Landing in the midst of COVID-19, Ashley Elliott’s directorial debut has turned into an incredibly memorable experience. Instead of looking forward to opening to a packed house at The Legion Theatre, the Canton resident will bring “Daddy Long Legs” to life virtually for theater-goers in early November.
“At the start of the pandemic, nobody had any idea of how long it would last, but we were already forming Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and etcetera,” said Elliott, a member at large and marketing associate for the Pumphouse Players. “In brainstorming what we could do to keep the Pumphouse Players afloat, one of the ideas was to do a show that could be streamed online.
“Soon after, Christie Lee Fisher contacted me to tell me that the streaming rights for ‘Daddy Long Legs’ had been released. After that, it wasn't even a question — we'd produce the show and give all of the proceeds to the Pumphouse. … Under normal circumstances, the Pumphouse is already well deserving of it because of how much they do for the community, but right now funds are desperately needed because of so many shows this year being canceled.”
To meet the need for an organized theater group, the Pumphouse Players was formed in 1975 by a small group of people, led by the late Don Kordecki. The troupe performed at several Bartow venues before finding a permanent home at The Legion Theatre — 114 W. Main St. in Cartersville — in 1993.
For this musical by John Caird and Paul Gordon to take center stage, Lock Willow Productions was established earlier this year, with Elliott and Fisher serving as its director and producer, respectively.
“I've been obsessed with ‘Daddy Long Legs’ for over a decade because I related so much to Jerusha Abbott, the main character,” Elliott said. “I'm a sucker for a good coming-of-age tale and a sweet romance with just enough conflict to add some tension, which is basically the plot of this show.
“I always said I'd never direct a show unless I really knew I could do it — and knew the show like the back of my hand — and this is that show.”
Starting Nov. 6 at 7 p.m., the musical will stream on ShowTix4U. The production will continue Nov. 7 at 3 and 7 p.m. and Nov. 8 at 3 and 7 p.m.
Under Elliott’s direction, the play will feature Fisher as Jerusha Abbott and Jonathan Whitmire as Jervis Pendleton. While directing the play during the coronavirus is “insane,” she noted the small cast is a blessing.
“We rehearsed for the first month solely on FaceTime, which was ‘easy’ since it has a cast of two but hard because I had to figure out blocking while standing in my living room,” she said. “‘Daddy Long Legs’ is my directing debut, so I really had no idea what I was doing, so add that to the mix and you've got a pretty chaotic offstage rehearsal period. Once we moved to rehearsals in person on The Legion's stage, it was a lot easier.
“The cast has formed a ‘pod’ of sorts, so it was easy to keep it safe, but we sanitized everything if another group was going to come in while we were out. The show is staged exactly like it would have been had it been produced under normal circumstances, with the camera at the back of the house so you can actually pretend like you're sitting in the audience. It'll almost be like being there — almost.”
Through this play “about discovering yourself and persevering despite all odds,” Elliott hopes the viewers will be able to take a break in “the middle of a pretty chaotic world.”
“‘Daddy Long Legs’ is the story of Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home,” she said. “A trustee on the board of the home pays to send her to college under the condition that she writes to him of her progress, but under no circumstances will he write back because he's much too important.
“Although he instructs her to write to him as Mr. John Smith, she saw his shadow on the wall, stretched out against it like a daddy long legs, so she decides to call him that. Hence the name! The story follows Jerusha through four years of college as she gets an education, both from the college and from the world.”
Tickets, which start at $18, can be obtained by visiting www.showtix4u.com/event-details/40416.
“I am proud and impressed of how the Lock Willow group has managed the unusual challenges of crafting a play to be recorded,” PHP President Laurel Ann Lowe said. “It's neither the same as a live play, nor the same as a film, but lives somewhere in the in-between.
“I can't wait for audiences to enjoy this for the unique show that it will be. Pumphouse has never done anything quite like this before and may never have cause to again. It's Pumphouse history in the making.”
Lowe noted the Lock Willow team’s generosity “cannot be overstated.”
“To have community members that care so much about our corner of the Bartow arts community is humbling and encouraging at the same time,” she said. “We're proud to have been able to help Lock Willow with resources to produce their passion project, and we're grateful for their support in return.
“‘Daddy Long Legs’ could be the feel-good romance of the fall. This literary classic touches on many issues we're dealing with now, including ways to find real human connection while at a distance.”