ARRGH! It Be Audition Time, Matey!

Sundae Horn
ARRGH! It Be Audition Time, Matey!

Karen Gulotta has been fantasy-directing “A Tale of Blackbeard” since 2015.

“I came to see the show two years ago when it was in the school gym,” she said. “And through the whole thing, I kept thinking how I’d love to direct it.” Now that fantasy is becoming reality as Karen holds auditions this Sunday for 2018 production, which she will direct. She's on the island for the holiday weekend, then will return in February for the duration.

Karen wears many hats – not only is she a theater director (since 1976), she’s also special education teacher (since 1986) at a vocational school, she designs and sews costumes and owns a by-appointment-only costume shop, and is working on her ESL teaching certification.

Karen likes to stay busy. While she’s on Ocracoke, she’ll not only be directing the Blackbeard play, but also working as one of the Arts Partnership instructors for Ocracoke Alive and Ocracoke School. She plans to help the younger students create their own puppets and puppet shows, and for the older students, she wants to do traditional melodramatic theater, complete with costumes and props, heroes and villains.

Karen has been coming to Ocracoke for 13 years, staying 3-4 weeks at a time in her camper at Teeter’s Campground.

Like many transplants to the island, she felt an immediate affinity. “The very first time I came across on the ferry to Ocracoke, I felt like I was coming to a place I knew. I felt like I belonged there,” she said. She thinks she’d like to teach fulltime on Ocracoke after she retires in PA, but knows she should try a long stay to find out for sure.

As a fan of music and theater arts, she found her way to Deepwater Theater and befriended the Molasses Creek crowd. (She even hosted them when they played concerts in her neck of the woods, the Hershey, PA area.)

Karen at Coyote Music Den earlier this summer.
Karen at Coyote Music Den earlier this summer.

Knowing she was interested, Fiddler Dave Tweedie of Molasses Creek talked to Karen about the community’s need for a director for the 2018 production of “A Tale of Blackbeard.” She was eager and excited for the opportunity (and was already working on it in her head), and then thought, “How do I get out of my job at home?”

Karen’s boss offered her a sabbatical if she would get her ESL certification while she’s gone. It’s an online program that she can work on as easily at Ocracoke as anywhere else. The ESL program also requires that she work with some ESL students, which she can also find on Ocracoke. Her grown daughter, toddler granddaughter, and college-age niece will housesit, and her partner, Steve, “will pop down from time to time.” (Did I mention he’s a set designer? They are already building a cannon for next year’s show.)

“Everything has fallen into place,” she said. “My friends at home think I’m crazy, but I tell them I’ve done crazier things.” She’ll arrive in February and hopes to stay on Ocracoke through August and attend every week’s Blackbeard play. “When I direct a show at home, I’m at every performance,” she said. 

Karen and Steve are designing a set that with a “realistic theme.” Besides a cannon, she plans to have a mast and sail, and have seating three sides around so the audience feels a part of the action. “I think there should be something different each time you do a show,” she said. “I have the whole show blocked. I don’t know who the people are yet, but I know where they’ll go.’

Karen is especially happy that she’ll get to work with the playwright on this production. “When I direct a play, I’m thinking about the message – what does the author want to say? What should the audience feel, think about, leave with? It’s wonderful to be able to talk to the author about that while you’re doing it.” 

I asked the author, Julie Howard: what IS your message? 

A motley crew.
A motley crew.

“When I was working on the play 43 years ago, I wanted to portray Blackbeard as not all bad. He never actually killed anybody, and there are legends and stories about kind things he did,” she said. “And I wanted people to enjoy and remember my songs.” (As I’m writing this I have “We’re the Village Girls and we’re here to please…” running through my head, so job well done, Julie!)

Julie is equally happy to be working with Karen. “She’s so enthusiastic,” she said. “And incredibly full of energy and good ideas. I’m really impressed with her commitment and her being able to be here for six months.”

Julie hopes 2018 is a banner year for Ocracoke – it’s the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Ocracoke (when Blackbeard lost his head) and the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Community Store. “The whole year should be a celebration of Ocracoke, promoting the uniqueness of our community,” she said.

And never has the production prep begun so early! “In some years, we filled roles at the last minute!” Julie said. Karen will hold a second round of auditions in March, but this first Labor Day weekend audition is aimed to reach out to some folks who might not be here all winter. Even if you won’t be back ‘til spring – please try out!

Karen is excited to meet more Ocracoke community members and hopes that there’s a big turnout at auditions. High school boys and girls and adult community members are all welcome. There’s a role for a young girl and a middle school boy as well. (You don’t have to have a song prepared – Karen says you can just sing “Happy Birthday”!) And if there are people who want to help behind the scenes… “There are lots of jobs in the theater,” Karen said. “Theater unites people.” 

Julie, then (1974) and now.
Julie, then (1974) and now.

Julie will reprise her role as musical director and accompanist, Desiree Ricker will be the choreographer again in 2018, and Debbie Leonard will help backstage. Karen says she’s very laid back and works well with others. “It’s going to be an awesome experience for all of us,” she said. “And I hope it makes a nice profit for Ocracoke Alive. 

Karen will arrive on Friday to prepare for Sunday’s auditions. Stop by and meet her anytime between 2–6pm at Deepwater Theater on Sunday.

“I feel so thankful,” she said. “I’m totally committed to this. You people are making my dreams come true.”




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