Theatre of Western Springs Spotlight: Denny Wise

Denny Wise | Submitted
Denny Wise | Submitted

Get to know the community of Western Springs with our Theatre of Western Springs Spotlight feature!

This week, we meet Denny Wise of Lisle. He joined TWS in 1978, the theatre’s 50th season in existence.

Q. Why did you join TWS?

A. I was a member of the Hinsdale Village Players, but it was dissolving due to a lack of enthusiastic members. I called the TWS office and spoke to Dorothy Parlow who signed me up for the next Studio group. Since TWS doesn’t use auditions or try-outs to cast its plays, everyone who would like to be considered for a part on stage must take part in the approximately two-week long Studio. Then the casting committee can determine who would be the best consideration for a role.

Q. How did you find out about TWS?

A. When I moved to the western suburbs, I learned of many independent theatre groups working with churches or producing plays in available halls or even in some homes. The Theatre of Western Springs, however, had a very high reputation for excellence but also a bit of snobbery. The belief at the time was that no matter how talented you might be or how much experience you may have had, you were obligated to start at the bottom by sweeping floors or the like. Needless to say, this rumor proved false, as we new Studio participants were greeted warmly and several of us were cast almost immediately.

Q. Go back in time. When did you discover you had an interest in theatre?

A. It must have been 1st or 2nd grade when we put on the traditional Christmas play. I was a shepherd, and I got to read the nativity story from the Bible. (I found out later that I had been one of a few who could actually read!) A few years later my family moved to southern California, and I remember playing Pedro in “Why the Chimes Rang” at our church there–I was probably nine or ten at the time. I can’t remember being interested in theatre in grade school, but I got very involved in drama in high school, joining the local thespian troupe. This whetted my interest in high school and college, earning my membership in the national dramatic fraternity, Alpha Psi Omega.

Q. At TWS, do you work on crews, backstage and/or front of house?

A. During the 35 years I have been a member of TWS, I have worked on almost all backstage and front of the house crews. I particularly enjoy stage managing a play, which means that I try to get the cast members to do what the director wants! Another favorite activity is to direct a play, either a one-act for our Director’s Workshop program or as the guest director for one of our Mainstage or Forum plays. For two and a half years in the early nineties, I was hired as the director of our Children’s Theatre of Western Springs. That presented many interesting challenges including directing the musical “The Wizard of Oz.”

Q. At TWS, do you act on stage?

A. I have acted on stage until I became a member of the Play Selection and Casting Committee and according to our bylaws, I was then ineligible to be cast. Roles that I particularly enjoyed were Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”–I spent most of my time on stage in a wheel chair rolling from place to place–and Justice Wargrave in Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” in which I got to play a character very different from myself. The first role I played at TWS was that of a non-speaking head-waiter and one of my trickiest jobs was to pull a tablecloth out from under a place setting. It worked except for one performance!

Q. What do you love about TWS? What is it about TWS that motivates you?

A. I think what I love most about TWS is the camaraderie and feeling of family which one builds when working on a play. One cannot help but learn by attending rehearsals and there are so many possibilities to volunteer one’s time and talents. I am motivated to help produce the finest theatre possible.

Q. TWS has flourished for 85 years. Are there traditions at TWS that you value?

A. One of my responsibilities as chairman of the Actives’ Committee is to maintain a list of the current Actives. We publish a directory once a year, listing approximately three hundred Active members. Another tradition is the giving of simple gifts on opening night; however with very large casts, this activity is often skipped. Including family members in our Sandwich Sunday repast is another tradition that goes back to the days of our founder, Mary Cattell. Producing the best theatre possible was a goal and a tradition of both Mary Cattell and Ted Kehoe. I value highly trying to maintain those traditions. 

Q. Tell about something at TWS that was, is, or will be a really big thrill for you.

A. In 2008, three other Active members and I were honored with the title Active Laureate. Our pictures hang in the lobby hallway with the other 22 honorees, and it always a thrill to see them whenever I’m at the theatre.

Q. List three things you have given TWS.

A. I suppose three things I have given TWS would fall loosely under the heading of “blood, sweat, and tears,” all three of which involve time, talent, and love. Without love of theatre, the eighty-five years and more than 500 productions would not have been possible.

Q. List three things TWS has given you.

A. Without doubt, TWS has given me a family, an education and a creative outlet.

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