August 1, 2016

Laney Clark and Mike Winternheimer: Stage Left, Don’t Miss Your Mark

2.7 min read| Published On: August 1st, 2016|

By Leigh Neely

Laney Clark and Mike Winternheimer: Stage Left, Don’t Miss Your Mark

2.7 min read| Published On: August 1st, 2016|


photo: fred lopez

Back in 1951, ladies of the Leesburg Junior Women’s Club decided it would be nice to have a community theater. Since Leesburg was considered the watermelon capital of Florida, the theater was aptly named The Melon Patch Theater, with performances in the Lee Elementary School auditorium. In 1955, the familiar building on 13th Street was built. The first play performed by Melon Patch Players was “Father of the Bride,” and this year’s season closed with the classic “Brigadoon,” which received rave reviews.

Laney Clark and Mike Winternheimer are seasoned members of the group that keeps The Melon Patch thriving. They both work onstage and behind the scenes in various capacities.

Mike is vice president of production, which means he’s a jack-of-all-trades—from doing lights, sound, or sets to acting and directing. “I started as an actor, and then I helped build sets and learned about lighting, and now I’ve helped upgrade the sound equipment.”

When the company did “Dead Poets Society,” Mike was shown a picture of the chair they wanted for the headmaster, and he built it. That’s how the magic begins in a little theater.

Laney said she’s back on stage because she couldn’t sit still any longer. She co-directed the successful production of “The King and I” with Derek Wallman.

“I watched ‘The King and I,’ sitting in the audience, and I says, ‘I don’t want to be out here anymore. I want to be up there.’”

Her involvement with community theater began when she took her son to audition as a dancer. “That provoked my interest again.” She was born and raised in Ohio and attended the University of Miami and moved here in 2008.

“The first year I did Bay Street, and I felt it was really outside my box. I was so hesitant to try a new theater, and then I saw Jolene (Sheets), and I came back the next night and read for a part,” Laney says. “And I haven’t left since.”

John Turcotte was recently elected president of the theater, which pleased Laney and Mike. They both appreciate their talented friend, saying they would do any show he directs.

Laney and Mike both say working in the theater becomes a big part of your life. “And if you direct, add a month or so to that,” Laney adds.

“Until I retired in November, I’d stay here until one or two in the morning, and then go to my job,” Mike says. He has been a part of The Melon Patch for more than 20 years.

“If there are questions, we always go to him or John,” Laney says.

A goal of the board of The Melon Patch for this year is to bring in some younger people and more volunteers. As part of the effort to introduce youngsters to community theater, there are plans to offer classes for two hours on Saturday mornings. Subjects covered will include terminology, dancing, set building, as well as operating lighting and sound.

“We want to garner an interest from their parents too,” Laney says. “It takes hours and hours of work for the two-hour performances you see on stage.”

There also a deep interest bringing more of the wonderful diversity in the community into the theater family.

“There’s a misperception that only a select group of people do the shows here,” Laney says. “That’s because they’re the ones who always show up for auditions. We want more people to help us with every aspect of the theater, and there’s no need to fear you’ll be on stage if you don’t want to be. We need tech-savvy volunteers, people who make costumes, set builders—we need everyone.”

Mike adds, “We are a team, a family, and we may love and hate each other just like a family does, but that’s what makes it theater.”

Those interested in upcoming auditions or serving as volunteers may call 352.365.0053. Keep up with what’s happening with the theater’s Facebook page.


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About the Author: Leigh Neely

Leigh Neely began her writing career with a weekly newspaper in the Florida panhandle, where she not only did the writing, but delivered the papers to the post office and dispensers. She has been writing ever since for a variety of newspapers and magazines from New Jersey to Leesburg. With her writing partner, Jan Powell, Leigh has published two novels as Neely Powell.

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