Remembering the Women Who Made a Difference
A community theater is not only a theater for the community; it also is a theater that builds a community within its very framework. Each member, from director to performer, from ticket seller to board officer, is vital to building an arts community, to connecting a family dedicated to the stage.
This past year, our community of the Bobcat Players was gravely diminished by the untimely loss of three women who worked with us and for us, inspired us, and moved us forward for arts’ sake. Their contributions were as varied as their backgrounds. But their deaths all left a void, and so we remember them now: our pioneering inspiration, our artist, and our performer/director.
Our pioneering inspiration: FLORENCE SHUTSY REYNOLDS
Decision Height, our 2017 special show by Meredith Dana Levy, is the story of a small band of women who trained and flew for the WASPS during WWII. It was our good fortune to actually connect with a real veteran who piloted one of those planes. Connellsville native Florence Shutsy Reynolds, fondly known as Shutsy, attended the final performance of the play after connecting with Pat Depenhart, the assistant director. She signed autographs, posed for pictures with cast and crew, attended a reception in her honor at Radici following the show, and held everyone captive with her stories about her experiences. Most significantly, she embodied for the cast, crew, and audiences, an authentic representation of those heroic trail-blazing women who were the subject of Decision Height.
Shutsy faced discrimination, challenge, sacrifice, and incredible odds when she took to the skies for the war effort. Male pilots were hailed as heroes; female pilots had to take up collections for burial if one of theirs was killed. But Shutsy’s spirit was indomitable; her resolve was unwavering. Her legacy was remarkable; she was awarded the American Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal. More than sixty years after the war ended, Shutsy still regaled us with tales of flight.
Casey Novak, one of the actresses in Decision Height, captured Shutsy’s character after learning of her death: “Meeting Shutsy was one of the most memorable and inspiring moments of my life. She was upbeat and enthusiastic about Decision Height, even singing along with us during the performance. Her spunky attitude was infectious and everyone just wanted to be around her, hanging on her every word. Her stories and experience gave such weight to the story we were telling, and I have never been so proud to be part of a community theater. A strong woman like that lives on forever in the minds and hearts of those she has touched, and I am proud to have known her for the brief time I did.”
Shutsy truly was a profile in courage. It is our hope that she continues to soar, somehow climbing far beyond all the horizons she pursued during her most extraordinary life.
Our Artist: RUTH STONE
After years living in the Midwest and Southwest, Ruth Stone returned to Pennsylvania and found a home in Beaver. A graphic artist and illustrator by profession, she retired after a productive and lucrative career. She discovered the Bobcat Players through her childhood friend, Pat Depenhart, a longtime performer, producer, and board member. Immediately, Ruth plunged in as a Bobcat Player volunteer. She designed publicity posters that dotted windows of businesses all along Third Street. She crafted photo boards celebrating the casts and directors of countless plays. She drafted programs, painted sets, designed the season’s publicity postcards, and always sat in the audiences of every production.
One of Ruth’s most notable contributions to the Bobcat Players was her creation of the canvasses for the special outreach production of Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore. An ensemble play that explores women’s milestones and memories through the outfits they wear, Love, Loss... required the creation of oversized paintings of fashions connected to each monologue and vignette. From Girl Scout uniforms to cocktail dresses, business suits to wedding gowns, the paintings Ruth rendered were authentic, detailed, and captivating. Following the production, each of the canvasses was auctioned off to audience members as an added bonus. Ruth’s work on Love, Loss, and What I Wore reflected more than her artistic ability. In order to complete at least two dozen illustrations, she tirelessly researched fashion eras, studied the script, and consulted with the director in order to be as faithful to the production as possible.
Ruth’s untimely death was felt throughout the Bobcat community. Understandably, it significantly impacted her friend Pat Depenhart, who offered this tribute to the woman who brought such color and creative spirit to the group: “Heartbroken over the loss of my dear, gifted friend, I will miss her laughter, her sweet smile, and our happy times together. Ruth was a woman of sympathy, understanding, and integrity who will live in the hearts and minds of those who had the privilege of knowing her. My hope is that her life in Beaver County gratified and enriched her later years.”
There is not doubt that Ruth enriched the Bobcat Players through her artistry. Ruth’s work added an air of professionalism to Bobcat productions over a time period of more than six years. We were fortunate to have her dedicate her time and talent to our theater. Her creative endeavors will be sorely missed, as will her gentle spirit and continued support.
Our Performer & Director: MELISSA SCHNEIDERMAN
In the Spring of 2002, Melissa Schneiderman opened in her first Bobcat show, Neil Simon’s Rumors, resplendent in a blue chiffon gown. In the Summer of 2016, she took her bows in her final show, Exit Laughing, stunning in a red dress. In between those years she graced the Bobcat Players stage in more productions than any other actress in the company’s history. Whether she was the bone-weary homemaker in Broadway Bound, the warm Italian grandmother in Over the River and Through the Woods, the flamboyant diva in The Man Who Came to Dinner, or the lonely schoolteacher in Picnic, Melissa brought grace, strength, and conviction to every role in every play. And, like Melissa, the plays were prolific, a cavalcade of American and British classics and contemporaries: Present Laughter, Steel Magnolias, Harvey, The Cemetery Club, Calendar Girls, and You Can't Take It With You, just to name a few. She could elicit laughter, provoke anger, encourage reflection, and inspire tears. On the stage she was in her element.
But Melissa was far more than an actor with the Bobcat Players. She also was a co-director and assistant director, working often with her friend and sidekick Jane Lyons in a number of enterprises. She was a member of the board of directors. She represented the group at audition seminars for Beaver’s high school musicals and in original performances penned by elementary students in summer programs. She was killer with a paintbrush, leaving her mark on many sets. She sold tickets, managed the house, scoured thrift stores and consignment shops for costumes, and lent props and set pieces time and again. She never was afraid to roll up her sleeves and dirty – or paint stain – her hands.
Melissa’s sudden illness and death stunned and saddened the Bobcat community. President Keith Zagorski, one of her favorite leading men, offered this tribute: “Melissa was one of the strongest actors with whom I have had the pleasure to share the stage or direct. Melissa was adept at all genres, but especially strong playing women yearning for a little bit more... as evidenced in California Suite, The Cemetery Club, Picnic, Broadway Bound, etc. We could always count on Mel to do her roles justice.”
Melissa made her exit far too early, far too painfully. In the lobby during every show of the 2018 season, a photo board tribute designed by board member Shelly Cary offers testimony to her rich and varied roles. It is small solace for a gifted performer who never again will light the stage.
Three strong women, three advocates, three untimely deaths. We of the Bobcat Players community applaud them. We honor them. We remember them. Until we meet again.