If you think every series ends up running stale before the writers put down their pens, you’ll find a refreshing exception in Wabash next weekend.
The Church Basement Ladies, based on the book Growing Up Lutheran by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson, follows the lives of four Lutheran women in the rural Midwest as they care for their beloved church and its members.
While each of the six installments covers different aspects of the women’s daily life, the lovable characters, entertaining antics, and fun music are a staple in every performance. Currently, Troupe America is on national tour for the sixth part of the Church Basement Ladies series, Rise Up, O Men.
Relatable to almost any basement
“It is something relatable. You don’t have to belong to any certain denomination,” said actress Carrie SaLoutos in an interview with Whatzup. “You know these characters. In a Catholic church, a Methodist church, whatever church basement, there are these types and these characters, even in an office or family situation. It doesn’t have to be just cooking at holidays, for example, but someone always takes on these certain characteristics.”
SaLoutos plays Karin Engelson, resident basement lady and mother of church-basement-lady-in-training, Beverly.
As someone who has been acting her entire life, SaLoutos is no stranger to the stage. Having appeared in other productions such as Steel Magnolias, Nunsense, and Honky Tonk Angels, SaLoutos acknowledges a special love of and commitment to Church Basement Ladies – something clearly demonstrated by the eight years she has committed to touring with the show.
Respect for her background
When asked what originally drew her to the script and the characters, SaLoutos expressed an appreciation and respect for the women and the plot of the production.
“I can relate to the show because I did grow up in the Midwest in a Lutheran church, so there were church basement ladies,” she said. “I know how Lutherans are. I went to Sunday school. I did all of those things.
“In the show, Karin Engelson is my character. She was just a fit for me. It is interesting, though, because Karin is known as the best cook in the kitchen, whereas me, Carrie SaLoutos, I’m not much of a cook at all. Family holidays, potlucks, I go out and buy something, so in that sense, Karin and I are complete opposites. She is also a mother in most of the shows, and I do not have any children. I really relate to the wonderful actresses who have played my daughter, Beverly. I love watching Karin’s relationship with the other basement ladies.”
SaLoutos may share some differences with her character, but bringing the script to life was no problem for her. She admitted that while she prepared for the role by doing her homework and reading Growing Up Lutheran, there were no challenges with getting into character.
“It is brilliantly written into a script for the stage,” she said. “I simply enjoyed the show.”
Men win some of the spotlight
This season will mark SaLoutos’ seventh national tour with Church Basement Ladies, where she has starred as Karin in every production. The upcoming performance at the Honeywell Center in Wabash, Rise Up, O Men, provides a new dynamic as the men of the church play a larger role than in past productions.
Previously, Pastor was the primary male figure in the cast who, SaLoutos said, is a very special member.
“He cares so deeply about these ladies in his own special way,” she said. “I keep referencing the ladies in my answers, but Pastor shows up in every production, too. In the shows, we see him go through many transitions as well. But in this particular performance, we have three additional men besides Pastor in the cast that interact with the women.”
The series shows no signs of slowing down. Last December, a seventh installment was added to the already existing six parts. Church Basement Ladies: You Smell Barn premiered this month in Minneapolis and was viewed by SaLoutos and the cast after their own rehearsal.
“Each show can be viewed and appreciated on its own, though. Each is a piece of entertainment in itself,” she remarked.
By the time Church Basement Ladies comes to Wabash on March 5, the cast will have been on tour for a month. When asked if there will be more to come for the popular series, her answer was sincere.
“I would say we are always open for possibilities,” SaLoutos said, “and if there is another opportunity, I would be first in line to do it.”
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October 19 • The Clyde Theatre