10/11/2017 6:20:00 PM Community Theatre takes a bow
Pictured are the cast members who will present Four Weddings and an Elvis in two performances this Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, Oct. 14 and 15 at the Markay Cultural Arts Center in downtown Jackson. It will be the very first production of the new Community Theatre Group of the Apple City Players. Seated (from the left) are: Shawn Collins as John/Elvis, Kay Howe as Bev, Mary Bracey as Vanessa, and Play Director Dave Warner as Bryce. Standing (from the left) are: Justin Jackson as Lou, Todd Breyfogle as Stan, Douglas Sharp as Marvin, Cynthia Stiffler as Fiona, Jeremy Harley as Fist, and Stephanie Sollars as Sandy. (Telegram Photo By Pete Wilson)
Something very special and historic is about to happen in Jackson. This weekend, the newly formed Community Theatre Group of the Apple City Players will present a live stage play, Four Weddings and an Elvis, at the Markay Cultural Arts Center in downtown Jackson.
This is historic because it perhaps has never happened before in the history of Jackson County. Certainly, there have been countless high school plays and many other similar one-time productions produced by local churches, clubs and organizations. But a local adult community theatre presentation by an organized community theatre group? No one, including resident historian laureate Bob Ervin, has any record or knowledge of this ever previously happening in the county.
The curtain will go up on Four Weddings and an Elvis at 7 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 14 and also at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15. There are plenty of comfortable seats in the modern and spacious Markay auditorium and tickets can be obtained in advance or on the day of the show. Prices are $15 each in advance and will cost $17 on the day of the performance. Senior citizens (ages 65 and older) will be admitted for a discounted price of $12 each.
In addition to the historic angle, the production is also special because of the amazing efforts that have been put forth behind the scenes to make it happen. Any time a project has to start from scratch, the challenges and difficulties are greater. Props to the Apple City Players for what its members are doing to provide different types of performance possibilities and entertainment for local residents and to its Community Theatre Group for working to bring locally-produced plays to a local stage.
Boiling it down further, the two people most responsible for launching Four Weddings and an Elvis is the husband/wife duo of Dave Warner and Frances Gibser, who both have extensive experience in community theatre and more importantly have been willing to take the leadership reins to make it happen in Jackson and Jackson County. Be advised that same-sized and even smaller communities in our area have supported a community theatre organization for years. Warner is the director of the local play and Gibser is taking on many important organization and planning roles behind the curtain. There is no doubt this would not be happening -- or being done as well -- if not for them.
But Warner and Gibser would also be the first to credit the supportive contributions of many others who have turned the production of Four Weddings and an Elvis from a dream into a reality. Prime examples have been the willingness of 22 business sponsors to step up and provide the necessary seed money to cover expenses, the Southern Hills Arts Council to help make the Markay available as a venue for the performances, and the guidance, consultation and interest of Jackson County Broadcasting Co. General Manager Amanda Crabtree on preparing a professional playbill and even helping to recruit thespians.
But perhaps the most amazing development is the way the cast has come together. Not only is this the first-ever production of the local community theatre -- which means the actors have not worked together before -- but several of them have never even been on stage. Stop to think a minute about the commitment and courage it takes to volunteer your time (lots of it) and put yourself on the line before a live audience. Ten persons were willing to step up and do this.
The cast members are Stephanie Sollars as Sandy, Cynthia Stiffler as Fiona, Douglas Sharp as Marvin, Kay Howe as Bev, Todd Breyfogle as Stan, Jeremy Harley as Fist, Shawn Collins as John/Elvis, Mary Bracey as Vanessa, Justin Jackson as Lou, and Dave Warner as Bryce.
Several members of the cast have previous acting experience and jumped at the opportunity. Others with less experience just wanted to try something new and extend the boundaries of their experience. Some did it because they were asked and probably didn't want to say no. But to a person, each is enjoying his/her experience and all say they would consider doing it again.
I had the privilege of attending two of the rehearsals and can honestly say I am tremendously impressed with what has developed. The adult-comedy play is an extremely funny one and the actors have obviously progressed individually and developed the chemistry and cohesion that any team needs to be successful. If you attend - and you should - I can almost guarantee you will enjoy yourself and you will find yourself smiling and laughing at the plot, the characters and the lines.
I interviewed all of the cast members about their decisions to participate, their experiences to that point and what they have learned about theatre and themselves. Their answers are revealing.
Both Sollars and Howe work for the same local company and were basically recruited to be in play and had no previous acting experience.
Sollars said, "I was so far out of my comfort zone at first, and figured that this would be a one-and-done thing and I would not do it again. But now we're having a blast and meeting new people. I would urge others to just try it and step out of your comfort zone."
Howe offered, "I always enjoyed going to a play and I admired the people who participated, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be doing it myself; but I want to be open to new challenges."
On the other hand, Stiffler, Bracey, Breyfogle, and Sharp have previous community-theatre experiences in other places and were delighted when this opportunity presented itself in Jackson.
Stiffler, who has 30 years of theatre experience, likes the acting challenge of playing a role, transforming into another person and making a positive connection with the audience. "I like playing something different than who you are. When they leave, I want the audience to feel like they had a wonderful evening."
Bracey, who estimates she has been in 30 plays in other cities and towns, also enjoys the thrill that comes when the audience is positively responding to the performances. "The first time I was in a play and heard the audience laugh at something I said, I loved that connection you feel with the audience."
Breyfogle, who grew up in Jackson, was interested and involved in the plays in high school, but did not start acting until he joined the military and got involved in community theatre at some of his different service locations. "I used to never have the greatest self-esteem and I would have stage fright. But when I'm acting now, I'm not me. I get to be up there and to be someone else."
Sharp, now 41, hasn't been involved in plays for 17 years and is happy he has the opportunity to be a thespian once again. "I am excited to have something like this in Jackson. It was a little terrifying at first, but it's really been a fun time and entertaining, and acting is a good escape."
Harley has personally enjoyed the experience of playing a comedic role in what he described as an "over-the-top" fashion, but he also was willing to get involved because he feels strongly about supporting and cultivating the arts in the community and finding another way to use and showcase the Markay. "I think the community theatre concept is important and it's something our community has been missing," Harley commented, "and we have a theatre that we have put a lot of money into and this is one of the ways we can use it."
Collins and Jackson both like to perform, but are novice actors. Collins loves to sing while Jackson is drawn to improv-style comedy. Collins gets to sing in his role of Elvis and Jackson gets to make people laugh while playing his role of Lou.
Collins joked that he was "kidnapped" by a fellow Apple City Players member to be part of the play. "I don't speak very loud and I still struggle with that," Collins reflected, "but I like singing and being Elvis has been good for me."
"I love to make people laugh and this has turned out to be better for me than I thought," Jackson revealed. "It's definitely made me break out of my shell and become more outgoing."
Warner, who will be on stage as well as in the director's chair for the Jackson area's first attempt at community theatre, is confident that the thespians have displayed the talent and put in the practice time to put on a top-notch play and marvels at how far they have come. But he also knows an important part of the equation in community theatre is that the community has to want it and support it.
And that's the one thing he and the cast cannot control. That's up to the rest of us. See you there!