Church Basement Lady Mavis Gilmerson Savitt discovers joy in acting

March 19, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — Growing up in Illinois, Nikki Savitt discovered her passion for performing when she was a high school freshman. From that performance, her acting career has since blossomed into her performances as Mrs. Banks in “Barefoot in the Park,” Mother Superior and Nunsense and Berthe in “Sound of Music.” For the past 12 years, Savitt has played the character Mavis Gilmerson in the “Church Basement Ladies.”

Savitt’s first role was has a towns person at the age of 14 in her local theater production, but as she became more involved with theater, she turned it into a career.

At the age of 18, she received her first professional acting job where she was paid $3.50 per hour. Working for the Show Wagon Summer Theater, she spent her summer performing at four different park districts.

“The big role I got to play was the empress in the “New Clothes for the Empress,’” she said.

To further her career in theater, she earned a bachelor of fine arts in musical theater from Illinois Weslyan University in 1990 and three years later, her masters degree from the University of North Carolina.

Throughout her 38-year acting career, Savitt has performed in several popular shows like Oklahoma! as Aunt Eller, White Christmas as Martha Watson and Footloose as Betty Blast and Lulu Warnicker.

“All the roles I got leading up to my ‘Church Basement Ladies’ run were character roles and sidekicks that helped me a lot to sharpen character and comedic skills,” said Savitt. “I get to use a lot of that now with Mavis.”

In 2007, she performed at her first “Church Basement Ladies” production as Mavis. She has been with the group for the past 12 years, but knew of the group a few years prior.

“I’ve been in the business for a while,” she said. “I’ve known the director (Curt Wollan) a long time and when I would go (to casting auditions), he first talked to me about this first chapter around the mid-2000s. They were work shopping it and then in 2007, it made its Midwest premiere in Illinois, which was my first time performing with the group.”

She has been on eight different “Church Basement Ladies” tours since 2007, which requires traveling across the United States.

“It’s definitely been busy. We are pretty much in a new city every day,” she said. “You have to keep your health in check, so I’m constantly taking vitamin C.”

Prior to opening night, the actors have two weeks to rehearse. Savitt shared how learning the lines prior to rehearsal reduces her stress as she learns the choreography and motions with objects for each scene. With the “Church Basement Ladies” in “Rise Up, O Men” tour underway, she said her focus before each show is getting mentally and physically ready to step on stage.

“I do a lot of stretching,” she said. “I like to listen to happy music.”

Every February, the cast receives an itinerary with the locations for their performances and Savitt was happy to see Scottsbluff on the list again.

“This is one of our favorite places to perform,” Savitt said. “Billy (Estes) has always been fantastic. We are always treated very well and we get fantastic audiences.”

Their performances Tuesday will be the “Church Basement Ladies” sixth performance at the Midwest Theater.

While performing “Rise Up, O Men,” Savitt hopes the audience can relate to the characters’ stories and enjoy a fun evening.

“You don’t have to be a Lutheran or a church basement lady to enjoy the show,” she said. “I think you’ll like the characters because each has his own story. It will take your mind off your problems for a couple hours as there are a lot of laughs.”

Estes said he is excited to see the group return to the Midwest Theater to perform.

“It’s kind of like they’re familiar faces to the theater family. They are familiar faces for our community,” he said.

He added that the church basement ladies are apart of every church and the show is entertaining.

“The show is family friendly and is filled with gut-wrenching humor.”

Tickets are still available for Tuesday’s 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. showings. Tickets are $24 for members and $28 for non-members and can be purchased at the Midwest Theater at 1707 Broadway, Scottsbluff, by calling 308-632-4311, at the door or online at MidwestTheater.com.