In The Spotlight
July 10, 2023

David Ranney

Dave Ranney’s journey with Island Players is of passion, dedication, and community. Explore the diverse roles, from lighting and sound to directing and acting, undertaken by Dave since 2000. Over the past 22 years, he has contributed his talents to numerous plays, co-wrote an unforgettable production, and discovered the joy of directing.
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I first began working with Island Players in 2000 when I worked on lighting and sound with Gayle Johnson on her play Steadfast Women Iron Men: Voices in the Wilderness about the Irish settlement of Washington Island. Initially I did lighting and sound for the play, which was performed at a number of different venues on the Island and at the Door County Auditorium. Later I took a role in the play when a cast member was no longer available. I joined the board of Island players that same year where I served for eight\ years.

For the past 22 years I have performed in 11 plays, directed 9 plays and worked on sets, lighting and sound for a number of others. Also I was a regular participant in a number of reader’s theatre productions that we called “Center Stage,” under the direction of IP managing director, Joyce Morehouse.

Between 2000 and 2004 I was living mostly in Chicago where I was a professor of planning and public policy at UIC. My direct experience in theatre was minimal—just one high school play in 1956. But my family had a strong connection with theatre. My dad was entertainment editor of a newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio where he wrote a daily column reviewing plays and movies and interviewing the stars of that period. My mother was the managing director of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in the Cleveland Area. So I grew up going to plays and films and meeting actors and actresses. I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid but was greatly discouraged in that by both my mom and dad who thought professional acting was too difficult and risky.

After all these years it is hard to choose a favorite production or role here on the Island.  All of them were a great deal of fun and rewarding for me. I guess if I had to select one production it would be Dear Rhoda. I co-wrote this play with Donna Russell based on 300 letters she found in an old trunk that she had purchased at a garage sale on the Island. The letters were all written between 1924 and 1928 by a Chicago bookseller named Jerry Nedwick to his lover and ultimately wife, Rhoda Katz. Rhoda was confined for most of this period to a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients. Donna and I worked together on all aspects of the production. In addition to writing, Donna acted as producer of the performances of the play initially at the Hotel Washington and later the TPAC. She generated many of the ideas for staging and was the main person on costumes, make-up and everything that happened back stage.  I served as director and also worked on staging and set design. It was a very rewarding endeavor. COVID forced the cancellation of a Chicago production but we have now rewritten and published the play and hope it still has legs.

As far as favorite roles go, I would have to say playing Frank in David Ives one act play Mere Mortals tops the list. In it three iron workers sit on a beam 50 stories above Newark, New Jersey and discuss “who they really are.” It was hilarious and it was fun working with Bob Wagner and Neil Shadle who played the other two workers.

I have been a part of Island Players for so long because it is a great deal of fun and I believe it is also an important service to the Washington Island community. Our plays are entertaining for all who come to our productions. It also offers opportunities for a large number of people to be involved in productions beyond acting and directing. Many people have participated in lighting and sound; designing, building and painting sets; make up and costumes; stage managing; box office activities; collecting props and stage furniture; stage hands; advertising and community outreach and serving as managing director of Island Players and being board members. But being part of a production as an actor in a community theatre is for many a new and very rewarding experience. Most importantly we offer the school children a theatre experience through our summer acting camp and by choosing plays with parts for the children in the Washington Island School. I have worked with many of the school children over the years. One that stands out was directing Thorton Wilder’s Our Town where the two leads were high school students (Ashley Wacaser and Nick Knudsen). Neither had ever been in a play before. Another was a production of several of David Ives one act plays called Time Flies. The ensemble included a range of ages and involved two high school students in key roles (Ben Schutz and Rylee Johnson).

I will conclude by a few comments on directing. If I had to choose between acting and directing I would choose directing. It has been extremely rewarding. I initially had no formal training as a director but began by observing the work of different directors in the plays I performed in. I learned a lot from former IP managing director, Joyce Morehouse.  A number of years ago a professional actress and director who had a house on the Island, Mary Beidler Gearen, offered a directing workshop. That was a critical course in my development as a director. She gave lectures, got us to direct scenes and offered suggestions of books to read. From there on I began to develop my own style of directing through the plays I worked on. I have enjoyed the opportunity to study the plays I direct, reading about the playwright and the play, figuring how best to promote its themes, thinking about how to stage it, and the mood of various scenes. Also it is rewarding (and often challenging) to find a cast and work with them to create a production that can project the themes and entertain an audience. I found rehearsals to be quite fun, trying out various ways to present the play. Working with all the people who make the play happen: lighting and sound designers, costume designer, make-up artist, stage manager is also enjoyable. Finally, once I turn the show over to the actors for the actual production I enjoy sitting in the audience or up in the control booth where I can observe the performance and the reaction of members of my community who are the audience.

If I had to choose between acting and directing I would choose directing. It has been extremely rewarding.