Lori Belter Interview:
This is file #34, cycle 3. Today’s date is May 1, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Lori Belter who is going to talk about her career in the theater and anything else she wants to talk about. First we shall start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
LB:Good Morning, my name is Lori Belter.
LB:April 12, 1960
JM:You birth place?
LB:St. Louis, Missouri
JM:Your parents’ names?
LB:My mother is Marjorie Wehmeyer Grossman and my father was Carl Grossman.
JM:You do have siblings?
LB:I do have siblings: I have three. My younger sisters are Beth and Krista, and my brother is Tom.
JM:How did you come to the area?
LB:My mother’s father had a gift shop in Cornwall Bridge. She had roots here. She went to Housatonic and my uncle went to Kent School. My father was a minister and preaching in a Lutheran church in the Bronx. I think them though it was time to get out of Dodge. They purchased some property on Lakeville Lake on Elm Street and built a house. My grandparents followed and built a house as well.
JM:How did you develop an interest in the theater?
LB:Well it was in your fourth grade production of “The King who Loved Cream Puffs” when I first came to Lakeville, at Salisbury Central School in 1969. I had never done anything like that before. I had always put on shows in my garage, Swan Lake, and things like that, but never had set a foot on stage. That was my first experience.
JM:Apparently it stuck!
JM:You were in a play in 8th grade too.
LB:Yes, “Cheaper by the Dozen”.
JM:How about high school? Were you involved with the theater then?2.
LB:I was. My freshman year I was too shy to audition. Gary Parlmaree was the Director of Music there at the time. He was a tough teacher. His reputation processed him. I was petrified. I spent the first audition of “The King and I” which was the show that he was doing that year, in the back of the auditorium watching everyone. I thought maybe I could do this. I watched the show from the last seat in the auditorium that year and cried. I was so moved. Later on that year the faculty produced “South Pacific” and I auditioned: I was a Bali Hi girl.
JM:You went along to Sharon Playhouse.
LB:Yes, at that time Bill Landis and the Fairservis were in charge of the playhouse. Lizanne Landis was very much involved with the plays at the high school. We actually took “South Pacific” with Judy Thormann Moore to the playhouse that year. I started very early with my association with the playhouse, probably in 1975.
JM:Did the playhouse go over to Pine Plains or was that Tri-Arts?
LB:That was Tri-Arts. The playhouse ended shortly thereafter. I think in the early 1980s. Then it became the University of Miami which was there for a while. Then another theater group came in, and tried to make a go of it. They were unsuccessful. Tri-Arts in the meantime in 1989 had started the grass roots organization and they had been asked by the people that were currently renting the playhouse to come in and do a show. So we did “The Music Man”. At that point we decided let’s incorporate and the decision was them made to become Tri-Arts.
JM:You are one of the founders of the Tri-Arts. Who were some of the other founders?
LB:Ray Roderick and Sarah Coombs Roderick were the Artistic Director and President of the Board at that time. Ray was a performer, a Broadway actor. He was doing “Cats”. His wife Sarah was also a professional actor.
JM:You have known Michael Berkeley for a long time.
LB:Michael Berkeley came to us the second year we were in Pine Plains. We had a great association over the years since then.
JM:With the early Tri-Arts, it was 2 Equity actors and then you used local talent.
LB:We used local talent. It was a nice mix. What we did was to raise for bar for community theater. We had professional directors, choreographers, scenic designers, costume designers, lighting designers and sound designers. We really gave the underpinnings of a great show for the community. If we needed to, we had the 2 Equity contracts available to us. Sometimes we didn’t use them. I was lucky enough to use one of them myself. I played Marion Paroo in “The Music Man” years later. That was a special treat.
JM:I remember Jeanine Coleman as Mrs. Paroo.
LB: She was one of the founding members as well.3.
JM:Lee Collins and his barbershop quartet. (See tape # 135B. Lee Collins)
LB:We did use the Salisbury Barbershop Quartet.
JM:Marshall Miles was Marcellus. (See file #10, cycle 2, Marshall Miles) I do remember that one.
What gave you the idea for using the theater in high school?
LB:I was approached 15 or 16 years ago by Jowell Molanick who was on the Board of Education at the time. The theater program at the high school had undergone a lot of different changes since Gary Palmaree had left. Gordon Hayworth carried the torch for a number of years. I did some choreography with him early on. When he retired, there were a few music teachers that took a stab at it, but nothing every really ever stuck. Jowell asked me if I would consider starting theater productions again. I just felt it was such an important part of my high school experience that I felt that this high school needed something like that in their programming. My daughter happened to be a senior at the time and also was involved with Tri-Arts musically so I thought it would be a nice fit to start something. The first year we did “Grease.” My daughter ended up playing the role of Sandy.
JM:Wonderful! You have some goals with this as far as having a safe rehearsal and there are no wrong actions.
LB:Yes, definitely we make the environment very safe for our students. The rehearsal process is sacred and that is the time when they can learn and explore. Nothing is ever wrong. We shape them as we go along. I think that they have come to really enjoy that process. Over the years we have done a lot of historical shows. We have done “South Pacific”, “The King & I”, so we study a lot. “Chicago” it all brings with it history into the realm of theater. We are finding that is very important as well. We are also following the Tri-Arts model as well in which we have professional directors, choreographers, scenic design, lighting design so we give the kids a huge underpinning of experience for them. It is very professionally done.
JM:They do pick up things from other people. I know you said that you give them 4 hours of technical training which is so important.
LB:It is very important. As an actress growing up, I really never had that experience. I worked in costumes at the Sharon Playhouse as a young girl with Liz Landis. I had an idea what went on behind closes doors so to speak out in the technical world, but there is so much to know. Those people are so very important. They are an integral part of the show. We feel that it is important for the kids to spend time painting the set, or helping with costumes, or building a set. It makes them prouder of the actual production. They were a part of the set that was built.
JM:It is important because once they buy in to something like that, they give so much more.
LB:They give 100%.
JM:You had a wonderful s diva story about a young lady who was not projecting her voice. 4.
LB:Yes, this year we had a student who had performed with us last year; she has an amazing voice and the natural ability is there. In rehearsal just Michael, myself and this young lady, she was singing the song, a beautiful song called “Something Wonderful” from the “King and I”. The tome was great, everything was great, and the acting was great, but just not supported vocally. I asked, “Do you think you could just pretend you are an opera singer? Just give it a whirl. You know how they make that big sound. It may sound really funny in your head because it is something like you have never heard before in your head.” She gave it all she had. She was not afraid at all in this rehearsal process. I started crying. I still tear up today because it was such a break-through for her, to understand that she had that ability within her. She was just aghast. She could not believe it. From now on that is what I want you to do every day. She went from there. It has just been wonderful.
JM:You had given her a safe environment to explore. That is so important because she didn’t feel inhibited.
LB:Not at all. She trusted us.
JM:You have to have trust. Why did you choose “The King and I” for this year’s production?
LB:For the past three years we had been doing 1920s. We had just done “The Boyfriend”, “Chicago”, and “The Drowsy Chaperone” which was a new play, fairly new which was wonderful for the kids because that was something no one really had ever seen before. That was a lot of fun. Over the years we always know who we have for talent and who is coming up talent-wise, so that we have an idea maybe what we could do. We are always very happy when someone comes to audition that we don’t know because that is always great. We give the kids a wonderful opportunity to audition for any role they care to do. This is wonderful because you just never know who is going to come and who is going to be right for what role. That is all good. “The King & I” was a different time period. We felt that with this production in this time frame what we are currently in reflected cultural change, and embracing cultural change. We are all interested in learning and progressing ourselves and take things from other cultures and use them in our daily lives to make our life better and richer. We feel that that was very important in today’s world.
JM:Your time is taken up is from September to April. You give a lot of time for that.
LB:It is a lot of time.
JM;Do the kids appreciate it?
LB:Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. I don’t know that they do while they are rehearsing. Some do and some don’t. Some are more cognizant of it; some are very willing to say thank you every day. It comes back later. I have seen students who have thanked me profusely. “Thank you so much for what you did for us.” Even if it doesn’t, that is OK too. As long as they take something from the program and can put it into their heart-wise or their future lives, something that they have more
self-confidence or self- esteem; they just feel good about themselves. That is more important to me than the actual “Thank you”.
JM: With your auditions, you had 39 children?
LB:We had 39 children; this was the biggest cast that we have ever had. We did have 13 young students from Region #1; they came and auditioned. We had about 25 little grammar school student audition for us. We were very lucky. We chose 13 who were absolutely wonderful. They fit right into the family; the high school kids just loved them and they loved being with the older kids. It was a seamless melding of two different schools.
JM:When did you hold your auditions?
LB:We hold our auditions in November and then we start rehearsing in December with music. We do the music first because it is important, then we go on to the choreography and then we start adding teamwork and things like that.
JM:You had a story about a child who was 5.
LB:Yes, we did. Generally speaking with a Tri-Arts basis when we have young children, it is just very difficult for them to keep focused and to keep awake. Rehearsals tend to be long. Especially tech week where we start adding your costumes, make-up and sound and lights; it can become very tedious at times. We have been very lucky with all of our tech weeks have gone fairly seamlessly. We have had no major disasters. A young child of 5 is always sort of a wild card. We don’t know if there might be a meltdown somewhere, but this young lady was just incredible. We would tell her to do something during the March of the Siamese Children; all of them, including this one very young child, did it perfectly. Never did we have to revisit that. We gave her one little part; she had to crawl through the king’s legs. One day he didn’t have his legs wide enough for her, so she had the presence of mind to just go right around him and kneel in front of him as she would have if she had crawled through his legs. Most 5 year olds would have just gotten to the back of the legs and stopped, or say, “What am I supposed to do?” She just went right around.
JM:Perfect! Then you had another story about an AFS student from Thailand.
LB:Yes, this year we had a student Jaa who was from Thailand. She was able to impart to us her knowledge of her country and her culture. At one point the wives were in the same room with the king, we asked her, “Would it ever be proper for the wives to look at the king.” “Oh no, head down, eyes are downcast.” We knew this but we wanted to make sure that we were doing the right thing. The only person who could look him in the eye was the Kralahome who would be his right-hand man, maybe Lady Thiang, his first wife. It was wonderful to have her; she did a real dance, the Fan Dance, which occurs in “Getting to Know You”. It was wonderful to watch her do that.
JM:You said that her finger were very flexible.
LB:Her fingers were amazing. Her hands were so flexible. They are taught to bend them backwards almost. The fingers themselves were so long and tapered, they were just beautiful. I was mesmerized by them.
JM:How wonderful that she could share her culture and the other students, younger and older, could appreciate it.
LB:Yes. During “The small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet she wrote out the words as they would be so we had an original calligraphy. It was just beautiful.
JM:These are the little touches that you cannot script. In this play you were the Assistant Director. What does that entail?
LB:That entails helping Michael with pulling people around and stage managing ;it all rolls into one, remembering where things are entering and exiting, just trying to shape the show along with Michael.
JM:You said you have professional people that did the choreography.
LB:Amber Cameron was out choreographer. She was a former Rockette and was on Broadway. We had Betsy Howie who is our character and drama coach, a professional actress. We had Lucas Pawelski who is a scenic and lighting designer. Graham Stone was our sound designer. Everyone helped put the show together with the kids.
JM:You have given me a number of shows that you have done: “Grease”,” Chicago”,” South Pacific” and “The Drowsy Chaperone”. What have I missed?
LB:We did “Little shop of Horrors”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Hello Dolly”, and lots more.
JM:When you do rehearsals, I know a technical rehearsal is different from a dress rehearsal, how long do they last?
LB:WE try to keep them to about 3 hours, depending on who is doing what elsewhere. We try to work with the students’ schedules because there are so few students at the high school at this point. They are all doing everything this year: robotics, swimming, music and everything. We try to work as best we can with their schedules. We have been doing more rehearsals after school 2:30 to 5:30. Then they can catch the late bus. Sometimes we do have to have an evening rehearsal. We do use Sundays, those are usually 1 to 5. Those are our big choreography, bid group number days. Then we get into the technical end of things. We have an 11 to 7 day when we are adding the lights, sound and some costumes. For the dress rehearsals we run them as a show. We call at 4 o’clock to have dinner; they do hair and make-up. We start the show about 6 and we are done by 9, depending on the length of the show.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked you.
LB:I can’t think of anything, but I will once I walk out the door.7.
JM:Thank you so much
LB:You are welcome.