Love under the stage lights
When Laura Fannon joined Wilton Playshop after college, she did so with the intention of finding some new friends. And she did. She also found a husband in Skip Ploss.
More than 20 years later the couple are working together as director and stage manager for the first time, bringing How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to Playshop audiences at the end of this month.
“This is either going to work or the Playshop will have to get a divorce attorney,” Laura joked during an interview last Friday.
Although Laura was involved in the student summer workshops at the Playshop when she was in college, it wasn’t until she returned home to Wilton after school that she joined in earnest. Most of her friends from Wilton High School wound up elsewhere, so she “came down and started working props” as a means of meeting new people.
“The theater is one of those things, when you get involved you get involved up to your eyeballs,” she said, noting she eventually became president in 1989 or 1990, when she was just about 30.
A year or two later, Skip, who lived in New Canaan, was running Nantucket Seafood in Wilton Center and had been involved with a theater in Newtown. He had a friend named Kevin who was also involved in the Playshop. Kevin convinced him to stop by to see the show, Sweet Bird of Youth.
Skip claims this is the first time they met, although Laura disagrees.
“She came out [of the theater] and said hello to Kevin and looked at me and did this,” he said, shuddering visibly.
“You’re making that up,” Laura scolded.
She believes the first time they met was after Skip got involved in the Playshop and they were both onstage in the production of Witness for the Prosecution when they both played witnesses.
Eventually they became friends, but friends at the Playshop thought it should be more than that.
“We had a lot of people pushing us to get together,” Laura said.
Skip was hesitant. “We were friends for a year. I didn’t want to ruin that,” he said. But eventually he gave in, asked her out, and they went to dinner at a long-gone restaurant, Tarjet.
“It worked,” he said. “We outlasted all their marriages,” he added with a laugh.
The show that was playing when they went on that first date was A Chorus Line.
They dated throughout 1992. That was when Laura was producing Children of a Lesser God, but she was away on business so much for her job as a corporate travel agent that Skip was housesitting for her. He also acted as her liaison with the Playshop.
“I was the surrogate producer,” he said, adding that was how he learned to be a producer. He also did not return to his own apartment when Laura came home.
The couple can mark the milestones of their relationship by the shows that were playing at the Playshop. After A Chorus Line they got engaged during Little Me. They were married in 1993 during the aptly named The Perfect Party. Laura became pregnant a few years later during Little Shop of Horrors and their only child, Sarah, was born during Steel Magnolias in the spring of 1995.
After Sarah’s birth, Laura pulled back from the theater. Today she is CEO of By Kids For Kids, an educational and family marketing company in Stamford. She has come back to where she works on one show a year and has been stage managing for four years. In addition to How to Succeed in Business she has stage managed The Commons of Pensacola, She Loves Me, and Little Women.
Being stage manager means taking down the stage blocking during rehearsal — she knows where everyone is on stage at all times — and then figuring out how to move sets on and off the stage, how the actors get their props during the show, and calling the light cues.
“It’s kind of crazy, but it’s fun,” she said. It suits her personality as an “operations person,” she said. “I love it, I really do.”
Skip, who is a paraprofessional at Miller-Driscoll School and manages MDTV — the television studio there — had been wanting to direct How to Succeed in Business for a long time. When the Playshop committee asked him to direct it, he asked Laura to stage manage.
“She’s the best in the volunteer business,” he said. “When she does a show and spends all night with spreadsheets, you know she’s got chops.”
They both agreed things have been working out well. “Sometimes we have a discussion,” he said, “but she defers to my artistic vision, unless it doesn’t work out for stage managing.”
Sometimes dedication can go too far. Both recalled Laura’s experience stage managing Little Women when she tripped and fell down several stairs at the theater.
When the ambulance came, Skip recalled, she wouldn’t let the EMS responders take the set down to get her out. It was right before the opening of the show, and much to her dismay she missed the opening weekend.
“You work so hard on the show and you’re not there,” she said. But the next weekend, after a concussion and with bruised ribs, a broken elbow and nerve damage in her legs, she was back.
One of the advantages of both of them volunteering at the Playshop is they both understand the time commitments. And that’s one of the advantages of working together, they agreed.
“Now we can talk about the show,” Laura said. “We can sit together on Saturday mornings and make the schedule for the next week.”
“She’s not trying to direct and I’m not trying to do her job,” Skip said.
When to see the show
Performances of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the Wilton Playshop on Lovers Lane are:
- April 28, 29 at 8 p.m.
- May 4, 5, 6,11,12, and 13 at 8 p.m.
- April 30 and May 7 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $30/adults, $25/seniors and students. Thrifty Thursdays offer a $5 discount.
To purchase tickets or for more information, visit wiltonplayshop.org.