STORY WRITTEN BY CHERYL THORNBURG
For Digital First Media
Dinner theaters have been a popular form of entertainment for more than 50 years and there are several in eastern Pennsylvania, but SALT Performing Arts in Chester Springs has put a new twist on the traditional format.
With its upcoming production, “The Dixie Swim Club,” SALT is offering a do-it-yourself dinner theater. You can bring your own food and drink, which keeps the cost very affordable at $20. For those who don’t want to go the BYOB (and food) route, for an additional $12, theater goers can get a picnic lunch — an organic, artisan boxed meal catered by Dixie Picnic of Malvern, which was voted Best of the Main Line. Dixie Picnic box lunches feature Upcakes (upside-down cupcakes frosted on the top and the sides) plus sandwiches and side dishes from authentic southern recipes and made from scratch.
Planning your dinner experience is easy. Book your table online and indicate who is sitting at your table. When you arrive and you will enter the same historic black box theatre in which many local theater companies got their start. Round tables that seat between 2-6, and long tables for parties of up to 16, are decorated with centerpieces and tablecloths. Disposal utensils, plates and napkins are offered at the front along with wine openers, for those who may have forgotten theirs.
This BYO Food and Drink Dinner Theatre is the brainchild of Lauren McComas, the founder of SALT Performing Arts. As she attended the local free concerts in the park, she noticed many people bringing food in picnic baskets and bottles of wine. The concept translated well into theater experiences as well.
McComas is also the artistic director and president of SALT Performing Arts. She began her theater career in New Jersey at age 5. She has been on the stage for more than 100 different productions in theaters up and down the East Coast, as well as in California and Indiana.
SALT is her childhood dream-come-true. She works at bringing the best talent and entertainment to Chester Springs.
McComas is always looking to expand both the Main Stage Production season and the Stagelight Children’s Program, which is on its third sold-out year. SALT will be opening a satellite location for Stagelight at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Chester in addition to the location in Chester Springs this summer for the Children’s Theatre Program. McComas is also pursuing a capital fund campaign in the next year.
This is SALT’s second Main Stage season, having opened with “A Grand Night for Singing” in their debut season premiering October 2014. Both plays and musicals have graced the SALT stage, pulling talent from the entire tri-county region and beyond. SALT produces all types of shows, some with no dining, where Cookies By Design offers gourmet treats in the lobby.
“The Dixie Swim Club”
Along with the picnic dinner, theater-goers will get to know the five women at the heart of “The Dixie Swim Club,” a comedy crated by Jessie Jones, Nicolas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, a writer and producer for the much-loved television series, “The Golden Girls.”
The show opens Feb. 26 and runs through March 5. This heart-warming comedy follows five Southern women, whose friendships began on their college swim team. Sans husbands, kids and jobs, they meet at the same beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks each August to catch up, laugh and meddle in each other’s lives. The play debuted in North Carolina at the Wilson Playhouse in the Edna Boykin Center in 2007.
The cast includes local, seasoned and talented actresses including Lauren LeBlanc, Carolyn Nelson, Maria Jarrell, Bev Smith, and Fran Kane, and is directed by Elizabeth Hennessey. Described as a “chick-flick-for-the-stage,” its focus on friendship and witty dialogue should be a crowd-pleaser. Like “Golden Girls” and “Steel Magnolias,” “The Dixie Swim Club” celebrates women’s relationships and Southern culture.
The cast and director for this unique comedy include some new faces as well as familiar ones to the SALT stage:
Fran Kane (Vernadette) has acted and directed for parts of four decades in theaters from New Jersey to Delaware. Some favorite roles include “Educating Rita,” “How To Succeed In Business…,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Noises Off,” and “Titanic, The Musical.”
Lauren LeBlanc (Jeri Neal) is happy to be back performing with SALT, following her debut as Cinderella in “Into the Woods.” Favorite performances include, “The Sound of Music,” “Legally Blonde” and “Urinetown.” In the Philly area, she has worked with Act II Playhouse, Montgomery Theatre, and Resident Theatre Company.
Maria Jarrell (Sheree) is also performing for the first time with SALT, but she has performed in many local theaters. Her favorite performances include, “Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare (Abridged),”,“Proof,” “Macbeth,” “The Winter’s Tale,” “As You Like It”, “Our Town” and “The Comedy of Errors”.
Carolyn Nelson (Lexie) is thrilled to be back in her second production at SALT Performing Arts. In May, she played Clairee in “Steel Magnolias.” Carolyn has performed studio back-up singing in Los Angeles to commercials and daytime drama work in New York, as well as tours of 75 cities in between as part of a gospel ensemble.
Another new addition to the SALT stage is Bev Smith (Dinah). Most recently she appeared in Barley Sheaf’s production of “Inspecting Carol” and at Forge Theater in “Cemetery Club” where she was thrilled to win the best acting award for her role of Lucille. Other performances include “Don’t Drink the Water” and “Moon Over Buffalo.”
Elizabeth Hennessey, having performed at SALT last season, is now making her directorial debut with “The Dixie Swim Club.” With more than 25 years of acting experience, she is ready for this new chapter. Recent roles include “Steel Magnolias,” “Proof,” “Titanic,” “Accomplice,” “The Children’s Hour,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Dracula” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” She has also been a featured soloist with the Pottstown Symphony Orchestra.
To purchase tickets for “The Dixie Swim Club, ” go to http://www.saltpa.com/the-dixie-swimclub. As always with SALT, groups of 10 or more get 10 percent off with promo code SALT10. SALT Performing Arts is located at 1645 Art School Road, Chester Springs, PA 19425, 610-703-1734.
The regional Broadway premier of “The Little Mermaid” opens April 8. It is sponsored by Chick Fil-A, and audience members can purchase an optional add-on Chick Fil-A meal to enjoy alongside the cast one hour prior to opening. There the audience members will meet Ariel, Sebastian and Prince Eric as they enjoy their food and receive autographs.
SALT also offers catered dinner theaters, such as “Smokey Joe’s Café” opening in August catered by Liberty Union Bar and Grill, and “Noises Off” opening in September catered by Limóncello.