do something with the money that would give to the community in her name.

Haynes said her aunt was a teacher in Springfield, who used to watch her perform in shows.

"She supported kids, she loved talking to kids and she liked to see theater," she said. "We wanted to give something back to her."

The Playing Space will perform Free to Be ... You and Me on Sept. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. in the Community Room at the Agawam Public Library.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling Haynes at (413) 592-4855. Tickets can also be purchased at the door an hour before the show.