When Traci Booth first met her soon-to-be husband in 1973, she did what she knew best to get his attention: She improvised.
She was training at a cosmetology program in Colorado where her friends happened to be dating some military guys Rich Booth was friends with.
As Rich and the grunts strolled through the salon, Traci cobbled together some fake eyelashes the students had been working with, and quickly assembled them to form a mustache on her upper lip.
Needless to say, she stood out immediately. The couple has been married for 44 years, eventually landing in Chesterfield and now residing in Swanzey, and co-founded Small Pond Productions theater company in Marlborough.
Launched in 2005, the company is driven by its board members, who also build sets, act in the plays and handle a host of other logistics to keep the shows coming.
All other actors in the company are local, from Rindge to Francestown, with some coming from over the state borders with Massachusetts and Vermont.
Small Pond puts on around three shows a year, usually at the Community House of Marlborough, which seats around 120.
Traci’s involvement in theater goes back to her childhood home in Boulder, Colo., where she would cast her siblings in roles and put on living-room shows.
As for Rich, Traci had a hunch he’d be a natural on stage, but it took some convincing to get him up there.
After the couple moved to Chesterfield in 1989 for Rich’s work at Vermont Yankee — the now-shuttered nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt. — Traci began performing in Keene Lions Club shows.
There, she met PJ Cooke, who studied theater at Keene State College and grew close with Traci in the chorus for “Guys and Dolls.” Cooke said the two conspired to get Rich onstage.
“It took him a few shows for him to give it a try, because we were like, ‘You know you want to do it!’ ” Cooke recalled.
By that time, Traci had found a knack for convincing people to take the leap.
“She’s always been on the money, she’s always positive and upbeat and on top of what needs to be done to make the show good and to make everyone feel successful,” Cooke said.
This summer, along with other board members from Small Pond, the Booths will help to sponsor two kids to attend the Children's Stage Adventures summer camp, whose families otherwise would not be able to afford it.
One of Traci’s favorite memories from years of performances was when a fellow cast member was delivering a serious monologue during a show — a major accomplishment for him, stepping into a lead role — and had the audience in silence until he sat down.
Because of the microphones cast members wear, a little box clip tucked behind the actor’s back caught onto a Chinese food container — one of many strewn about the set to reinforce the monologue’s theme of a bachelor in disarray — and as he continued delivering the monologue, the crowd burst into laughter as the container bobbed up and down by the seat of his pants.
Traci sprung into action, making up a line to start an argument with the other character that would allow her to slap the Chinese food container off him.
As mortified as the actor may have been in the moment, Traci and Rich say it is easily one of their top memories from their time in theater, and one that always gets a laugh out of whomever they’re telling the story to.
Small Pond is often the debut stage for rookie actors, young and old. The company has produced more than 200 alumni who have continued working on stage or behind the scenes, and many come back to help out with upcoming shows.
But while the Booths make sure to start newbies in smaller, manageable roles, that doesn’t prevent the panic even the most seasoned actors can feel in the days leading up to a show.
“It’s interesting, on our small end of this, because we know what it’s like — when we go to professional theater, we see the mistakes,” Traci said while sitting across from Rich at the Keene Panera Thursday.
That does not stop their newer Small Pond colleagues from having a veritable freak-out two or three days out from a show — which the Booths have become professionals at handling.
“Oh, it’s fun to watch, because we’ve been through it,” Traci said. “And we know it’ll turn out OK.”
— “It’ll turn out OK,” Rich chimes in with a slight, seasoned chuckle.
“But we’ve had people on show day say, ‘Give them back their money!’ ” Traci said. “ ‘I’m never doing this again! Why did I do this?’ ”
— “Or, ‘I think I’m going to throw up!’ ” Rich said.
But by the end, Traci said, the actors and production crew tell them they can’t wait to do it all over again.
Given the often underrated endurance factor of live performance, what keeps the Booths coming back to the stage is a mix of escapism and uncertainty that they can share with people of all ages in the Monadnock Region.
Traci describes rehearsal as a time to forget one’s other obligations and try on another persona for size.
Rich — who is often either finishing Traci’s sentences or having his finished by her — said he has found the gift of self-expression in the medium, in contrast with his otherwise more reserved and analytical nature.
Rich worked for most of his career as a technician for nuclear power facilities, handling the logistics of maintaining machines and other equipment on site.
Before they moved to Chesterfield, the Booths lived in Kansas, where their idyllic home was leveled by a tornado after they’d moved out.
Rich is now retired, while Traci works as an administrative assistant at Dental Health Works in Keene.
Both of their kids, Richard Booth 3rd and Angela Fisher, went to Keene High School, and Traci and Rich are proud grandparents.
Fisher’s daughters, Maya and Gracie, have their grandmother’s passion for performance and have already begun their own nascent careers in show business: Maya, 12, wants to become an actress, and Gracie, 8, a Rockette.
With their marriage nearing a half-century, Traci and Rich, predictably, get asked how they make it all work.
Rich believes it all comes down to autonomy, letting each other have independence and space to venture out on their own.
For Traci, it all comes back to that spirit of improvisation that keeps the marriage fun. They feed off each other, and when they’re not finishing each other’s sentences, they’re sharing a laugh or finding themselves interrupted by yet another person they know from Small Pond.
“Everybody will always ask us, ‘What is the secret?’ ” Traci said. “And I will tell you, to this day, when we get in a car, and drive to Manchester, we talk to each other the whole way. And you would think, after 44 years, we would run out of things to say.”
This article has been amended to correct the summer camp that the Booths, along with other Small Pond board members, will help two children to attend.