Frances McCain wrapping up the TLT season with laughter

Published 7:00 pm Monday, May 12, 2008

&bsp; I had the joy of working with Frances McCain last spring on The Miss Firecracker Contest at Tryon Little Theatre. Once again TLT is closing out their season with a spring comedy under her direction. I caught her for a moment in her whirlwind schedule to get some background on her involvement with the theatre and what she&squo;s cooking up for the community this year. She starts by handing me a photo by Mara Smith of the Scrivens Plantation where she grew up. While Frances still lives in Tryon, the plantation is now the home of costume designer Sherry Carter and her husband Jeff.The place didn&squo;t look this good when I lived there. But, it was my grandfather&squo;s place, the Scrivens Plantation, which inspired me to act. Growing up I would make my brothers try to woo me from the balcony and then I&squo;d turn around and play cowboys and Indians with them. After school we&squo;d come home and be left to our own imaginations without any other friends nearby. We were not allowed television or telephone until college so all those things contributed to wanting to play and pretend.

Is college when you got started with theatre?

I went to Applachian State University and was in play but didn&squo;t study theatre there. It happened by circumstance. I liken it to Betty Grable. I was downtown in Tryon and happened to meet Ronnie Moesseller. He looked at me and said &dquo;You have brown eyes. I want you to come to the Fine Arts Center and read for a play tonight.&dquo; So my daughter and I went and were cast in the play &dquo;The Lovely Lady&squo;s Kind Gentleman&dquo; in 1972. I was just fascinated by it. It was like buckets of grease paint flowed into my veins and I couldn&squo;t get it out of me. Ronnie even brought a real jeep on the stage and I remember him still painting the set as the curtain was going up. It was so much fun. Then Dean Cudd, son of the Spartanburg&squo;s mayor at the time, saw me on stage in that show. He was a professional director/actor and asked me to play Gloria in &dquo;Everybody Loves Opal&dquo; that he would be directing at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. Little did I know, but years later in 2004 I would direct that show at the Fine Arts Center myself. My favorite character was Annie in Fox Fire. I played that twice.

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What was your most embarrassing moment?

Audrey and Jesse as costumers were sticklers for making sure that your clothing was just perfect. Jesse was especially good at making sure that revealing costumes were not more revealing than they were intended to be. I was doing a very romantic scene in a bedroom and I was wearing a negligee. She decided to bind me like a mummy to keep me covered and one night I came undone. The lighting booth folks enjoyed the show as I tried to keep covered and continue the dialogue.

When did you transition from acting to directing?

I wanted to learn to direct and had the opportunity to work with a professional director who was a guest director for TLT. In the process I found myself more involved in directing than I ever anticipated. I eventually served as President of Tryon Little Theatre and met all the requirements of being a director. By then I had worked all aspects of the theatre from props, to acting, to working on the board, and helping with the summer youth productions. Over the past 30 some years there&squo;s been a lot. Now I don&squo;t remember lines as well, so it&squo;s probably better that I&squo;m directing.

What was the first production that you actually intended to direct?

It was Raney based on Clyde Edgerton&squo;s book of the same name. The Ginger Thistles from Green Creek helped with that one musically. Betsy Goree&squo;s daughter played Raney in that production.

Were you ready for that one?

I was. It was a hard show to direct, because the set changes were hard. I felt like that&squo;s where I needed to be though.

How long ago was that?

I don&squo;t really recall, I&squo;ve probably directed 28 or more productions for TLT now.

What made you choose You Can Take it With You this year?

Last year Upstairs Artspace was doing a series called Depression, Expression, Art & Soul of the 1930s. Jean Pettigrew asked me to do a bit on theatre from the period and how that was influenced by the depression with a couple of scenes from shows. I chose the award winning Green Pastures with an all black cast and vignettes of You Can&squo;t Take it With You. Both plays were received so well, that they asked if I would do the full production of You Can&squo;t Take it With You this season.

It was like acting in a teacup at the Upstairs. We didn&squo;t have a full cast. We had fifteen actors and used the steps so we could fit everyone onstage. There are nineteen in the actually cast. We had a lot of fun doing that in only five rehearsals. It was a challenge. There was no set; it became totally an actor&squo;s play.

How is it different working with the whole cast?

I thought it was going to be a breeze with a real stage and the full cast. It was really hard to cast though, there were 28 people who auditioned and most were women. I lost some of the actors who participated in the Upstairs performance, because they have left town since then. So it took some time to find enough men. However, I have a really strong and talented cast now and it will be a good show.

I have yet to have the entire cast together because some have been busy with the Community Chorus, but there have been people to stand in and help. This cast can pull it off.

What the heart of this play?

It&squo;s about grandpa and his extended eccentric family who all live in his house. They all go about doing what makes them happy. Grandpa (Mike Johnson) goes to commencement exercises and collects snakes. His daughter Penny (Donna Tatnall) writes plays. Penny&squo;s husband Paul (Henry Bright) and Mr. DePinna (Ronnie Moeseller) are down in the cellar making firecrackers. Daughter Essie (Helen Byrd) wants to be a ballerina, and is taking lessons from the Russian Kolenkhov (Mike Osteen). Essie&squo;s husband Ed (Hamilton Goodman) plays the xylophone and works on the printing press. Penny brings home the drunk actress Gay (Liz Norstrom) to help work on a play. Donald (Wes Westbrooks) is being wooed by Rheba the cook (Muriel Lunsford). But the moral of the play is to enjoy life because you can&squo;t take it with you, even if the tax man (Chris Bartol) shows up at your door. There&squo;s one normal daughter Alice (Sara Penrod) who has fallen in love with Mr. and Mrs. Kirby&squo;s (Bill Gilbert, Mary Neal Jones) son Tony (Kip Arrowwood) but she doesn&squo;t feel like she can marry him because her family is so weird compared to his wealthy elite family. To tell anymore would give away the plot, but there&squo;s a Russian duchess Olga played by Cathy Millwood and three detectives, Bill Holcombe, Lorin Browning, and Steve Porter who also make appearances.

That&squo;s a huge cast to keep track of!

It&squo;s a lot to keep up with. My husband Jimmy has been a big help on this show stepping up with Dean Greggory to take on more work with the set construction. I&squo;m thrilled to have Pat Wilson decorating the set because I&squo;ve been after her for years and she finally made time for me. Alice Slaughter is properly propping the props. I&squo;m grateful to have Sherry Carter handling the period costumes and Connie Clark always does a great job with publicity. We found a jewel in Honor Callaway for make-up. Becky Faircloth is always there by my side as stage manager. I can start a sentence and she&squo;ll finish it for me we&squo;ve worked together so much. I don&squo;t know how Betty Brewer does it, but my hat is off to her for all her help as producer. They all work so hard and I grateful to all of them.

You Can&squo;t Take it With You opens Thursday, May 15 at the Tryon Fine Arts Center and will run through Sunday, May 18. Tickets are available at the Box Office located at the Tryon Little Theatre Workshop 516 S Trade Street, Tryon or by calling 828-859-2466.