Love propels long-time Ritz volunteer

Scott Edmondson moves equipment to set up for a show at the Ritz Theatre. His signature hat is not for fashion but to keep his hair out of the way.

Scott Edmondson remembers going to the Ritz Theatre in the 1960s with his mom to see movies. When he was growing up, it was “the place” to see movies such as “Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “The Love Bug” and “House of Dark Shadows.”

Those early visits foreshadowed a future of volunteering at the Ritz. For the past 34 years, Edmondson has been hanging out at the theater, not just for movies, but also for stage productions and concerts. He has done a variety of duties, including acting in and directing Ritz Players’ shows, playing bass guitar, running movie projectors, loading in equipment, and manning the light board.

“I’ve done all of it backstage – all of it,” Edmondson said. “Whatever needs to be done, I do it.”

His usual role currently is that of a “runner” to shuttle artists from place to place and pick up supplies that may be needed for a production or performer. He remembers driving to Fremont to obtain a specific kind of strings for a guitar player. Edmondson said his employer allows him flexible work hours so he can help set up for the larger shows early in the day.

“I don’t have to miss the good stuff,” Edmondson said. “That theater is real deep in my life.”

His interest in theater began in his youth. Although he completed grade school in Tiffin, his parents enrolled him at Grand River Academy, a boarding school near Ashtabula, Ohio. Leaving his Tiffin classmates behind, Edmondson had to form new friendships during grades 7-12. Theater helped with that.

“I got out of playing soccer to do theater. I decided I wanted to try out for a play at the school,” Edmondson said.

From that introduction, his drama teacher connected him with the Ashtabula Community Players at the Ashtabula Arts Center. Since then, he says theatre has remained a priority for him.

Theatre also was a good place to use and improve his musical skills. Edmondson said he had given up on piano lessons, but guitar appealed to him. When his high-school roommate came back from summer break with a 12-string guitar, he made the switch.

“I was fascinated by that … so I picked up guitar,” Edmondson said. “Right about my senior year, one of the guys in the dorm had a bass. I started playing around with that.”

After high school, Edmondson said he got his first “real” bass and taught himself to play it. He took classes at Bowling Green State University before transferring to Terra for a degree in graphic arts. During that time, he was away from the stage.

“Then I got involved with Fremont Community Theatre, because they needed a bass player for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,'” Edmondson said.

Although he was familiar with the music for that show, he realized he must learn to read the bass cleff of musical scores if he wanted to play with other musicians in future productions. And he did want to do more.

After a few years with FCT, Edmondson participated in productions at the Ritz, starting in 1985. The fledgling Players were staging “Barefoot in the Park.” Edmondson said he didn’t get a part, but he agreed to serve as stage manager.

The stage manager could be called a lead character who is not in the spotlight. That person must coordinate lighting, sound effects, props and set pieces, drops and curtains, set construction, and any other activities on the stage. If the stage manager can’t do every job, he must find others to assist him.

Edmondson also began a long-running friendship with some of the cast of “Barefoot.” Dianne Pytel, the current education coordinator at the Ritz, had a lead role in that production. She has been cast in numerous shows and directed many others, often working with Edmondson.

“Scott is a great actor and a good friend. He played my brother in ‘The Rainmaker,’ my love interest in ‘Chapter Two,’ and most recently, I directed him in ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ where he had to act like he was giving birth! We share a fascination for all Titanic lore, although I admit Scott is more knowledgeable than I. He’s a true Renaissance man,” Pytel said.

Edmondson went on to do productions with other companies, including Bucyrus Little Theatre, Fostoria Footlighters, Port Clinton Playmakers, Fort Findlay Players and Heidelberg University. He has lost count of the number of shows he has done.

“I’ve been all over the place,” he said. “Between the Ritz and all the other theaters, 40 or 50 (shows) – maybe more. It’s kind of a blurr.”

But he kept coming back to the Ritz. For a time, Pytel was the Ritz’s executive director. She often asked Edmondson to help out with productions on the main stage. Those duties carried over under succeeding directors Dennis Sankovich and Michael Strong.

While volunteering, Edmondson also built a circle of friends that has grown with each additional show. The Ritz introduced him to Jim and Lynn Koehl, who are “like family” to him. His connections have been a blessing.

While directing “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Ritz a few years ago, Edmondson credits choreographer, Laura Warren, for keeping him “grounded.” He chose to use musical arrangements from the 2013 arena tour, which added extra difficulty to the challenging score.

“We were the first non-professional company in the country to use those arrangements,” Edmondson said.

He had seen several productions of “Superstar” over the years, which helped him to shape his own version of the show. Although he loves directing musicals, he says it is stressful to oversee all the elements.

“When you’re a director, you have to get obsessed with it. You have to know the material as well as the people who wrote it, if you’re going to do a good job,” Edmondson said.

Most directors of community theatre start planning their shows at least a year in advance. Directors do receive a stipend, but Edmondson said most of it gets spent on the production itself.

“It’s not about the money,” he added.

As a bonus, Edmondson has been able to rub elbows with the stars, including Davey Jones, Jim Seals, England Dan, LeAnn Rimes, Michael McDonald, the Cowsills, Lily Tomlin and Weird Al Yankovich. When Frankie Avalon needed a bass player, Michael Strong recommended Edmondson. Playing for the iconic singer became a favorite memory. While driving Rick Springfield to the Ritz in 2012, Edmondson discovered the musician was a fellow Titanic buff. These are unique experiences Edmodson did not foresee.

“Olivia Newton-John was here in 2017, and earlier that year she had a recurrence of her cancer … she came in on a bus, and we were told not to bother her,” Edmondson said.

At the end of her performance, the singer wanted to go back to the hotel ahead of the crew. Edmondson was asked to drive her, and she allowed one of her back-up singers to take her photo with Edmondson. The picture went into his extensive private collection.

Like many others who spend time in back alleys of the Ritz, Edmondson says he has encountered Guss, the resident ghost, on a few occasions. But that doesn’t keep him from being part of nearly every main-stage program What does he like most about working at the Ritz?

“Everything. We had a big dry spell going here, when the theater was dark … it was driving me nuts … I was missing it,” Edmondson said. “I don’t know where my life would be if it weren’t for that theater.”

Executive director, Michael Strong, said he is amazed by the contributions of all the Ritz volunteers. Their services save money and keep the theater open to benefit the community. He appreciates Edmondson’s ongoing commitment.

“Scott’s dedication to and love for The Ritz Theatre astounds me. For decades he has been there, through good times and bad. He is often the first contact that the artists we present have with anyone from The Ritz, and he treats them well,” Strong said. “Scott has set the stage, literally and figuratively, for so many performances throughout the years. I am honored to that he gives so much of himself to The Ritz.”