Movies/TV

Woodstock Opera House, community theater spotlighted in new 'Upstaged' web series

The main character in a new web series is more than 125 years old and still active.

The first and only theater that came to mind when Jeff Cook envisioned “Upstaged – The Series,” a new web series comedy about the inner-workings of community theater, was the Woodstock Opera House.

Built in 1889, its historic auditorium and stage, even its winding hallways and back-stage nooks, are as much a character in “Upstaged – The Series” as the show’s 14 actors and actresses.

As Cook, the creator, writer and director of the series, describes, “Upstaged” tells the story of the people behind the scenes who make theater happen. It’ll include some drama, some humor, even some mystery – “maybe a ghost or two, but mostly there’ll be a lot of laughter,” he said.

It’s about family, not just the family you’re born into, but also the family you choose, he said.

“We couldn’t ask for a better location. Since ‘Groundhog Day,’ there has not been this kind of access given to the Opera House,” said Cook, referring to the 1993 Harold Ramis movie filmed throughout the Woodstock Square. The Opera House served as the grand “Pennsylvanian Hotel” in that film, and film crews used the building as a sort of headquarters.

Fueled by passion and a love of community theater and, of course, the Opera House, “Upstaged” is the latest project for Cook, who created Film Stripped Productions last year to bring classic movies to stage through live readings.

He plans to release the first three episodes of the series – each about 15 minutes long – on an “Upstaged – The Series” YouTube channel in March.

The show also has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/upstagedtheseries and a website at www.upstagedtheseries.com. The hope is to stream the first few episodes together for a premiere at the Woodstock Theatre.

The entire 13 episodes of the first season should be filmed by early summer, and then, hopefully, filming of Season 2 would begin, Cook said.

“Otherwise, it will live as a testament to the Opera House and a bunch of people’s crazy dreams,” he said.

All of the roughly 25 people involved, including the cast, crew and volunteers – many of whom have grown up in community theater, some even running around back stage at the Opera House as parents performed on stage – basically are part of the project out of a shared passion for community theater and Cook’s vision.

All came together – many taking breaks and vacation days from day jobs – to film “Upstaged” this week, in between random bursts of song and laughs.

If the series makes money, they’ll get paid.

“The odds of Netflix picking up a web series are really low,” Cook said. “In the event it does happen, they’ll be taken care of.”

To continue supporting the campaign, the GoFundMe page – www.gofundme.com/upstagedtheseries – was created and had raised nearly $1,200 as of this week.

“The passion around the project has been very humbling,” Cook said. “This is really a celebration of the Opera House and the local community. I know it would be a big stretch to call this the next ‘Groundhog Day,’ but it could have a similar impact.”

In the series, a new owner takes over the theater, putting everyone on the defense. A homeless family soon is discovered living in the theater.

The story grew out of Cook’s community theater experience, working both on and off stage of numerous productions throughout McHenry County and the many “stories to be told.” Cook’s also the director of “Legally Blonde – the Musical,” opening March 3 at the Opera House.

He was working on the crew for “Mary Poppins” last spring at the Opera House when the idea came to him. He finished writing last summer and sent the script to Joel Bennett, who serves as both director of photography for the series and plays one of the lead characters.

“We have to do this. This could be something special,” Bennett told him.

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