Jodie and Ed Dupuis, founders of May River Theatre Co., recognized for their years of dedication to the arts

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Jodie and Ed Dupuis, founders of May River Theatre Co., recognized for their years of dedication to the arts

Published Sunday, December 2, 2012   |  724 Words  |  

The scene wasn't working. The actors knew it, and so did Jodie Dupuis.

As she often is, Dupuis was the lone figure amongst rows and rows of empty seats in Ulmer Auditorium in Bluffton that night as her actors prepared for the opening of another production at the May River Theatre Co.

She watched the rehearsal and twisted her hair.

"You could just see her brain churning a million miles an hour," said Daniel Cort, a local actor who got his start at the theater. "When you saw her start to twirl her hair, you knew you were about to get some direction."

But for much of the past year, her actors have had to take their cues from someone else as Dupuis fought a battle with cancer that the 76-year-old former professional dancer now seems unlikely to win. Jodie and her husband, Ed, were the heart and soul of the theater that they formed 12 years ago, but now it faces a future without its founders.

"She had cancer a few years ago, and it's now back with a vengeance," said her husband, Ed, with whom she started the theater company in 2000. "It seems we have limited time left."

A brightly colored scarf wrapped around her heed, Jodie appeared alongside her husband before Beaufort County Council two weeks ago to receive a proclamation from the local legislative body, honoring the theater and the couple's contribution to arts and the community.

To Ed Dupuis, the framed document is less a formality and more of a public acknowledgment of the work to which his wife of 56 years dedicated the last decade of her life.

"There was never any doubt in my mind that she could do this," he said. "She was a great dancer and a great choreographer, and I was a fairly decent businessman, and we wanted to contribute to the community. I feel confident in saying we now have the finest community theater within 100 miles."

Few doubted Jodie, a woman known for having a personality that far outsized her diminutive stature.

"She has more creativity in her pinky finger than most people have in their whole bodies," said Jennifer Green, who took dancing lessons from Dupuis as a child and later acted in musicals at the theater. "She was great to work with, but she always made it very clear that there was one director and that was her. She was open to other ideas but she was clearly in charge."

More than 50,000 people have been through the doors at Ulmer Auditorium since 2000 to see the theater's production of shows such as "The Producers," "The Pajama Game" and, most recently, "The Fantastiks."

Kelley Ard directed the show after going through what could only be described as community theater boot camp.

"I did everything from building sets to designing costumes," Ard said. "I learned so much from Ed and Jodie. I don't know that I could have gotten this experience anywhere but May River Theatre. Community theater often makes you feel like you're part of a team, but it's really more of a family."

The theater's family atmosphere took on literal meaning in 2005 when Debbie and Daniel Cort met during a production of "The Pajama Game" and soon married.

"Jodie and Ed have such a special place in our hearts," Debbie Cort said.

"We really owe our marriage and our family to the May River Theatre and to Ed and Jodie," Daniel Cort added.

The theater likely will soon have to survive without direct involvement from either Dupuis.

Ed said he plans to cede control of the theater to its board of directors sometime next year and take "a more secondary position."

Asked about the role of his wife in the theater's success, Ed paused for a moment and choked back tears.

"She was a great partner," he said, before catching himself. "She is a great partner."


For more on the May River Theatre and its upcoming production of 'Annie'