About a week before rehearsals would start for “Take Me Out,” director Chad Badgero of Peppermint Creek Theatre Company was doing some research for the show. Since the play is focused on baseball, Badgero wanted to learn about the sport, so he picked up a book with a list of 1,001 reasons to love baseball. He approached the counter where a man was ringing up the customers. [script]
“Like you need 1,001 reasons; you only need one,” the man said to Badgero.
“And what is that?” he asked.
The man took a strong stance and got an excited look on his face. He explained how much he adores walking into the stadium on opening day. He said the smell alone is the only reason you need to love baseball.
“See, this is why I love theatre,” Badgero said when retelling the story. “Normally I would just set the book down, sign my Visa and not think anything of it, but I get to talk to these people I would never normally talk to. I even find myself sitting in bars and actually cheering during the baseball games when I used to look right past them. I’ve watched Field of Dreams and The Natural. This play just really makes you love baseball. Someone called it a ‘love letter to baseball,\’ which is exactly what it is.”
“Take Me Out,\” featuring an all-male cast of 11, is a Tony Award-winner written by Richard Greenberg. It tells the story of the fictional New York baseball team, the Empires, and shows what can bring together a team, and more profoundly, what can tear it apart. The play deals with one of the star players’ announcement that he is gay.
“Homosexuality is definitely a big part of the show, but I think its main purpose is to set the emotion of the play,” said Jordan Wills, a film studies senior. Wills is playing the role of Shane Mungitt in the play – a main character that he described as “a hick prodigy pitcher who comes to the team and offends everybody.”
Wills, who is a close friend of Badgero and has been involved with Peppermint Creek in two previous shows, is happy to be a part of this production. “I would do any play for Peppermint Creek, but months ago when Chad was reading plays and putting together the season, I read \’Take Me Out\’ and loved it,” said Wills.
[chad] Badgero knew he wanted to put this show on because it fell along the lines of the Peppermint Creek Mission: to produce contemporary and classic theatre that addresses vital issues in our society, raises awareness, and encourages dialogue while entertaining.
This mission is what guides Badgero in nearly every decision he makes for the company. “You have to have a clear mission so that you can stick to it, but it needs to be broad enough to allow change,” he said. “I think we have that.”
Badgero founded Peppermint Creek in 1995 and has since battled to make it a significant venue for the public to enjoy courageous and intelligent theatre. “Through the years it has become more and more clear that the kind of things we do, other people in the area just won’t,” said Badgero. “This is bold, but we are putting on the best theatre in East Lansing.”
Badgero doesn’t say this because he founded the company. He is not talking with his chest out like a father watching his son play football in the NFL. He is speaking the truth: Peppermint Creek is taking chances with its performances, sharing the players\’ talent with each other and the community, and they are dedicated to not just acting in plays to boost their résumé like many students. They are performing to have a larger impact on the audience and to hopefully initiate conversation, if not movement, through their art. They could indeed be putting out the best theatre in the Lansing area.
In recent months, this has been recognized not only by the theatre buffs who have been with them since the beginning, but by the City of East Lansing, who has asked Peppermint Creek to be the official theatre group of East Lansing. Since a major goal of theirs is to become an equity theatre group, which means they will be officially considered a professional theatre, becoming East Lansing’s resident theatre company would be thrilling. Although unofficial as of right now, people are pulling for Peppermint Creek to be a more permanent feature of the city. If the idea can pass through a few more people’s hands, Peppermint Creek would welcome the opportunity. “This is really exciting because a huge base of our audience is in East Lansing,” said Badgero. “We need to focus on that.”
It is Badgero’s dedication to the company and to theatre itself that has taken it to the level it is today. “I don’t want to be famous – I want the company to be famous,” said Badgero. He tried his hand at acting and actually moved to New York to pursue it for a little while. He got paychecks for acting and was able to prove to himself that he could be a working actor. New York City culture was obviously extraordinary for Badgero because of his passion for drama, but he soon missed the smaller town charm he had been wrapped in his whole life. “There’s so much I loved about New York, but I also missed so much: my family, space, nature, grass,” he said. His experience, however, has been invaluable for Peppermint Creek.[scene]
“Chad is such a positive person. He is really big on the rehearsal experience, so he creates a great atmosphere for us,” said Wills, who first met Badgero in his introduction to an acting class which Badgero coincidentally taught. He encouraged Wills to get more involved in theatre, and has since become one of Wills’ best friends. “I am blessed that I get to work with the best actors in Lansing,” said Badgero. “If you can cast a show with actors that are going to open up and be vulnerable, it will be a good show. Ultimately the right people always audition.”
But Badgero was not so certain of this production. “I was a little nervous about casting for ‘Take Me Out’ because you need such specific actors,” Badgero explained. “This is a baseball team so you need a lot of guys that look like they could be athletes. There are also three nude scenes, so I had to find guys that would be willing to do them. In the end I just had to trust that it would work out.”
The nudity in “Take Me Out” is often one of the main topics of conversation surrounding this play. “I feel like I should be more nervous about it than I am,” said Wills. “I just really hope it doesn’t discourage anyone from coming out and seeing this play. I know it will be done well.”
Two of the nude scenes take place in showers. “When I was talking to the cast about it they were pretty open, but one of them said, ‘We better have working showers, and it better be warm water,’” said Badgero. “I talked to the set designer, and we’re getting working showers with warm water.”
According to Wills, Badgero prioritizes the needs of the people he is working with. “He’s really the only person I’ve ever acted for, but he is an amazing director,” Wills said. “Obviously, in rehearsal he’s business, but he gets to know everyone. He’s actually going out to New York with me to help me find a place to live after graduation.” Wills plans on taking a similar path as that of Badgero, although he ultimately hopes to write for the screen. Wills wants to run the audition circuit for a couple months to hopefully land a couple of jobs, but more importantly to gain experience and get some stories. “I’m really into doing things while I’m young and stupid and have no money,” said Wills. He added that it’s his experience with Peppermint Creek that has helped him decide this and plans on coming back to work with the company again.
Peppermint Creek has brought excellent shows to the area, and it looks as though we will be seeing much more of them in years to come as East Lansing’s resident theatre company. “Take Me Out” will wrap up this season, but Badgero is already set to go with next year’s schedule. The company will be putting on five plays next season, compared to this year’s four. Badgero also hopes to have a more active summer with Peppermint Creek. “East Lansing has a folk festival, a film festival, a blues festival…it’s like they have a festival for everything but theatre, so we really hope to be able to pull one together for this summer.”
[director] “We also hope to get a permanent place to perform. We’ve been performing wherever we can, but we really want to fight to stay in one place,” said Badgero. Shows have been regularly performed at Woldumar Nature Center in the upper level of a barn house; other venues have included the gardens on campus or the conservatory. A big advantage to being East Lansing’s official theatre company would be a stable home. In the meantime, all those enticed by their next production can travel to Woldumar to watch Peppermint Creek’s adaptation of “Take Me Out” in a barn house complete with working showers.
The show is running at the Woldumar Nature Center in the RE Olds Anderson Barn Theatre from April 27-30 and May 4-6, Thurs.-Sat. 8:00, Sun 2:00. Tickets are $10, $5 for students.