While the small North Riverside Players theater company has brought top-notch quality productions to local audiences over the last 28 years, the group has always looked for a way to share their talent with a wider audience. 

This past fall, the Players were able to do that and more as they clinched five theater awards at the state level and are now preparing to advance to a regional competition against production companies from across several Midwestern states in April. 

In November the Players showcased their fall production of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Illinois Theatre Association’s Festival community theater competition in Streator. 

The Players won not just the top prize for outstanding production but also awards for outstanding ensemble, most creative use of a set and two outstanding performer awards. 

It was the first time the Players entered the state association’s competition. 

Before the entire cast put on the show in North Riverside, actors were told by director and longtime Players member Jay Fontanetta that he hoped to enter the show in the competition just to see how the group would do. 

Once all involved in the production agreed, applied to compete and were found qualified, it was up to Fontanetta to edit down the nearly two-hour production to the 60-minute production requirement of the competition. 

As Fontanetta condensed monologues and scenes to form a new, abridged version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he was able to ensure that all actors involved would remain on stage for the entire hour. When not acting, the characters became part of the show’s background scenery itself. 

Olivia Landa, a longtime Players actor who performed as a fairy named Cobweb, said before the cast performed for the competition audience, they were really unsure how their abridged version would go over.

“We really weren’t sure what was going to happen, because we were a small fish in a big pond,” Landa said. “When we went, the show went well and we ended up doing really well.” 

Now that the company has won at the state level, they will now be moving on to the American Association of Community Theatre’s Midwest regional competition, where they will compete against nine other groups from Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. Roughly 30 cast members and crew will travel to the regional competition, which will be held in Champaign in late April. 

In order to help raise funds for the cast and crew’s travel and meal expenses for the festival, the Players will be accepting donations from now through April 27 either via check or through online donation set up through crowd funding website Crowdrise.com. 

Additionally, the Players will be staging the abridged version of the show at, the North Riverside Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave., in April before the competition as a way to help raise funds for the trip. 

Al Meyer, president of the Players’ board of directors, says the group’s chance to compete and succeed helps affirm the quality of productions of the small, local community theater.

“I think we’re doing really good shows and people really enjoy them,” Meyer said. “Then, when [people] learn we won this competition, they go, ‘Oh, they must really be good.'” 

Landa agrees with Meyer that the competition will only add credibility to the Players. 

“It’s one of those things that’s an asterisk on your resume,” she explained. “It’s also just a really great personal achievement, because we’re a small theater company from a small town and to know that ourselves as artists were able to achieve something of that magnitude really says a lot about our community and what we’ve created.”

Bryant Rouleau, vice president of the Players’ board of directors and co-producer of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, says regardless of how the regional competition goes, the experience has been invaluable to the group.  

“It’s another way for us to take [the Players] to another level of how we run,” he said. “It’s a cool way to grow our theater and say we took it to another level and were good enough.”

For more information about the Players and to donate money to assist in crew travel expenses, visit www.NRPlayers.com or www.Crowdwise.com/NRPlayers.