Text and photos by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright 2014 by Keith Waits, all rights reserved.

One of the most frequently asked questions when a new theatre company is formed is – why? Louisville has a healthy number of companies who maintain active performance schedules that you would think everyone would be kept too busy to launch a new venture. A talk with Jeff Ketterman and Janet Morris about their new company, Mind’s Eye Theatre Company, and its inaugural production, Monty Python’s SPAMALOT!, illustrates the singular motivation that runs through so many individuals involved in the local theatre scene.

Janet Morris and Jeff Ketterman in discussion next to
the “trojan rabbit.”

As a director, Janet Morris has kept busy taking charge of plays for Wayward Actors Company, Little Colonel Playhouse, Clarksville Little Theatre, and others; building a reputation for quality and creative nurturing along the way. There is a family of actors eager to be cast by her. One is Jeff Ketterman, who has acted in many of the same places, as well as at the Hayswood Theatre in Corydon, Indiana, where he makes his home. The two have worked together a few times, most notably in a sold out run of Avenue Q for Wayward in 2011. They had such a good time in that production, found such a rapport, and the conversation soon turned to what shows they longed to do. Top of the list was the Broadway hit musical adapted from the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And so a partnership was born.

As the opening night of February 7  fast approaches, the two producers are working feverishly to whip a cast of 18 into a performance-ready ensemble. Early dance rehearsals have been held in Ketterman’s garage, where the combination of three powerful space heaters and the energy of the ensemble ward off the frigid temperatures. Choreographer Kathy Todd Chaney puts the group through their paces alongside a giant “trojan rabbit” prop that is instantly recognizable to Holy Grail fans, even without the pending paint job that will complete the illusion of a rustic, wood-construction.  When not in rehearsal, members of the cast and production team are sewing and accessorizing the  dozens of costumes that will be required. This sort of camaraderie building exercise, the building of props and costumes, is not at all uncommon for Morris, who orchestrated the design and construction of individual puppets for Avenue Q in the same way. It saves on the budget, but also forges a bond that she believes reinforces the work onstage.

Kathy Todd-Chaney rehearsing a number with Josh O’ Brien, Jeff Ketterman, Daniel Smith and Brian Morris.

But why begin their new venture with such an ambitious musical production? Why not choose something simpler, with fewer actors, or a contemporary piece that could be costumed out of the cast members’ closets? The answers are surprisingly simple and direct. Explains Morris, “We both like a challenge.” The motivation for doing SPAMALOT  is powerful and  the pair doesn’t question all of the effort required to do it on their own terms because, as Ketterman puts it, “This is the only way to do this show!”

Advanced ticket sales have been encouraging, with the first Saturday performance (February 8) already sold out and opening night closing fast even though the only publicity thus far has been a Facebook event page and word-of-mouth. Mind’s Eye has also announced their second production, John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, for April, which, if it seems to follow hard on their freshman production, will at least have the benefit of not being a musical and requiring only four actors. It might hardly seem a challenge after SPAMALOT, but the inventive comedy, more of an adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock film than the Buchan novel, is famed for its inventiveness and tongue-in-cheek humor, which makes it another accurate reflection of the taste and sensibility of Morris and Ketterman. For all the hard work, if its not going to be fun, its not for them.

All of which speaks to the invaluable dynamic of people who choose to do theatre they love for the pleasure of the experience. No one is getting paid, which makes it a non-professional production, but the passion and commitment cannot be questioned, and the skill set among the cast and crew makes it a heady mix of talent.

Tickets are on sale now for the six scheduled performances of Monty Python’s SPAMALOT! beginning February 7 and running through February 16. Call the Kentucky Center For The Arts box office for more information and/or tickets – (502) 584-7777 or (800) 775-7777. You can also purchase tickets on line at www.kentuckycenter.org or in person at the box office at 501 W Main St, Louisville, KY.