JCT dedicates its 20-year anniversary production to Patti Vandal
Sitting on a train, traveling from New York City to the Kingston Railroad Station 20 years ago proved to be one of those occasions when one’s anticipated plans for the future changes in just several seconds. I was munching on one of those memorable very well-done Amtrak burgers, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up to my right (and may I say, not too far up), and I recognized the face of a casual acquaintance of mine, the recently retired Jamestown School’s music teacher Patty Vandal.
She quickly introduced me to her husband, Mo, and we exchanged some mundane comments, probably about the weather, and where our travels had taken us. After several minutes, Patty – who two years ago switched the “Y” in her name to an “I,” so now I will too – said goodbye and, with her husband, started to walk down the aisle. Suddenly Patti turned and walked back to me, and what she said next would rock my world, and over the next 20 years, her question to me would rock the lives of so many Jamestown children and adults.
“Mary,” Patti said, “I have been approached by a member of the Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, who has offered $500 seed money if I would consider putting together a musical with some Jamestown children. I have heard that you have had some involvement with theater, so would you consider joining me in this endeavor?”
Little did I know that my affirmative response would keep me rather busy in the most wonderful way for the next two decades, and, as a bonus, it would be the beginning of a close friendship and a never-ending bond between me and my mentor, Patricia Vandal.
Patti’s magic began several months later when the curtain rose on the Jamestown Community Theatre’s first production, “Peter Pan.” With 48 cast members, eight weeks of rehearsals behind us, and costumes and makeup in place, the time to open the doors to the anticipated arrival of friends and relatives of the cast and crew was upon us. As the audience members presented handwritten tickets to ushers, younger cast members peeked out from the sides of the curtain, hoping to get a glimpse of a familiar face. Still innocent of theatre etiquette, they were quickly directed back to their positions in the wings. Anxious to begin, the children playing “John,” “Michael,” and “Wendy Darling” geared up to enter stage right, although show time was still 15 minutes away.
As we waited for the signal to take our places, the “Lost Boys” quietly went over the lyrics to “I Won’t Grow Up,” led by our musical director, Patti, who also played the role of “Mrs. Darling.”
However, 15 minutes later, producer Dee Hellewell, one of Jamestown’s first-grade teachers, arrived backstage and surprised cast members by asking them to please take a peek out at the audience from two tiny holes in the curtain. Two at a time, cast and crew squinted, as they took their one permitted view, then turned, startled by what they saw. Even through the minuscule holes in the fabric, the spectacle in front of them left each other in disbelief, for every seat was filled and ushers were adding more rows in the back. People were streaming down the aisles, looking for a place to sit, and even more astounding, most were unrecognizable to cast members. Moms and dads were smiling in the first few rows, but behind them, many unfamiliar faces decorated the community center. Meanwhile, outside the building, we heard that there was a line of people stretching up to the corner of Narragansett Ave., hoping that they would be able to get a seat.
When the curtain finally went up at 7:30 p.m. – with not one space available in the hastily formed standing room-only area – the Jamestown Community Theatre embarked on its run that has now spanned 20 years, with over 35 productions.
Patti never knew at the time that her casual question in the cafe car on an Amtrak train would become a positive life changer for so many people.
Patti has always believed that what is truly unique about the JCT is that it is a multi-generational activity, one that fosters a peer relationship between all age groups. Her steadfast belief that people do better when they are applauded for their efforts has enabled JCT participants to flourish in so many diverse areas and challenges thanks to the self-confidence they gained while involved with a Jamestown Community Theatre play.
With recognition of Patti’s passion, talent, patience, sense of volunteerism, and of course, immeasurable love for children, I know that every JCT participant and audience member for the last 20 years would like to honor Patti and applaud her for what she has done for Jamestown. Therefore, at this time, JCT would like to acknowledge and thank a true star, someone who has passed on her love of music to both children and adults alike, and who has touched the lives of so many with her words of encouragement – not to forget her annual Halloween treats and awards for each participant in every play! With love and gratitude, the Jamestown Community Theatre proclaims that our 20th anniversary play, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”, is dedicated to our Musical Director Emeritus and dear friend, Patti Vandal.
Now, please excuse my grammar when I say, “Patricia, Patty, Patti, my friend and mentor, you done good!” Oh, and thanks for tapping my shoulder on the train 20 years ago. The subsequent ride has been worth it!