Signature Productions’ actors perform for love of the craft

How many times have you walked out of a dazzling musical with a smile on your face and a song in your heart while humming one of the popular tunes? Well, that’s the way it was after attending the show “Singin’ i n t he Rain,” which played in April at the Summerlin Library’s Performing Arts Center.

If you missed the non profit Signature Productions spectacular, it’s your own fault. The magnificent musical was as entertaining a show as anything you’ll find anywhere else in this 24-hour-a-day city of dreams, glitz and heartbreak.

But don’t fret. “Little Shop Of Horrors” is scheduled to begin July 25 and play through Aug. 27, the final of four Signature Productions for this season. Then the new show biz year begins Oct. 20 and runs for a month with “Oh What A Night!” That’s already being heralded as a celebration of the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Now here’s the interesting part. Signature Productions has been presenting the best in show business for a minimal cost to patrons over the last 22 years and will continue to do so for one amazing reason : The performers don’t get paid. You read that correctly. The performers not only participate gratis, they eagerly audition for the roles they play.

“They perform for free, and many of them are from among the best in show business,” said Dr. Karl M. Larsen. And he should know. Larsen is a doctor of optometry who happens to be one of the founders of Signature Productions. He’s also president of the company’s board of directors.

“We do pay some of the people connected to our productions, like those who provide technical services, such as choreography, lighting and set builders,” Larsen said. “But the amounts they receive are nothing more than a token or a stipend. It comes down to an almost insignificant amount.”

And if you think the performers are inferior because they don’t get paid, then guess again.

“They’re all highly talented people who happen to live in Las Vegas,” Larsen said. “Many of them performed professionally for years, all over the country.”

Their credits commonly include off-Broadway, national tours, cruise ships, television shows and films. But as Larsen pointed out, often they tire of traveling and prefer to come home.

“We audition, and that’s how we find our people. Most performers in town know who we are,” Larsen explained. “We used to have an audition list of more than a thousand, but it got expensive notifying them. So now we just use our website. A lot of the same people return from one production to another.”

Performing on the stage is their passion, even though they all have other jobs.

“Some are lawyers; some are doctors; some are teachers,” Larsen said. “They come from a variety of professions.”

One of the star performers of “Singin’ i n t he Rain,” Kelly Albright, who played the role of Lina Lamont, is a real estate broker. Another star performer, David McMullen, who played Cosmo Brown, is a schoolteacher. The show’s artistic director, Leslie Fotheringham, spent many years on the stage before becoming a full-time mom.

Signature Productions presents four shows a year at the Summerlin Library’s Performing Arts Center, 1771 Inner Circle Drive, and has done so since moving to Summerlin 15 years ago, Larsen said.

“When we formed the group in 1989, we had our own Signature Playhouse on Charleston Boulevard,” he said. “But a few years later they tore down the building. We moved from one place to another until we settled into the Summerlin Performing Arts Center.”

Ticket prices for shows are in the $15 to $25 range, depending on whether you’re a student, an adult or a senior citizen. Other income includes grants from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts and various private contributions.

However, Signature Productions has considerable expenses, some of which include costumes, rental of the library theater and rental of the Nevada Ballet Theatre , which also is in the Performing Arts Center, for all rehearsals. In addition, the company rents a large facility for storage and construction of sets.

So why do the performers work for no pay?

“They love what they do,” Larsen said.

It’s that simple.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He is the author of the novels “Falling Dominoes” and “One At A Time.” Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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