The town thespian

His day job is Fredonia town clerk, but stage actor Bob Eichner’s other jobs can be anything from a gangster to Mr. Bumble

Waubeka resident Bob Eichner was recently appointed clerk for the Town of Fredonia, but most area residents might be more used to seeing him in costume as a member and president of Lakeshore Productions. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

 

“There isn’t any other way to get to know a lot of nice people faster than being in a play.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, “Who Am I This Time?”

Since June there’s been a new face at Fredonia Town Hall, but it’s a face that many people in the community might be familiar with if they’ve attended any of the Lakeshore Productions performances the past few years.

Bob Eichner was appointed Fredonia Town Clerk in May and assumed the role after former clerk Dave Gorton retired.

Eichner brought a wealth of municipal experience to the job, having been a staff engineer for the City of Wauwatosa, assistant city engineer for the City of Cedarburg and director of public works for the Town of Cedarburg.

But Eichner plays another role, or roles, as a performer with Lakeshore Productions and its president for the past nine years

Besides Lakeshore Productions, the Waubeka resident also has performed in community theater in Port Washington, Shorewood and at Memories Dinner Theatre in the Town of Port Washington.

Eichner’s only prior experience with theater was in high school as the stage manager for his senior class play. But he had never performed on stage.

That began to change in 2003 when his daughter Kaylin, now 25, auditioned for a role in “South Pacific” with the Port Summer Theatre in Port Washington.

“She had a dream of being an actress but she didn’t get the role and was very disappointed,” he said. “That same week we saw an ad for auditions in Random Lake.

“Basically, everything is geared for children and if you were brave enough to go on stage and sing and dance a little bit you were pretty much guaranteed a role,” he said.

Kaylin got three roles in that production, “Crazy for You.”

“I was so impressed, a couple of years later I was vice president and a couple of years after that I became president” of Lakeshore Productions, he said.

His first role was Cogsworth the clock in “Beauty and the Beast” in 2005.

The fear of going on stage is what kept him off stage until then, he admitted.

“But once you get past that, it’s a done deal,” he said.

His wife Keri has been the offstage support, he said.

“She will never be on stage, but she has been a big supporter,” he said.

Lakeshore Productions works closely with the Random Lake School District. Their productions are held at the high school and many of the children in the plays attend school there.

“So many of these people don’t just do our summer show. They also do the middle school and high school show. I think a lot of them will tell you the confidence they gained (through Lakeshore Productions) was a big bonus,” Eichner said.

Nikki Anderson, who teaches choir to middle and high school students, has seen Eichner’s passion first-hand as a cast member and as a member of the Lakeshore Productions board of directors.

“One of my favorite things about Bob is that he’s one of those people who love community theater.,” she said. “It’s not a profession but he finds time for it and is very passionate for it. I also appreciate him creating opportunities for kids. Blob does a really nice job of pursuing that mission.”

Lakeshore Productions also has contributed to improvements in the district theater facilities, including lighting and sound systems this summer, in all a $10,000 donation for theater upgrades.

“It’s been a great partnership,” he said.

Anderson agreed.

“Lakeshore Production has tried to put some capital back into the auditorium. It’s obviously very important to him to give back to the school,” she said.

The Lakeshore Productions board is currently assessing final numbers for “Guys and Dolls,” this past summer’s show in which Eichner played Big Jule, a hustler and gangster.

Other roles performed by Eichner have included Ali Hakim in “Oklahoma,” George Banks in “Mary Poppins,” Mr. Bumble in “Oliver,” Lt. Harbison in “South Pacific” and Capt. Doegnitz in “Anything Goes.”

Next up is the group’s annual Festival of Lights in December, which includes an outdoor living Nativity performance with about 20 performers.

Each summer production can involve 150 people or more, Eichner said.

“Guys and Dolls” was one of Lakeshore’s smaller productions, Eichner said, with 40 to 45 cast members. Sometimes, the cast can number 100 people.

“Each kid brings a parent who works on costumes, ticket sales, stage production,” he said.

What attracts him to the stage?

“It’s the instant feedback you get when you say something you know is funny and the audience laughs,” he said, noting that most of his roles have been comedic ones. “And pretending to be something else.”

Another benefit of performing he said, is the people, especially children.

“The final draw is watching the kids grow up on stage. We have a lot of kids who start when they’re in second grade and they stay on through college. And some have even tried to do it for a living. And sometime it’s whole families,” he said.

“And I think just being able to give people pleasure when they see you perform makes it worth it.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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