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River Wards Theatre Company set to debut, showcase members’ talents with cabaret night fundraiser

Casting a new spotlight: From l to r, board members Jen Tracy, Michalina Goral, Rachel Hrynczyszyn, Katie Brown, Becky Crunk and David Kirby are working toward making the recently created River Wards Theatre Company a nonprofit entity. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

When the Theatre Company of Port Richmond announced it final curtain call in late September, the acting community in the neighborhood immediately decided the show must go on.

And so, less than a month later, actors, actresses, stage crew, set designers and many others who had been involved with the 30-plus year old organization came together and the River Wards Theatre company was born.

“There was just a general feeling that we weren’t finished yet,” said Rachel Hrynczyszyn, who is president on the new company. “That there was still more work to be done and if it had to be done within another company, than we would find a way to make it work.”

The feeling of unfinished show business is shared among board members.

“When we found out that the company closed, those of us who were members, were surprised and sad and didn’t want to stop,” said Michalina Goral, special events coordinator for the River Wards Theatre Company. “We had a meeting with about 30 people just to see if people would be interested in starting another theatre company and we were all overwhelmed with how many of us showed up. It was exciting. And that led up to the elections and this board formed.”

In addition to Goral, 34, the board consists of Rachel Hrynczyszyn, 33, president; Katie Brown, 31, artistic director ; Becky Crunk, 35 vice president; David Kirby, 30, treasurer; Jen Tracy, 33, community representative; and Dan Mastropieri, 31, marketing manager.

The board members bring a wealth of stage experience and knowledge, from the River Wards and beyond, to the new company.

Port Richmond native Hrynczyszyn has been involved in theatre since stepping on the stage in seventh grade at the Theatre Company of Port Richmond.

With more than two decades of acting under her belt, RWTC’s president directs, too, and founded the Drama Club at Jardel Recreation Center.

Goral is a Bridesburg native and joined the previous theatre company in 2012 and choreographed its production of Beauty and the Beast, previously taught children’s dance and performed with a Polish folk dance group.

A Wissinoming native, Brown also got her first taste of theatre with the TCPR, serving as set designer last year, and designs scenic work and props for a handful of theatre companies throughout the city.

“One of our biggest priorities is to create a safe environment in our community for people to nurture their talents,” she said.

Longtime Philly resident Crunk participated in theatre nearly her entire life and moved to the city to be an apprentice at Walnut Street Theatre and started with TCPR in 2012, has worked with other theatres companies in the Philadelphia area.

Kirby didn’t get involved in theatre until high school — he played saxophone and danced prior to that — and discovered TCPR when his co-coworker, Crunk, invited him to an audition in 2013 and he had been in every show since.

Tracy first got involved with TCPR in the late 90s; her school didn’t have a theatre company and her stepdad suggested she audition for the company, TCPR, that he was involved in and she painted, did sets, sang and acted with the company eve since.

“I just feel this particular community is like family,” Tracy said. “This is a very close-knit group and I didn’t want to see us fall apart.”

The board members were voted in by the community members who initially came out, but pointed out although the members of the new company were in involved in TCPR in some capacity, the River Wards Theatre Company is a completely separate entity.

And, even though the board is handling the big, behind-the-scenes leg work, such as filing paperwork to become a nonprofit, the company is community-driven, down to the name being voted on by the approximately 40 members.

“It is really exciting to start something from the ground up, to be able to take our experiences that we have with theatre and share them with the people we already know and potentially people who don’t know what we’ve experienced,” Crunk said.

Starting from scratch means the company does not currently have “a home, equipment and, all the money we have, came from the dues we charged people to become members, which was a very small amount,” according to Hrynczyszyn.

To make RWTC a reality and show the neighborhoods what it has to offer, the company will host Spotlight Cabaret: A Toast to Broadway.

The event will showcase the talents of the members currently involved in RWTC, and, each board member will participate.

“It is primarily a fundraising event because we do want to become a 501c3 in order to receive different types of grants and funds because performing in and of itself is free, but the other aspects that come with it are very, very expensive,” Hrynczyszyn said. “We are trying to raise money to do that while also showcasing members in our group without having to do a show where we’d have to pay for rights.”

“It also gives us an opportunity to do some things people haven’t seen us do before, there’s some newer material and older material, so it really runs the gamut of what Broadway has to offer,” Crunk added. “So, it’s an outreach element as well.”

Kirby is excited members were able to choose their songs, which is not always the case in a full production because the director makes that decision.

While the immediate focus is to fundraise and obtain nonprofit status, the board members are already looking forward to the future, one in which individuals from all the River Wards are represented.

Putting on shows, hosting workshops to develop actor toolbox skills, and holding play readings, all accessible to the community, are just a few goals the board hopes to accomplish.

“It’s one step at a time. We have really big plans,” Tracy said, “but we need the funding and we have to do it right.”

“We don’t want this to be haphazard. We want it to last,” Goral added. “We want this to be around in the community for years. When we’re not on the board anymore, it should still be here. We’re laying the foundation so other generations can build on what we’re starting right now.”

And, it all starts with the community.

“We are trying to be open to everyone within the communities that encompass the River Wards, we really want to be accessible to everybody,” Hrynczyszyn said. “The Cabaret Night is getting our foot in the door and showing people what we can do and we hope to continue doing within the communities we all represent. We can’t exist without the community.”

River Wards Theatre Company will present Spotlight Cabaret: A Toast to Broadway on Saturday, April 14, at 7 p.m. at St. John Cantius Auditorium, 4435 Almond St. Tickets for adults cost $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Tickets for children under 12 are $8. The event is BYOB and refreshments and tickets for basket raffles and 50/50 will be available for purchase. For tickets, call Michalina at 267–266–3587 or Rachel at 215–327–5725. For more details on the River Wards Theatre Company, follow the company on Facebook at River Wards Theatre Company; on Twitter @RiverWardsTC; or Instagram @riverwardstheatre or email community.rwtc@gmail.com.

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