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Shooting brings change for theater

BRADENTON — A bizarre dress rehearsal shooting has changed the way the Manatee Players theater troupe will do business with outside organizations who want to rent the group’s Bradenton theater.

An actor with the Sarasota Seniors Theater, 81-year-old Fred Kellerman, was accidentally shot during a rehearsal of a play based on the John Steinbeck novel “Of Mice and Men.” The incident will mean stricter regulations for any organization that rents the group’s Riverfront Theater, Manatee Players officials said Thursday.

“We were just shocked that this could happen,” said Manatee Players president George Najmy.

On Sunday, Manatee Players rented the Riverfront to the Sarasota Seniors Theater, so the group could perform a variety show, which included the scene from “Of Mice and Men.”

At the end of the scene, Kellerman’s character is shot in the back of the head.

The play’s director and actor Bill Bordy, 75, said he used a real gun he didn’t know was loaded in a final dress rehearsal.

To everyone’s shock, a bullet tore into Kellerman’s skull, ricocheted off bone and took off a piece of his ear. Kellerman has since been released from the hospital and said he is doing fine.

In the wake of the shooting, frustrated members of Manatee Players immediately added teeth to the written agreement the troupe makes outside organizations sign to rent the Riverfront.

The new rental agreement specifically bans the use of real firearms, and mandates Manatee Players officials inspect prop guns as well, according to Rick Kerby, who oversees operation of the Riverfront.

City council members may also debate whether to spell it out in the form of an ordinance that real firearms are not to be used in theatrical productions in the city.

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said the shooting is still under investigation and he may ask city council members at an upcoming workshop if they want his department to draft an ordinance.

Manatee Players already had strict regulations in the Riverfront for its own troupe concerning the use of firearms in productions.

The use of real firearms was already prohibited, and regulations for prop guns that fire blanks are strictly regulated.

“Our prop guns are locked up separate from the blanks, and checked by our stage manager before each use,” said Kerby.

But Manatee Players didn’t know the Sarasota Seniors had brought a real gun for their performance.

At the time of the shooting, a lighting technician was the only Manatee Players member in the theater.

“We had no idea they were going to bring a gun in,” Kerby said.

Even if the gun used by Bordy had been a prop gun that fired blanks, Kerby noted, Kellerman still could have faced danger.

“Even with blanks there is matter that comes out of the gun,” Kerby said. “He could have still been hurt because the gun was so close to his head.”

Since the shooting, Sarasota Seniors Theater members have apologized to Manatee Players for the shooting, Najmy said.

“They just said they were sorry for any problems it has caused us,” he said.