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Theatre of Western Springs Spotlight: Terry Fanning

<p>Terry Fanning (left) and Mary Lee Larson in “Hannibal Blues," class="article-img" />

Terry Fanning (left) and Mary Lee Larson in “Hannibal Blues," December 1985  | Submitted

Get to know the community of Western Springs with our Theatre of Western Springs Spotlight feature!

This week, we meet Terry Fanning of Willowbrook who joined TWS with her husband back in 1974.

Q: What drew you to the TWS? 

A: We had moved to Western Springs in 1971 to raise our family of seven children. I was collecting for the American Cancer Society, when I met a lady named Rosella Snyder. She was one of the old greats of TWS. She liked my deep voice and asked me if I knew about TWS. I didn’t, but we had received two complimentary tickets to any show at TWS. The first show we saw was “Roshamon” staring Rick Gutszke and Mary Ann Brooks. Bill says it is still the best show he has ever seen at TWS. We were both hooked on TWS after that show, and I joined the Studio group in the fall so I could be an Active member. 

Q: How did you become interested in theater?

A: Growing up in Pittsburgh, my mother had season tickets to the opera and the symphony orchestra both of which were only blocks from our home. My first opera was “Carmen.” I was blown away by the beauty and majesty and the music and dancing. I was always the first one of the eight children who wanted to go to any opera. I guess I inherited my mother’s and grandmother’s love of all theatre. When I was in high school I was active in our very small theatre group. I had a bit part in “17th Summer.” I loved being on stage. The second play we did in our senior year was “The Women.” I was working the curtain and the light board. The lead actress was never on time for rehearsals, so the director threw her out, and I was moved up to the part Pauline Goddard played. It was a hoot. I think my very deep voice landed me parts. I was not very good.

Q: At TWS, do you work on crews, backstage and/or front of house? 

A: My primary role was back stage on the props crews. Most people who attend our theatre have no idea how hard the prop crews work. One of my most memorable props jobs was in the play “A Street Car Named Desire.” Every night after Stanley Kowalski ate his pork chop dinner, and cleared the china off the table in a rage, I was there in the dark on my hands and knees picking up broken crockery and gathering up the bones and peas. Fun? 

I chaired props for “The Royal Family” which was a props nightmare. We had to set the stage with authentic 1920 furniture. We had 18 pieces of period luggage and 2 sets of the old wooden shafted golf clubs and 32 wrapped gifts and several period hat boxes. We had to serve 8 meals throughout the play. It took 4 props tables backstage and the construction shop to assemble and cook all the different dinner trays. The play ran 3 1/2 hours and the props crew had to wash all the dishes after the house emptied and preset all the props on stage and back stage. I never got home before midnight. That’s true love of theatre.

I loved the challenges of chairing props for my first 10 years at TWS. I quit the props jobs when I got really sick looking for authentic brown wicker all over 3 states in the middle of winter for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Many years later they separated the set dressing part of props from the hand props. That was a blessing.

I then took on make-up and costume crews, but my real love was the TWS box office where I spent the next 15 years. I loved meeting the customers. I have a fond memory of being home and filling hundreds of ticket orders for our Christmas plays. Of course, this was all before we came into the 21st century with computerized box office and ticket sales.

Q: At TWS, do you act on stage? Name some roles.

A: I was lucky to have several good roles on stage. My favorites were “6 Rms Riv View,” “Light Up the Sky” and “Dark of the Moon,” where I played the Conjure Woman, the same role that Rosella Snyder played 30 years before. My children didn’t recognize me as the Conjure Woman, so I must have been good in the role. My only leading role was in “Hannibal Blues,” a small play but a really good role for me. I played Becky Sutterdall, Tom Sawyer’s Becky who, as an adult, goes back to Hannibal to revisit the caves where she and Tom had become lost as children. It was the role that got me on the cover of The Doings in 1985. After each play I was in, or worked on, I would have the cast and crew back to my home in Western Springs for a farewell party. Cast and crews become bonded in a way and became friends for life. That camaraderie gave me a whole life outside of my family.

Q: Tell about something at TWS that was a really big thrill for you.

A: For two years, Bill and I chaired the Activities Committee which entailed planning and hosting the year end party in the theatre lobby. We had done “The Lion in Winter” that year, so we had an authentic madrigal party. We all dressed in costume and we had authentic madrigal musicians and a dinner with the whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. It was the best year end party… ever.

Q: What do you love about TWS?

A: Whenever I took on a job at TWS, I gave it my all. I have given 40 years of my life with great love of the TWS, love of the people there and the joy of seeing a play coming together. But that part of my life has changed. Bill retired 26 years ago and, since then, we have moved to Florida for six months of the year. Now, when we are back in Illinois during the spring, summer and fall, we just work hospitality and occasionally I work the box office Will Call booth. Bill and I have loved our 40 years at TWS. The plays have enriched our lives, and our friendships at TWS have endured the test of time.

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