‘As time goes by’

Peterborough Players: 25th Annual Auction and Gala set for Saturday

A two-week stay in a romantic renovated 1,000-year-old home on the Italian Riviera. A week in a two-bedroom row house in the charming Georgian market town of Louth, England. Dinner and tickets to a Boston Symphony concert. Four Red Sox tickets in the Homeplate Pavilion Club and a tour of Fenway Park.

Those are a few of the more than 100 items to be auctioned Saturday at the Peterborough Players’ annual gala and auction. And while they’re bidding on a variety of trips, works of art, food and wine, jewelry and gift certificates, partygoers will also no doubt be humming the gala’s theme song, “As Time Goes By,” in recognition of both the Players’ 80th anniversary and the 25th year of the gala.

For this year’s Players’ season, Artistic Director Gus Kaikkonen brought back plays that have been audience favorites in recent years, including “Laughing Stock,” a comedy set at a summer theater that was inspired by the Players, as well as “Talley’s Folly,” “2 Pianos, 4 Hands,” and “Goodnight, Gracie,” the one-man show about George Burns. Gala organizers are encouraging people to use those plays — or any other favorites from the past 25 years — as inspiration to dress in costume.

“We always encourage people to dress festively and we’ve had some wonderful costumes over the years,” says Cathie Sage of Peterborough, co-chair of this year’s gala. “We’ll have a prize for the best costume.”

The auction is now the Players’ chief fundraising project, Sage says, responsible for about 10 percent of the organization’s budget. But 25 years ago, no one knew quite what to expect.

“Way back when, that first year, we had a small volunteer group,” says Audrey White of Peterborough, who helped organize the first gala. “We had just started the In the Wings group to support the Players, and we only had five or six people. The first auction was a champagne, black-tie event. It was before the renovation and everything took place in the theater itself. Everything was smaller. Admission was something like $7.50. Now it’s $75.

Cathie Runyon of Peterborough, who also worked on organizing the early auctions, says they were clearly homegrown efforts.

“There weren’t nearly as many items as we have now,” she says. “People weren’t savvy about auctions. We weren’t sure what would go.”

Runyon said her husband, Phil, served as master of ceremonies in the early years, before he became a circuit court judge.

“He would commentate about each of the items,” she says. “I used to sit on a chair and write down what people had bid. It was so antiquated. Now it’s turned out to be the biggest party of the year.”

White says the first auction sold out, taking in about $7,000. In recent years, the event has brought in around $65,000 most years.

“It’s become bigger and better every year,” White says. “Some of the actors and interns often come back and perform skits, and many people come in costume. I remember one year one of the local landscapers donated a prize. They were going to trim trees, and so they set up their equipment and went flying over the audience. Another year, an antique car was pulled on stage. It was donated by Joe Keating’s wife after he died.”

White says members of the community have been very generous, both in the creative donations they make and in their enthusiastic bidding. That’s a sentiment echoed by Sage, who did some research during her planning for the 25th year.

“In looking back through our own archives and those at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, we found a handful of donors who have been giving just about every year for upwards of 20 years,” Sage says. “We are grateful to all our donors, many of whom have donated repeatedly over the last 25 years. We just thought special recognition is due to those who have been donating for so very long.”

The longtime donors are Ellen Smith of European Esthetics, 21 years; Dan Trembley of Broad Oak Tree and Shrub Care, 23 years; Margit Esser Porter of Margit Esser Fine Jewelry, 20 years; Francoise Bourdon of Joseph’s Coat, 21 years; and Peter Robinson of Roy’s Market, 21 years.

The gala and auction will be held Saturday, starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Peterborough Players on Hadley Road. Tickets are $75. The gala will feature a full open bar, hors d’oeuvres by Sage with Thyme Catering and desserts from Sunflowers Restaurant and Catering.

For more information, including a full list of auction items, visit www.peterboroughplayers.com

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