It is not often that we have a husband-and-wife team on stage together, though it has happened over the years. It is a special relationship when a couple both love theatre. In A Fox on the Fairway, Frank plays Dickie, and Lori plays Muriel. According to Frank and Lori Russ, it is wonderful to share the same hobby and spend volunteer time together at the Racine Theatre Guild.
“We met in an evening statistics class at UW-Parkside,” Frank explains, “and we married in 1993.” Raising four children and both pursuing careers kept them busy. But in 2008 Lori volunteered to help paint the set for Beauty and the Beast. Her parents, Bill and Kathy Robinson, were active volunteers, both building and painting sets.
“That was a fun thing to do,” Lori remembers, “but then I got busy doing other things. In 2010 I took my two girls, Miranda and McKinley, to audition for Miracle on 34th Street. They auditioned the first night, and I thought I could do that, so I auditioned the second night. We all were cast in that show, and that was the start of my time volunteering regularly.”
Frank, who had no experience in any kind of stage involvement in high school or college, was brave enough to give theatre a try, and he was cast in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in 2011. Lori did props for that show, so it was the start of what has become a decade-long team effort.
“We love volunteering here together on the same shows,” Frank explains. “In a few cases we were on stage together, like when we played Mr. and Mrs. Bucket in Willy Wonka in 2011 and 2012. Our son Mitchell played Augustus, and I also did the flying. We were also on stage together in The Sound of Music in 2014. It’s a great way for us to see each other more, since we get so busy going opposite directions for our jobs.”
Both recall Calendar Girls in 2015, when Lori stage managed and Frank ran lights. “That show was fun, but tense,” Lori says. “All the cues had to be just perfect so the lights wouldn’t come up on the stage while the women were in a state of undress and not properly positioned on stage. Good thing Frank and I work pretty smoothly together.”
Another memorable show was Almost, Maine, in 2014, when one was in the booth and the other worked props. “We had a great rapport with cast and crew in that show,” Frank recalls, “and those on headset were always talking to each other. There is something about theatre that makes people become fast friends.”
Both Frank and Lori, while seen on stage in many roles, have done much volunteering in back-stage and front-of-house positions. Lori currently serves on the board of directors, is the season chair for props, volunteers in the box office, and both she and Frank house manage. Frank often works props with Lori, or one is in the cast, and the other on crew. Because they help in a variety of positions, both were presented with the Maccanelli Award, Lori in 2012, and Frank in 2016.
When asked for their memories of a favorite show, Frank points to Les Miserables, in 2014, when he was part of the ensemble. “That show was just so dramatic and intense and special. I got so close to my fellow actors and the crew. As to my favorite character, I’d say it was playing Max in The Sound of Music. I also loved being PSM for Mary Poppins in 2015, and being the fly captain for that. I also was on the props crew and helped move sets. Another favorite show was Don’t Hug Me in 2011, doing props with Lori.”
Lori’s favorite role was in Exit Laughing in 2016, about a group of women friends honoring the memory of a friend who died. “That cast was so special, and we made each other laugh so much. There were times when we couldn’t even say our lines, the audience was laughing so loudly. It was great to think that we made everyone in the audience get so many good laughs. I also loved being in the ensemble for The Producers, another show with big laughs and a great cast and crew. Our daughter Ashley was in the cast, too. We had so many fast costume changes! My favorite crew experience was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, finding so many unusual props for that. I also enjoyed doing props and stage managing Blithe Spirit in 2018.”
Why do they continue to volunteer with the RTG?
“Theatre people are the best,” says Lori. “I love the idea of escaping reality, to pretend to be someone else on stage. And I love creating and finding and coordinating props, to get the right look on stage for a show. This place is like family, and I’ve made life-long friends.”
Frank echoes the same feelings. “It’s fun to find how I can develop a new character on stage. I’ve been in shows where I can’t get the lines out of my head and still quote them, like A Night at the Nutcracker in 2013, where I was Pepponi, the Italian guy in the knock-off of the Marx Brothers. Lori and I both enjoy the people we have met at the RTG. Why wouldn’t you want to keep volunteering with people like this? I’m very passionate about theatre and entertaining people.”
Both Frank and Lori agree that the memories they have created together at the RTG have been special. They are moments neither will ever forget.
The RTG is lucky to have such dedicated volunteers, who work well together on stage and off.