GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In her 17-year theatre career, Betsy Banks has managed the wardrobe for multiple stage productions.
Now she has become The Wardrobe.
In Defiance Community Players’ fall production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Banks plays the sassy Madame de la Grande Bouche. Loosely translated as “Mistress of the Big Mouth,” the former opera singer character is referred to simply as The Wardrobe in the fairy tale’s film adaptation.
“The reason I wanted to do ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is because I saw the traveling show in Dallas in 2001,” Banks said. “At that time I saw the character and thought, ‘She is so cute and funny. I want to be her.’
Banks, bitten by the Defiance acting bug in 1996 when she first performed in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” said she has enjoyed portraying the well-known character on stage. The show premieres tonight at 7 p.m. at the Jeannie Miller Theatre.
“Everyone has seen the cartoon, but I like the stage production because you can develop your character organically. She has funny lines and songs,” Banks said. “You root yourself in your character, but you can bring your personality into the character.”
With a chuckle, Banks shared the challenge her costume provides in becoming a character made of wood. She said her husband, Michael Banks, also acting in the production, helped make the costume logistically possible.
“I’m literally a chest of drawers. I’m an armoire, basically,” she said. “I’m in this thing and it’s extremely heavy. It sits on my shoulders. So Mike helped me build a harness with a fanny pack inside of it that helps me keep it balanced.”
The Wardrobe costume is one of 200 elaborate pieces on temporary loan from the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre. “Beauty and the Beast” co-producer Jacquie Meitler said the costuming was set to run the production a price tag of upwards of $5,000 before Defiance discovered the potential to work with the Breckenridge theatre group.
“I broke down in tears and thought, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said to myself, ‘This is beyond Jacquie Meitler’s scissors, sewing machine and glue gun,” she said. “Then I found out we could use the costumes from a recent production if we could store them for six months, which we can. It’s going to be costumed like a professional theater show.”
Meitler said the Defiance Community Players had been pursuing “Beauty and the Beast” for the local stage for many years.
“We were turned down three years for this show,” she said. “We were told it was on the road and could just as easily be seen in Denver. But then it just happened, and we were approved for the show. Everything has just fallen into place.”
Bringing community-driven, professional theatre to the Roaring Fork Valley is Meitler’s lifelong passion. She is a founding member of the Defiance troupe that has provided drama scholarships and stage experience to students since its inception in 1972.
“Last year we had four seniors graduate and go out into the world,” she said. “Two went on to study drama in college via the Ivy Adler Memorial Scholarship Fund.”
Meitler said the Defiance Community Players troupe is a tight-knit group that is as close as family. And, in many cases, members are actually kin. Meitler’s daughter, Jennetta Howell, started with the troupe as a child and is now a choreographer for the show.
“You know how it is here, we love it when families come out,” Meitler said.
Meitler said she was thrilled that the family tradition is being continued when Glenwood comic and radio personality Don Chaney auditioned for this season’s production with his 12-year-old son, Ian. Don plays inventor Maurice, father of the beauty star, aka Belle.
“I took Ian to audition, and they talked me into auditioning as well,” Don said.
Performing in Defiance productions is also a lot like being at home for Betsy and Mike Banks. The couple, married since 2003, first met while performing in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in 1996.
“People ask us all the time if it was love at first sight and I say, ‘No, we didn’t date until 2002.’ But we are a product of Defiance theatre,” Betsy said. “Defiance can take credit for our marriage. It’s pretty cool. It’s fun.”
See the Bankses, the Chaneys and all the cast and characters of “Beauty and the Beast” throughout the weekend and next weekend at Glenwood Springs High School. Shows take place at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 24. Tickets are available at the Glenwood Springs Chamber, Sopris Lighting and at the door.