Ever since 1996, residents Brad and Ruby Gustavson used the Garden City Community Church as ground zero for the Garden City Community Theatre. Over the past two decades, the duo has staged annual productions of original material that have doubled as a fundraiser for the church. While the inaugural mid-1990s production was a kind of murder-mystery dinner theatre, by the second year the Gustavsons waded into the idea of writing a show in which songs are woven throughout a plot to move the story forward.
“Our first original show was a Disney show centered on Ariel [from The Little Mermaid], who wasn’t happy where she lived and she wanted to be somewhere else,” Gustavson recalled. “So she went through all these different Disney scenarios, met these characters from different shows and movies and realized at the end that it was better under the sea for her, so that was the finale number for our first show.”
Both Gustavsons grew up loving showtunes, Brad in the Yonkers/New Rochelle area and Ruby in nearby Manhasset. The latter even minored in theater as an undergraduate at Smith College. Her future husband was studying architecture at Syracuse University and is currently a partner in Manhattan-based Gustavson/Dundes Architecture & Design. Ruby’s career as an interior designer has found her working at her husband’s firm in addition to working on a number of side projects. Parents of three sons who are 31, 28 and 22, the Garden City residents count My Fair Lady and Mamma Mia! among some of their favorite musicals.
Currently, the twosome is working on Sailin’ With the Sixties, their latest original production. And while prior shows have leaned heavily on Broadway standards, the music for this upcoming show can be traced back to a variety of 1960s pop material drawn from the canons of various artists including the Beach Boys, Bobby Darin, the Beatles, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Simon and Garfunkel and the Four Seasons. As has been the case in the past, the Gustavsons write the show, with Brad oftentimes writing songs so that they fit the story better. The cast, which numbers between 40 and 45 people, all auditioned to be part of this production, which steeps itself in being inclusive to the point of not turning away anyone who wants to be part of putting on a show. It’s part of what makes this annual theatrical rite of passage so special for the Gustavsons and everyone involved.
“It’s kind of unique in that we have adults, teens and kids in this show. It’s not a kids show, but we always involve the kids,” Ruby said. “We love it as an outreach and the parents always say how much their kids enjoy and love it because we take everyone. We really don’t turn anyone away, but we still try to put on the best performance, considering the talent that we have. Some years it’s better and some years it’s not.”
Costs are kept to a minimum as overhead includes printing tickets and a playbill along with occasional set adjustments. Cast members are asked to provide their own costumes, although Ruby will work on helping with that, such as the time a couple of years ago when a production called for the use of a long dress that might have been worn in the 1800s. Money is also raised by having the cast members take an ad out in the playbill, whose cost can be covered by selling the ad space to a local merchant. Additional revenue for this fundraiser is derived from the snack bar, which is often stocked with donated food and cases of water. But for all the hard work that goes into a project like this, the payoff is far greater for the Gustavsons than the money that winds up being raised for the church.
“The cast loves it. We have people that come back year after year after year to do it. Everybody sort of gets along and there’s a lot of camaraderie. This year we don’t have a lot of people from the church in it, but we have people in the community and people that live in other towns. This one young lady who was in it two years ago loves it so much that she got her two brothers and her mom to partake in it this year. They all sing and have really nice voices. They said the only thing that their father isn’t in it is because he can’t sing,” she said with a laugh. “We love doing it because it is a fundraiser for the church, so the more people that can come to it, the more money we raise for the church. I think it’s a great camaraderie thing and everyone really has so much fun doing it. To be honest, my husband and I love the writing of the show.”
Sailin’ With The Sixties will be held on April 13, 14 and 15 at the Garden City Community Church located at 245 Stewart Ave. in Garden City. To find out more information about the show, visit www.gardencitycommunitychurch.org or call 516-746-1700.
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