Tri-State Theater

Let's discuss upcoming shows, secrets behind the scenes, things you never knew about the theater and why live theater is so darn entertaining.

Friday, January 12, 2018

On Stage This Weekend

   The only show on stage anywhere in the Twi-State area (as far as I can determine) can be found in Parkersburg, as the Actors Guild presents the beloved musical Peter and the Starcatcher.

    The show will be presented Friday and Saturday, Jan. 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m., and on Sunday, Jan. 14 and 21 at 2:30 p.m. at 724 Market Street in Parkersburg.

   Tickets are $17 for adults and $15 for students and senior citizens.  

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Local Theatre History Part XII - Three More to Remember

   My pal Jonathan Joy had some thoughts to add to our history of local theatre, and he was nice enough to send this terrific essay along for us to enjoy - it wraps up our Theatre History series (for now).

   Thanks, Jon!

   The history of Huntington's community theatre was captured so well by Chuck Minsker in his theatre blog. I enjoyed reading of the history of a variety of groups, as much of it brought back memories. 

   This is particularly the case with groups that I have been involved with:  First Stage, First Church Dinner Theatre, Marshall, MAG, Free Spirit, and Community Players. But there are plenty of great memories associated with groups that I have never worked with as well. I thought back to the seven or eight HOT shows I enjoyed, numerous plays at City Hall, and more. Chuck's history is much more important, however, as it serves as a history of our great city.  

   I can think of three additional companies to add to Chuck's list, and I'm sure there are even more. My theatre history in this town only stretches back about 27 years. These three companies were all short-lived, but ambitious and successful artistically, if not financially.  They also meant a lot to me.  

   1) Beyond Community Players (1992) Probably not a great name for a group, but I get where he was going. The he, in this case, was Fred Fout. Fred directed the first play I ever acted in, "A Christmas Carol" with Community Players, in the Fall of 1991. He was an excellent director and I learned a lot from him. I take it his experience with Community Players was fine, but that he longed for something a bit more unconventional... fringe theatre, if you will. I was a junior in high school and delighted to be cast in Hagar's Children by Ernest Joselovitz. The play was performed at the short-lived Artserve art gallery located across from the Keith-Albee in a building that has been empty since. The show was excellent, at least in my 17-year-old mind (maybe it really was) and I enjoyed getting to do something a bit out of the mainstream. The audiences were small, but enthusiastic.  The show was probably not profitable. Fred often talked of following it up with Edward Albee's Zoo Story, which really excited me. Unfortunately, that never happened.  

   2) Theatre Mystique (1996-97) I still think it is a great loss that this company never took off. Theatre Mystique was around for only two seasons, and staged three shows at the Huntington Museum of Art. The group was founded by Lisa Ritter and Mike Fesenmiere. The first production was a very successful staging of Waiting for Godot in the Fall of 1996. I played Lucky, under Mike and Lisa's direction. We played three performances over one weekend and close to a hundred folks showed up for each show. A few months later, Theatre Mystique followed up that with a double bill of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and Ionesco's The Bald Soprano. To this day, playing the Fireman in the latter is one of my favorite roles. The shows were performed in the Spring of '97. They were both very good and the audiences were fine, though not as large as "Godot." The ambitious plan for the following season was to stage Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. The show was cast and rehearsals began, but it did not work out for a variety of reasons.  

   3) No Name Players (2000-...) This was a really fun one. To my knowledge the group still exists, though Pittsburgh is its home now. Still, the roots are in Huntington. In the Fall of 2000 I was contacted by a friend and then Marshall student Don Digulio about performing the role of Gaston in Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile with a new theatre company he had just formed. I jumped on board, along with many Marshall Theatre students. Dave Hall, Randi Lasky, Jason Eldridge and Chris Chambers were just a few featured. The play was performed the first full weekend of January 2001. For all the shows I have done at the Museum (at least a dozen) none had bigger and more engaged audiences than this one. It was a terrific experience for all involved. A big hit artistically and financially, Don quickly planned a huge summer season (2001) that featured three shows on the Museum stage in just under two months. One of those was Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor which I saw and enjoyed. I did not see and do not recall what the other two were. I don't think No Name Players staged any other shows in Huntington. After graduation, Don moved back to his hometown of Pittsburgh, and moved the theatre company there too. I have heard that the group is still active and that it has even won major awards in the city.  

   I am sure there are more out there. Many more will come and go. That is the nature of theatre. Hats off to anyone that endeavors to reach out to people in only the way that theatre can. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Local Theatre History Part XI - Here and Gone

   Take my word for it - it’s not easy to stage a show. It takes a lot of people, time, effort, dedication and yes, money to put one together. For that reason it’s not surprising that quite a few community theatre groups have faded away over the years. 

   I wanted to include in this series about “the history of local theatre as I remember it” with a tip of the hat to those groups.

   I should add that there have probably been quite a few that I’ve never heard of - after all, I arrived in Huntington in 1976, and that’s where my memory starts. (As always, dear reader, feel free to post comments or send me an email at TheMinskers@aol.com with corrections or additions.)

   Possibly the biggest group to fade away was the Community Players. I only remember seeing one show of theirs, A Christmas Carol, at the Abbott Theater on Huntington’s west end in the late '70s. The group spent quite a few years putting on shows - and I believe they were revived at least once along the way, but when the Abbott finally closed (and was later torn down), the group apparently disbanded. A few efforts have been made in the years since to revive the group, but for now, they have apparently folded.

   Another group that I know about firsthand was the Appalachian Regional Theatre (known as ART, but not to be confused with the ARTS group in the Renaissance Theatre). It was organized by the dearly departed Danny Ray, a stage veteran who returned to his home in Huntington. The group put on some outstanding shows, including Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Sound of Music, The Odd Couple, Noises Off and Into the Woods, to name a few. Sadly, the group shut down about 10 years ago.

   And then there's the group headed by Eddie Harbert known as the Renaissance Players, and they've also staged a number of shows in the area, including Nunsense, Baby, Little Shop of Horrors, Closer Than Ever and The Rocky Horror Show. That group has been on hiatus for more than nine years, and may yet return to the stage someday.

   My hat is off to anyone who undertakes the challenge of putting on a local show. It’s a near-impossible job - but it can also be lots of fun and very rewarding! 

   It's been fun looking back at the history of theatre, although there's so much history that's lost to the ages. Theatre tends to be "of the moment" - the show is staged and then over, and it's on to the next one, so keeping a history of events isn't always high on the list for each group.

   There's a tantalizing photo from 1911 in James Casto's book Images of America: Cabell County that shows a group of solemn children dressed in overalls, getting ready to present The Mikado (of all things) at the Huntington Theatre. (How I'd love to see that show!) So theatre has been in the blood of the city for a long, long time.

Next: Three more to remember!

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Local Theatre History - Part X - HART

   Hearts were broken across the Tri-State when Huntington Outdoor Theatre (HOT) announced it was ending its long run as Huntington's summer theatre in 2013.

   Rather than allow the Ritter Park Amphitheatre to go dark, the Huntington Park Board decided to form its own theatre group, and it approached three Huntington theatre veterans - Clint McElroy and Mary and Tommy Smirl - and asked them to form a new theatre company based on the model of HOT.

   So they created Huntington Area Regional Theatre in the Park (HART), and starting in the summer of 2014 the group started presenting shows in the park focusing on family-friendly fare, beginning with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Nunsense.

    The next season featured Mary Poppins and Collis P! - which is an original musical created by Clint McElroy based on the life of the railroad magnate and founder of the town, Collis P. Huntington!

   They continued the next season with Wizard of Oz and Seussical the Musical.  

   Last season HART presented Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Nunsense 2: the Second Coming.
   Each show has included a children's pre-show and an assortment of local performers, all presented under that stars at Ritter Park.

    The group continues this summer with Shrek the Musical and Disney's The Lion King, Jr. - and it has announced plans to start a children's theatre branch, known as HART, Jr., which will present a show in the fall of 2018.

Next: Theatre long gone.  

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Local Theatre History Part IX - First United Methodist Church

   Another long-running theatre company only does one show per year - but it’s for a great cause!

   The First United Methodist Church in downtown Huntington stages an annual show to raise money as an integral part of First Church's Mission program, raising more than $40,000 for Mission projects. 

   The proceeds help West Virginia mission projects, the Campus Christian Center, the City Mission, flood buckets for disaster relief and food and clothing for local families in need.

   The group has staged a variety of shows, including Nunsense and Godspell, among others. My personal favorite is the ever-growing series of Bitsy and Boots plays written by Huntington playwright Jonathan Joy.

    The plays follow the misadventures of two sisters who make life difficult for their nephew and his new wife. Each play is very funny, clever and heartwarming.   

   The plays are (almost always) directed by Jerry Morse, and the title characters are Dinner Theater veterans, including Jane Morse (Bitsy) and Loretta Hetzer (Boots).

   The show is always staged near Valentine’s Day at the First United Methodist Church at 1124 5th Avenue.
   And in addition to the show you can also enjoy a great dinner!

   What could be better? An awesome meal, a great show, and you're helping a great cause! 

   We look forward to more shows from this group - both new and classic - in the years to come.

Next: The newest group in town.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Local Theatre History Part VIII - CUP

   Continuing our history of Huntington's community theatre groups, we turn the spotlight on the group that's only been around for seven years - but they've been very productive:  

   One of the newest theatre groups in town is known as CUP (Curtains Up Players).

   It was first organized in 2010 under the name Pullman Players, with the original purpose of bringing crowds to the Pullman Plaza Hotel.

   Under the guidance of Debbie Wolfe, Shayne Gue, Paul Neace and Marina Jurica (among others), the group staged four shows at Pullman - and then broke away to form an independent group, changing its name to CUP.

   Relocating to the Jeslyn Theatre (the former Camelot Theatre), CUP presented more than a dozen shows, from small non-musicals like How I Learned to Drive, concert performances like Night of 100 Tonys, and big musicals like Avenue Q and Shrek: the Musical.

   CUP seems to be on hiatus for the moment - the group hasn't staged a show in the last year (as far as I know) - but hopefully they'll make a comeback soon!

   Next:  Theatre for a higher cause!


Thursday, January 04, 2018

Local Theatre History Part VII - Free Spirit

    Continuing our look at the history of Huntington's community theatre companies, here's one that started almost 20 years ago:

   Free Spirit Productions (FSP) was founded in August 1998 by Tressa Preston, Cindy Sullivan and a volunteer force of 20 local theatre artists including Jonathan Joy, Herschel Jeffrey and Dave Hall

   The original intent was to renovate and re-open the John C.C. Mayo Amphitheater in Armco Park in Ashland. The group's name was chosen because of its imaginative and nonconformist connotation; FSP artists wanted to present shows that were rarely performed on stages in Ashland. 

   After a year of brainstorming and fundraising, the group produced its first play, Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, in July 1999. 

   After two years and three shows at the amphitheater, FSP became a group without a home. Managing the space was simply too much to bear for a group of young artists focused on performance over site maintenance; the group handed the space over to Backstage Players and moved its home base to Huntington in 2001 with a performance of Simply Selma at the Huntington Museum of Art. 

   In the years that followed, FSP would stage two or three straight plays a year, both new and classic, at venues throughout the Tri-State such as the Museum of Art, Marshall University, the Paramount Arts Center and the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center. 

   Shows included The Glass Menagerie (2002), Fool for Love (2003), an Irish Drama Festival (2004), The Santaland Diaries (2003 - '05), Picasso at the Lapin Agile (2007) and more. 

   The group has also presented several plays written by co-founder Jonathan Joy, including The Princess of Rome, Ohio (2005), Just Another Day in November (2006) and Lunch at the Fork n' Finger (2008). 

   FSP has represented Huntington at Festiv-all Charleston and once traveled a production to the Columbus Fringe Festival. The group has also performed for the West Virginia Shakespeare and Renaissance Association and was featured in a Marcus Gregio book about theatre companies around the world. 

   These days the troupe is apparently on hiatus. If and when FSP will return is unsure - only time will tell. 

Next: Curtains Up Players.