“He is a devil in private brawls...Hob nob is his word, give’t, or take’t” (Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 4). This line is the inspiration for the Hobnob Theatre Company, founded by Calvin alumna Elizabeth Smith ’95 and her husband, Kenneth, in Butler, Pennsylvania. At Hobnob they value this “give and take” of theater: the way it asks questions without providing the answers; the way it holds a mirror up to remind us who we are, or who we may become.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Smith earned her bachelor’s degree in theater and English and now lives in Butler with Kenneth and their three boys, homeschooling them and running Hobnob.
“I remember going to see plays when I was younger, and I really enjoyed them. [Theater] became a hobby and a passion as well. Even 26 years ago when I was on stage at Calvin, their productions were so well done. I was amazed that theater could be so good. Calvin professors strived to tell me, ‘This is a story that you’re telling—don’t make it silly or cheesy. Put all of yourself into it.’”
She and Kenneth brought Hobnob to life in October 2012 as a nonprofit organization that seeks to engage and enrich the community with a dynamic array of theater, with particular interest in classical playwrights.
“It’s a small community, so we wanted to bring another offering for Butler to enjoy,” she said. “Our first production was A Christmas Carol because everyone knew what it was and Charles Dickens is a classical playwright, so we felt it was a good way to get our foot in the door. We had over 50 people audition for our first show, and that was two weeks after we announced our presence as a new company.”
In order to secure funding for productions, Smith asks Butler-based companies for their sponsorship in exchange for their business names being painted on the buildings of their sets. Hobnob doesn’t have its own theater, but uses various locations in Butler instead, like a local park, ballroom and art gallery. The owners love the publicity and Hobnob enjoys the changes in scenery.
They’ll be entering their fifth year of performing A Christmas Carol this December, which has become a Hobnob tradition. “We love to get a different Scrooge every year because the inter-pretation is so great. Our first Scrooge was 30 years old and the second was 65. Most of our other characters are the same,” she said.
In Smith’s experience, running a theater company is both exhausting and delightful. “One of the things that Calvin taught me is that, as bearers of the image of the ultimate creator, we need to, when we create, not just put something half-baked out there,” she said. “When it comes time to tell the story, and to have the audience react the way they do, it’s amazing.”