When Jim Ingham took early retirement from the contracting business in late 2002, he and Carol, his wife, left their southwest Florida home and bought a fixer-upper on Tybee Island.
"We were totally remodeling, and that was about the only thing we had to do," Carol Ingham remembers.
“And then we saw the announcement that they were going to start a community theater—it was at the school, exactly 17 steps over from our house.”
Because both of the couple’s sons had studied theater in college and gone on to do behind-the-scenes work, they were enthusiastic about amateur thespianism. The Inghams got in on the ground floor of the Tybee Arts Performing Society (TAPS).
Back in Florida, Carol Ingham says, “I’d started with a very small acting part, and it grew, and I enjoyed it. Until one day I actually had stage fright, for no particular reason. I said ‘If I’m going to have anything more to do with this organization, I’m going to have to be backstage.’ They needed new people to direct, so I said ‘I’ll give it a try.’”
By the time she and her husband arrived in Tybee and joined the fledgling TAPS organization, Carol was a veteran director.
They both jumped into TAPS with all they had. “He built most every set that was ever used,” Ingham explained.
“When we were in the school cafeteria, he made bleachers and risers for the seating. Which was no small task! Then we were able to move into a building that actually had room for a tiny black box. He got in there and he built the stage. Jim did anything anybody asked him to do, as far as building anything. And he never complained.”
After Jim Ingham’s death in 2010, the renovated room was re-named the Jim Ingham Black Box Theater.
And it’s there that Carol Ingham makes a return to directing this week, with the comedy The Hallelujah Girls, from playwrights (and former sitcom scribes) Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. That’s the same team that wrote the comedy ‘Til Beth Do Us Part, which was a hit for TAPS in 2013.
The wacky storyline (comedies tend to do best on Tybee) involves a group of disgruntled women in Eden Falls, Ga., who gather in a place called Spa-De-Dah (an abandoned church turned day spa) to figure out how to make life exciting again. Hilarity ensues.
“Writing for community theater, they (the authors) also took into consideration who participates in that,” Ingham says.
“Mostly women over 50. It’s really hard to get men on that stage. So each one of their plays is geared for that—you have more females than you do males. And the age for your females is over 50.”
So far, 2014 has been a banner year for TAPS. The most recent production, Sordid Lives, had to be held over.
TAPS is pretty much the only source of entertainment on Tybee Island that doesn’t take place in a restaurant or bar.
“There’s a formula that you can use to predict who your audience is going to be, and it’s like ten percent of the area,” says Ingham. “Well, we get more’n that. We have a bigger audience than most small theaters in small towns have.
“When we first opened, the first couple of plays we did, I was so surprised at how many people came up and said ‘I’ve never seen a play before. We loved it.’ Because they have such a good time, they really talk it up. And you would be surprised at how many people come just for that reason—that their neighbor, their uncle or whatever said ‘You’ve got to go!’ And once we get them, they come back to every show.”
And the word is apparently out on both sides of the curtain. “You have to have people that really love community theater in order to do it,” she says. “And we have that.
“We’ve got a group of wonderful actors. And now we have a group of people that will come in and help with the technical part of it, backstage. And we’re getting new blood all the time, which is great.”