Golden Rule comes alive on BKW stage showing community how to pull together

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — It’s been about five years since Penny Shaw of the Hilltowns Players got to direct a show that she wrote herself. Her latest work, Take It From The Top!, is a play within a play, and has a simple but important message: “Treat others just the way that you want them to treat you. It’s the Golden Rule, and it’s good for me and you.”

“One of the reasons I wrote it was just out of lightheartedness, knowing how hard it is to get a director for a show, and sometimes getting actors to take their lines seriously, and then they start to panic when you realize you only have two weeks left; that sort of thing,” said Shaw, who has been involved with the Players since the group’s beginning more than 20 years ago.

“It’s about a group of people that decided to do a fund-raising variety show for the local children’s hospital that’s hurting for money,” Shaw went on. “They’re about a week into rehearsals, and the director has a family emergency and has to leave. There’s about a month to go, and they all convince each other not to panic; they’ll find somebody.”

One of the characters, aptly named Doc, is an anger management therapist, and quickly finds a solution to their problem, though her methods are initially kept a secret.

“The twist of it is, part of the therapist’s job is assigning community service projects for her patients,” Shaw said. “So she assigns one of her patients the job of directing this fund-raising benefit.”

Doc is played by Amy Anderson, a BKW parent and longtime member of the Hilltowns Players.

One of the biggest challenges for Anderson in working on this play, aside from not cracking up at her fellow cast members’ performances, is doing a show with this many children on stage at once.

“You could usually take the kids into the back room and say, ‘Here, watch TV, throw on a movie,’ while the adults did what they had to do,” said Anderson. “In this, we’re teaching the kids about theater, we’re trying to teach them about the terms that go along with theater, so I think it was a bigger challenge for us to actually share the whole theater experience with them.”

Her patient, who comes to be called Coach, is played by Sharon Trossbach, also a member of the Hilltowns Players since the group formed. Her most recent show with the Players was a musical called Beulah By The Sea, the last show that Shaw wrote for the troupe.

Trossbach sees a little bit of Coach in herself, “But not the angry part,” she said with a smile. “Just learning some lessons along the way about life and what’s important.”

As she works her way through the directing process, Coach is still dealing with her anger issues, and it affects the whole cast, Shaw explained.

“She gets angry with people who don’t take things seriously, and, of course, the cast is there just to have fun, so the humor is just all around her,” Shaw said of Coach. “They don’t know that she is Doc’s patient, and it gets to the point where they get frustrated because she’s yelling at people all the time, and the fact that she’s Doc’s patient eventually comes out.”

One of the kids in the show, Mikey, plays an important role in the cast’s finally breaking through Coach’s tough shell in the end.

Mikey is played by Anna White, an eighth-grader at BKW.

“She’s a pretty happy kid,” White said of Mikey. “She likes to smile a lot, and really, the part is just trying to get Coach to finally learn how to be happy inside.”

Anderson added of Mikey, “She’s very positive, looks at everything glass-half-full, through rose-colored glasses kind of kid.”

The show is a musical that includes old classics like “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which the characters are learning for their variety show, and to which audience members will be able to sing along.

“And most of the scenes are rehearsals, so costuming is easy, and sets are easy,” said Shaw. “And the piano player during all of the rehearsals is at the piano, and has lines. We haven’t had that, where the person providing the instrumental actually has lines and is part of the dialogue.”

Anderson thinks that the deeper meaning of this play will appeal to the BKW community at large.

“I think one of the most important lessons right now is, with all the school budget cuts, with all of the economic crises that we’re in, this show has so valuable a lesson,” Anderson said. “We lost teachers; we lost programs; we lost clubs. People were angry, and our meetings last year got knock-down-drag-out nasty, but we can come together as a community and we can work towards a common goal, just like in the show. Coach is mean; she’s nasty; we hate her; but she gets us all wanting to help her, gets us all thinking how we can make things better.”


Take It From The Top! will run at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School auditorium on Helderberg Trail in Berne on Nov. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 14 at 3 p.m. General admission is $10. Seniors and teens pay $8, and it’s $6 for children.

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