By Betsy Reason
Anne Auwaerter smiles when you ask her how many community theater productions for which she’s been involved. Try 100. Yes, Auwaerter is celebrating her 100th show. And I don’t mean performances. I mean show productions. There are usually one to 10 performances in a production, depending on the show.
Auwaerter is currently the stage manager for The Belfry Theatre’s first production of the 57th season, the family comedy, “Cheaper by the Dozen,” directed by Noblesville’s Carla Crandall. The show continues through this weekend, with four more performances Thursday through Sunday at Noblesville First United Methodist Church. Tickets are still available.
The late noted local actress Ginny Burt – who was also her aunt – was responsible for bringing her on board all those years ago because they needed someone to run lights for “The Pursuit of Happiness” waaay back in 1975. During her 100-show career, Auwaerter, of Fishers, has been a part of The Belfry family for 46 years and has served as a member of the theater’s board of directors since 2000. She has worked onstage, as an actor or behind the scenes in many different capacities.
Her sister Fran (Auwaerter) Knapp of Noblesville joined her sister in 1976. “My sister primarily got me involved in the theater. First show I did was ‘Pinocchio’ in the summer of 1976. I didn’t return until after I graduated from college in 1984. I was suggested by my sister to run lights because the current person who was to operate them had fallen ill,” Knapp said. She ran lights and sound for many shows, from 1984 to 1986, then didn’t return until 2000 when Auwaerter suggested Knapp, again, to run lights and sound.
“Been there ever since,” Knapp said.
For The Belfry Theatre’s current show, “Cheaper by the Dozen,” Knapp joined her sister in the production crew as lead sound and light operator. In other productions, Knapp has also been a stage manager, in the backstage crew, assistant director and lights and sound board operator, and she has also been on stage.
The sisters aren’t always a package deal but when one of them needs help, the other usually comes to the rescue. As both are volunteering for “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Also, for instance, when Auwaerter was asked to stage manage the 2018 “It’s a Wonderful Life” holiday play, directed by Sam Brown and assistant directed by Nancy Lafferty, at The Belfry Theatre, Auwaerter recruited Knapp to help. They ended up as co-stage managers of the show and brought home an Encore Association award in 2019 for Best Stage Manager of a Play.
When I talked to Auwaerter at the time of her Encore Award, she was on her 96th production and Knapp on her 85th production. Both were volunteering for “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Lafferty, Knapp as stage manager, and Auwaerter for backstage crew.
Auwaerter was born in northern New Jersey, where she picked up a “Joisey” accent “so thick it could cut steel” but toned it down to be a radio jock. She was a huge horse lover and exercise girl for a retired racehorse when she wasn’t pre-training for Junior Olympics flat-seat equitation competition.
After many moves, but not before Auwaerter graduated high school in Illinois, they ended up here in Noblesville because their mother’s sister, Ginny Burt, lived here. Ginny was active at The Belfry. The sisters attended many shows to watch their aunt. As time went on, the sisters got to know Belfry founders Frank and Jane Campbell and John and Betty Lou Kyle, as well. The Campbells and the Kyles were among the sisters’ mentors, as were Eleanor Wilhelm, Steve Free and Elaine Wagner.
“Among many other things over the years, Eleanor Wilhelm taught me how to do stage makeup: the tricks and tips of looking good under harsh stage lighting,” Auwaerter said. “Because of her, I was makeup chair at The Belfry for over 10 years.”
The other mentors, she said, “taught me how to move on stage — and off stage — how blocking worked and why, and how not to be intimidated by having an audience literally at your feet.”
Theater runs in the sisters’ family even farther back than the late Ginny Burt. Their grandfather was a stage manager in high school in 1915 in Connecticut. Knapp a couple of years ago found the historic playbill. She followed in his footsteps by learning theater in high school, a 1980 Noblesville High School graduate, and, every once in a while, works with her high school-theater classmates at The Belfry.
Both of them, who are Ball State University grads, have volunteered for almost every duty of a production. Auwaerter, though, has produced (and earned Best Producer for “Month of Sundays” in 2001), but Knapp has not produced. And while Knapp has assisted directed, neither sister has been THE director.
“Yep, done it all. Other than be a director. And that’s fine by me,” Auwaerter said. While she’s qualified to be a director at The Belfry, according to the theater’s by-laws, Auwaerter said, “I just don’t have the patience or interest in it. I like being a techie, with the occasional stage role tossed in for fun, and that’s good enough for me.”
Auwaerter said that “theater gets in your blood and never goes away.” There is the excitement and nerves of opening night; pulling off a terrific on-stage performance will never get old.”
Her all-time favorite role was playing the daughter, Roz, in “Moon Over Buffalo.” She said, “It was a scream. We had a lot of fun with that show.”
Auwaerter said, “Backstage, probably the best would have been, for the craziest stuff on record, ‘A Christmas Story’ and ‘Secret Garden.’”
Most comical times? “Earl Campbell and the runaway fire truck. That was ‘A Christmas Story.’ Had all of these props backstage, tons of people and Earl Campbell could not keep his hands off the firetruck … At one point, during a performance, he putzed with it too much, and it went off.” She remembered Earl running through the backstage … “We are falling down laughing,” Auwaerter recalled of the crazy antics 20 years ago.
She also recalled a “carjacking” when she sent out the cast “way too early” … and also when the crew was “stuck on stage and couldn’t get off because we had to sit in the dark … All I remember is whose hand came over through the window …” There was also crew who was supposed to be “striking” (removing) a leg lamp and got into place too soon, and the lights came up with the crew member standing in the doorway with the leg lamp. She also said, “I was caught on stage twice” in “Secret Garden.” Both sisters laughed and laughed about the memories. Auwaerter said, “I love community theater.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at firstname.lastname@example.org.