Sept. 30 2015 12:19 AM

Staged reading fundraiser resurrects forgotten play

Most of us have some old papers rattling around in the bottoms of our desk drawers. Receipts, expired gift certificates, maybe a photo or two — things of little consequence.

Kristine Thatcher, a prominent figure in the local theater scene, reached deep into her desk drawer and found something entirely different: a never-produced script with an emotional history. Tuesday evening, the long-neglected script by Thatcher will be mounted at the Robin Theatre.

A Lansing native, Thatcher worked in late ‘70s and early ‘80s at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and was active for many years in the Chicago theater scene. She returned to Lansing in 2005 to serve as director of Boars- Head Theatre. Thatcher was laid off from the theater shortly before it imploded in 2009.

“After BoarsHead went belly up, Kristine gathered some friends and associates to start Stormfield Theatre,” explained Jerry Mattson, who served on the theater’s board of directors.

The Frandor-based theater folded in 2012. As Stormfield was preparing to close its doors for good, Thatcher received some more bad news: She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“She was in dire straits,” Mattson said.

“She was out of a job and not able to do much work.”

Mattson, with a group of friends and colleagues, founded the nonprofit Kristine Thatcher Fund to help Thatcher with medical expenses. The group has raised over $30,000.

“They’re the best people in the world. They just came together,” Thatcher, 64, said. “The first time I did chemo, they knew that I would have trouble paying the bills. I was just so amazed that they all came together and did this for me. They saved my life. They have made it possible for me to keep going when I couldn’t work.”

Tuesday, the group is mounting a staged reading of “Waiting for Tina Meyer,” a long-forgotten one-act comedy co-written by Thatcher. The event is a fundraiser for the Kristine Thatcher Fund.

The play’s other co-writer is Larry Shue, a colleague of Thatcher at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Shue authored two often-performed farces, “The Nerd and “The Foreigner.” He died in a plane crash in 1985 at the age of 39.

“Larry was wonderful. He was the one who got me writing,” said Thatcher. “He started writing first. When he would write a new play, we’d do a workshop of it. And I guess I was full of suggestions on how he could improve them, because he finally said to me, ‘Put your money where your mouth is and start writing.’ And so I did. He’s the one responsible for me taking that first step into writing.”

The play began life as a television script but took on new life when the television opportunity evaporated.

Shue's agent "asked him to write a script for (CBS sitcom) ‘One Day at a Time,’" Thatcher recalled. "He didn’t have a television. He didn’t know anything about the show. So he asked me if I would write it with him. A few days after we turned it in, the series was canceled. But we liked this one character in the script that wasn’t part of the series. So we decided to turn it into a play. We started writing again, trading it back and forth. And that’s how ‘Waiting for Tina Meyer’ was born.”

Plans to stage the play, however, were halted by Shue’s untimely death.

“We were just getting it out when Larry was killed in a plane crash. I just stuck it in the bottom drawer for years and years. I didn’t do anything with it,” Thatcher said. “A friend of mine, Greg Vinkler, who’s the artistic director in Door County, Wis., at Peninsula Players (Theatre) — I was telling him about it, and he encouraged me to get it out and look at it again. I’m really happy that I did, because it just brought back Larry and this flood of light.”

The staged reading will feature a handful of Lansing theater stalwarts, as well as some guest actors from Thatcher’s time in Chicago.

“The actors are just wonderful,” said Thatcher, who will also direct the performance. “We’ve got John Lepard from Williamston (Theatre), local actress Laura Croff and Andy Callis from LCC (Theatre Program). Two actors that I know from Chicago are coming in, Michael Joseph Mitchell and Barbara Simpson Fuhrman. They’re all wonderful actors, and together I think they’ll be pretty funny.”

Tuesday’s production will take advantage of one of Lansing’s newest performance outlets, REO Town’s Robin Theatre. The space, which opened in July, has already hosted several comedy and music events and has become the venue for Ixion Theatre’s productions.

“Robin Theatre turned out to be a great place for us,” Mattson said. “We’re happy to be able to use it as a venue.”

As for Thatcher’s health, she is still undergoing treatments for her cancer but is optimistic about her prospects.

“I have been doing chemo since May. I’ve got two more to go, one in October and one in November. Hopefully then I’ll be done and I can get back to life as usual,” she said.

“With this round of chemo I had to give up two jobs — which I hated doing — in Door County and Tennessee. I would have loved to have traveled to those places and directed a couple of things, but the chemo schedule wouldn’t let me do. That’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to, getting back to work.”

But Thatcher has another motivation to get through the treatments — one that is more personal.

“I have a brand new granddaughter. She’s in Florida, and I haven’t seen her yet. She’s 2 months old,” Thatcher said. “As soon as the chemo is over, I’m shooting down there as fast as I can.”

“Waiting for Tina Meyer”

6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6 $35 The Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing (800) 838-3006, waitingfortina.

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