While family cooks occasionally hear complaints of "Chicken again?" the community near Salem United Methodist Church in Upper Falls says, "Bring'em on!"

Ten years ago the church near Joppa, was planning its annual dinner theater and knew they had a tough act to follow. Not only was the local audience patient with the group's past mishaps on stage — but also they demanded it with the price of admission.


"People know this isn't Broadway," says the group's long-time director, Judy Jones. "On the other hand, they get a good meal for $20 and laugh more at what goes wrong on stage than at the actors' lines!"

The Salem Spotlighters made their debut when Hurricane Floyd hit the Delmarva area shortly before their first performance in 1999. Rain poured and trees fell across the road facing the hall where they had planned to hold the production, causing a loss of electricity. But the show went on.

"Someone got us a generator to run the lights, and we gathered up fat candles for people to eat by," tells Bettie Heacock, long-time church member and producer of the first play.

In 2002, the group tried for "atmosphere" during a county fair scene by bringing live chickens on the stage. Unfortunately, chickens rarely follow scripts.

"One night a chicken started cackling loudly during the performance — and the noise got louder and louder. Having grown up on a farm, I knew she was laying an egg," Jones said. "So we had to stop the play until she finished, and then we resumed the play."

Not daunted by the chicken incident, the Salem Spotlighters performed the sequel, Faith County II, a few years later — minus chickens. But Mother Nature still made an appearance on stage.

Frantic whispers of, "It's a bat!," started making the rounds as a dark shape darted around the stage. Soon afterward, the audience was laughing, but not at the dialogue. A bat had entered the stage area and was repeatedly swooping over the heads of the actors — who were trying to perform a parody of a love scene from "Romeo and Juliet."

"Oh, Juliet! I love you — but I hate bats!" actor Warren Quinn improvised.

Figuring that Mother Nature obviously sells tickets, the group planned a 10th anniversary production of the play, "Faith County," complete with county fair livestock. The play runs Sept. 21-29.

"The director won't tell us what animals she'll have on stage," Norton, one of the performers and the author of this article. "She won't let us rehearse with them either. I guess it will be a surprise all around for the actors and audience!"

As plans for the play were underway, the cast tried to welcome their new pastor, Rev. Jay DeMent, in the spirit of the Salem Spotlighters: by inviting him to wear a chicken costume to promote ticket sales.

"Uh, sure," Pastor DeMent replied.

"You're kidding, right?" his wide-eyed wife, Chris, asked.

That was the end of the chicken costume idea.


Dinner Theater at Salem UM Church. Play: "Faith County." "It's like 'The Beverly Hillbillies' meets 'You Know You're a Redneck When...'" Sept. 21-22; 27-29, 6:30 p.m. Adults: $20; Under 12: $10. 7901 Bradshaw Road, Upper Falls. Menu: Stuffed pork loin, Jambalaya (with rice), Country Green Beans, Praline Sweet Potatoes, corn bread, dessert, beverages. Tickets: call 410-931-1672 or e-mail cartermc5@verizon.net.http://www.salemunited.org