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Celebrating 40 years!

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LTP has brought theater to Bedford

By John Barnhart

    Little Town Players (LTP) is getting ready to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
    Its first season was the 1976-1977 season, but it got started when the Vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church sponsored a play called “Our Town.” The play was performed at Bedford Middle School’s auditorium and the play’s reception by the community led to the creation of LTP.

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    The first season included three one-act plays.
    “We’ve never done any since,” said Karen  Hopkins.   Hopkins  and   Nancy Johnson are the only two of LTP’s founding members still active with the theater group.    
    Hopkins said they wanted to do something simple their first year because they were just getting started.
    LTP did three productions a year until the 1982-1983 season, when it changed to the current four productions per year schedule.
    The group overreached in the 1987-1988 season, something it never did again.
    “We learned our lesson,” Hopkins said. Five productions in one season proved overwhelming for a volunteer theater group.
    Over the years LTP has performed two original plays — a High Honor and Rite of Survivorship.
    This season, the group is finishing the Dearly Beloved trilogy which began in the 2013-2014 season. The first was Dearly Beloved and the second was Christmas Bells. This season includes the last of the three, Southern Hospitality. It’s a comedy trilogy that features the same characters, with a few new ones in each play. In some cases, the characters are played by the same actors in all three.
    Over the years, LTP has done a number of services in addition to producing plays. Every year, LTP awards a $1,000 scholarship to a Bedford County high school senior. The group has also been involved in TV and film documentaries on the Beale Treasure. LTP can provide the documentaries’ producers with people who can act along with costumes and props. Members have even been able to set them up with locations.
    LTP has also received a national honor. In 1982, it received the President’s Volunteer Action Award for the Arts and Humanities. LTP’s award was one of 20 given in10 categories and President Ronald Reagan presented the award to LTP representatives at a White House ceremony.
    Hopkins had no theater experience before LTP.
    “I won an Eleanor Roosevelt look-alike contest when I was in Girl Scouts,” she said.
    Hopkins is not sure that was a compliment. She was not an outgoing person.
    “You are one of the last of my students I thought I’d see up there,” commented one of her former teachers after an LTP play.
    Hopkins said she was so shy she wouldn’t answer questions in class.
    She got involved in LTP because she was asked, and did not act. She swept the stage for LTP’s first production.
    The first production in which she was part of the cast was Fiddler on the Roof in 1977. She was in the chorus.
    “I did a show every season since,” she said. “I just got more sure of myself.”
    She directed her first show, Everybody Loves Opel, in 1991.
    Hopkins said LTP has places for shy people with no theater experience.
    “We welcome any and all,” she said. “We love our volunteers.”
    Hopkins said being part of LTP brought her out of her shell and, from her own experience, recommends it as a good way for an introverted person to learn to be more open with people. People can tiptoe into it like she did.  She said it helps that, in a way, you are not really you when you’re on the stage.
    “You’re a character,” she said. “It makes it a lot easier.”
    “I’ve never been shy,” commented Nancy Johnson.
    Johnson first got interested in theater at the age of 6 when she was in a church play. Since then she has always taken advantage of every opportunity she found to be involved. Over the years she has acted, directed and made history into a play called Celebrating our Century. She has also helped put together two memory shows which looked back at LTP’s history to date, showcasing past musicals and songs.
    Hopkins, Johnson and Parkie Smith are putting together LTP’s 40th anniversary. The show, a musical review, will run on Jan. 22, 23 and 24.