If there’s one word the cast of the upcoming Island Players production of “Smokey Joe’s Café” has to describe their director, Gail Butler, it’s “convincing.”
The 17-person cast hails from a variety of backgrounds and performance experiences, but each of them were recruited by their earnest director.
“I wanted the cast to be very diverse,” Butler said Wednesday before a dress rehearsal at the Casino Theater on St. Simons Island. “When I said I’d direct, I knew we’d need African-Americans as part of the cast.”
The two-act show features no dialogue, but instead showcases 39 songs from the 1950s and 60s. Many of the songs have African-American roots, and Butler said she wanted the show to be as authentic as possible.
To recruit new actors to the troupe, Butler, a Roman Catholic, set out and visited historically African-American churches around St. Simons Island and Brunswick.
“I had the best time,” she said of her visits to different churches. “Every church was a blast.”
At one of the five churches she visited, Butler met and recruited Ella Green, a first-time Island Players performer and assistant principal at Goodyear Elementary School in Brunswick.
“I’d never done this before,” said Green, who is African-American. “Gail approached me, and asked me to sing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Green said she stepped outside of her comfort zone and agreed to be a part of “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and the atmosphere of rehearsal has been a thrill.
“I’ve really enjoyed this experience,” she said. “It’s been a lot to learn what it takes to put on a production — but there’s been never-ending encouragement from Gail.”
Burnell Williams, another cast member and a retired bookkeeper, said Butler also approached her at her church.
“It was unexpected,” she said. “But Gail was very friendly and charming. She’s definitely convincing.”
Unlike Green, Williams has previous experience on stage, and said this production of “Smokey Joe’s Café” has a particular feel to it.
“It shows the true meaning of neighborhood,” she said. “That’s what this whole production depicts — neighborhood. All of the songs bring thoughts of real life, someone you know. It’s all about unity, to me.”
The Island Players’ production of “Smokey Joe’s Café” will be performed at the Casino Theatre, 550 Beachview Drive, St. Simons Island at 7:30 p.m. Oct 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21, and at 3 p.m. Oct. 8, 15 and 22. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for college students and active-duty military members and $5 for students 18 and younger.
Call 912-638-0338 or visit www.theislandplayers.com for more information.