When the curtain rose on the Marathon Community Theatre’s busy 2015 season of productions, local thespian John Schaefer marked a decade since the first time he walked onto a stage.
John has always been quick with a laugh and a joke — but once he caught the acting bug, theater fans began eagerly anticipating the jovial postal worker’s upcoming roles.
With his signature white hair, boisterous laugh and toothy smile, John dedicates himself to his characters. He morphs his physical appearance to assume roles and memorizes lines during walks with his wife Kathryn and their labradoodle rescue dog, Shadow — and while delivering mail on his daily route.
“I thought I’d drive down to the Keys on vacation and see what it’s like,” John explained. “I came to Fort Lauderdale, drove to Founders Park in Islamorada, went to the beach and said, ‘Yeah, I can live here.’”
Now the engaging 52-year-old is nearing 25 years with the U.S. Postal Service. He also has a bachelor’s degree in physics and thinks he might teach physical sciences again one day, perhaps at a community college.
His fellow postal workers in Marathon were instrumental in getting him to join the not-for-profit Marathon Community Theatre. With more than 200 members, the organization is dedicated to enhancing the cultural life of the Middle Keys.
For John, it’s the love, the laughter, the challenge and the oneness of the Middle Keys troupe that keep him coming back each season for more adventure, drama, skits and music at the tiny theater. He regards it as a good place for people to soak up art and culture when they’re not fishing, enjoying water sports and sampling Marathon’s other attractions.
“It’s more intimate than going to the movies,” advised John. “You’re literally feet from the actors and you’re seeing them become other people.”
In his first-ever production, he played a MacArthur-style general in “Kiss Me Kate.” He was so nervous that the corncob pipe in his mouth shook, and he had to remove it.
“In my first lead role, I didn’t want to screw it up for everybody else in the show,” John recalled. “I’m out there on stage so much, I was thinking I could really make this show suck — and all the work that these guys are putting in could be for nothing, you know? I was so nervous about that.”
Yet the shows continued, and lead comedic roles have become John’s strong suit. Among his recent endeavors was “A Tuna Christmas,” a 22-character, two-man play in which each actor assumes 11 different character roles in a hilarious dose of Americana.
John also sits on the theater’s board of directors to help ensure the community organization remains a unique, valuable part of the region and the overall Keys experience.
“As actors, we love it when people laugh,” he said. “It’s why you do it; it’s your only payment — when you can get your audience to erupt in laughter, it’s a high.”
Keys life also is a “high” for John Schaefer. An avid tennis (and most recently pickleball) player, he admits he’s prone to seasickness so doesn’t venture out deep-sea fishing if it’s too rough. However, like most Marathon residents, he said enjoying the good life in the Keys is all about the water.
In fact, John continues trying to convince his twin brother Jim, a frequent visitor from Ohio, to relocate to Marathon. He particularly appreciates the small, tight-knit community and the response his postal customers have to his performances.
“When I’m delivering mail for people and they’re asking me when my next show is, that makes me feel good on behalf of the theater — that I can represent them well enough that somebody wants to come see a show just because I’m in it,” he said, adding with a laugh, “But it’s also a lot more pressure.”