Guest Column: Area theater directors attend national festival in Michigan

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11218815497277.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘Theatre Festival host Kathy Weir of Kalamazoo Civic Theatre (center) welcomes Rockford community theatre directors joan e. kole (left) and Mark Kann (right) to National Festival of Association of American Community Theatres.’);

The stateline area is blessed with a number of good community theater groups, including the Beloit Civic Theatre, Main Street Players of Boone County, Pec Playhouse Theatre, RVC’s Starlight Theatre, Byron Civic Theatre and several other groups who contribute to our regional audiences. All of these groups do good work most of the time, some reaching toward artistic excellence more successfully than others, but each one having developed a faithful following of loyal fans and a reputation for offering good family entertainment. They offer wonderful opportunities for all of the enthusiastic amateur performers and back-stage workers to be involved in a creative artistic activity right in their own back yard; and they add to the entertainment offerings available to the whole region.

But it may surprise some readers to know just how extensive the whole community theater business has become in America. The national organization, AACT (Association of American Community Theatres), has hundreds of member groups, all organized into 10 regional associations incorporating all 50 states and a military group in Europe. Each year, the various state organizations hold “festivals,” at which interested theaters can present a production in competition, and out of which winners are chosen who may then proceed to the next regional competition, and the following year, the regional winners move to the National Festival.

A few weekends ago, this year’s National was held in Kalamazoo, Mich., at the prestigious Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, and hosted by the Civic’s executive director, Duwain Hunt, and the National Festival host chairman, Cathie Weir (see accompanying photo). Ten regional winners presented their productions. In addition, there were four days of workshops and seminars, covering almost any and every facet of theater production one might be interested in. The two top shows were absolutely outstanding. I have written often that “professional” is a term that need not apply just to the “commercial”, moneymaking theater of New York and Chicago; but rather should be determined by the quality of the individual production. I have seen lots of bad “commercial” theater, even on Broadway. But I have also seen what I would insist were “professional caliber community” shows, and “professional quality college” shows. Several of the presentations in Kalamazoo were definitely “professional!”

The top award winner was a brilliant production of Metamorphoses, produced by the Manatee Players of Bradenton, Fla. Based on the ancient mythology of Ovid, this story-theater piece used actors in multiple roles, creative choreography, colorful costuming and an actual pool of water on stage. Second place went to a musical offered by the River City Family Theatre of Elkhart, Ind., Nunsense A-Men. It featured the hilarious antics of an all-male cast playing the roles of the “little Sisters of Hoboken,” doing a fund-raiser variety song and dance show to raise enough money to bury four of their 52 sister nuns who had succumbed to botulism from soup made by the convent cook, “Sister Mary Julie, Child of God.” The convent had enough money to bury the other 48, but four had to be “kept in the walk-in freezer” until funds could be raised. Sounds macabre, but it is probably one of the funniest spoofs I’ve ever seen; with five magnificent singing voices, inspired show biz choreography, impeccable comic timing and ingenious ensemble acting. Both of these productions were, indeed, “community theater at its best!”

Several people from the stateline area attended and participated. Among them were Mark Kann, long associated with Pec Playhouse Theatre in Pecatonica and currently directing their production of the challenging musical, Man of LaMancha, and joan e. kole of Main Street Players of Boone County in Belvidere. These two were co-founders of a new regional organization, STAR (Stateline Theatre Alliance Roundtable), which is open to representatives from professional, academic, community and children’s theater. STAR seeks to explore and assist in any way possible in the growth, development and improvement of the member theater groups; in the areas of mutual support, sharing of ideas, resources, marketing, audience development, and a general encouragement toward the improvement of the quality of the theater product everywhere.

Theater, as an art and entertainment form, has proven itself to be one of the most enjoyable and satisfying avenues for personal growth and self-expression available in our American society; and our community theaters offer the opportunity to every person who has any spark of interest. It is a marvelous experience for children, teens, adults and even senior citizens. In my 50- plus years of working in the theater, on all levels and in all locales, I have yet to find any individual who decided to get involved in any way, who did not find it to be a learning, opening, expanding experience; in addition, theater is always FUN! Get involved! As a matter of fact, Pec Playhouse happens to still have need of actors in small and supporting roles, both male and female, for the musical Man of LaMancha. [Call 815-239-1210.]

Meanwhile, check the entertainment listings in the weekly Rock River Times, or the GO section every Friday in the Rockford Register Star, and other information in this and other papers here in the stateline. Whether you audition to be in the cast, or volunteer to work backstage, or just go to see the show, you may just end up being a part of “Community Theater at its Best!”

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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