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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How Popular is "High School Musical?"

The High School Musical TV movie is a huge success, merchandise sales are fast and furious and DVD and CD sales are at the top of the charts - but I could have told you that the show is popular everywhere because of the response to the announcement of auditions for our show here in Huntington.

Thanks to the Internet, the announcement was read by people all over the world, and we had inquiries - I kid you not - from as far away as Great Britain. Those inquiring apparently thought our local production was the same as the ones produced by The Disney Channel, and they wanted to audition.

I even had a phone call yesterday from a young woman (I'm not sure where she was calling from, but I didn't recognize the area code) who thought we were auditioning for the High School Musical 3 movie, which (as far as I know) is only being talked about right now.

It's great to have so much interest, but I always feel like Scrooge when I tell them that we're "just" working on a community theatre production. Of course, in local terms it's going to be a huge production in more ways than one.

More on that... later!

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Cast for "High School Musical"

By now the list has made the rounds - it's posted on the First Stage website and you can find it on the Herald-Dispatch's website, too - but just for good measure, here's the cast list for the First Stage production of High School Musical (Oh, and here's a tidbit those other sites don't know - this is the preliminary list. There are at least two other names to be added to the list - more on that soon - and at least one change in the cast already!):

Troy Bolton - Elliott Imlay
Gabriella Montez - Angela Pino
Sharpay Evans - Jordan Sager
Ryan Evans - Josh Meredith

The Jocks -
Chad Danforth
- Drew Sowards
Zeke Baylor - Eric Newfeld
Jason - Garrett Gaunch
Other Jocks - Avery Kitchen, Logan Kitchen, Ryan Riegel, T.J. Thompson

The Thespians -
Kelsi Neilson
- Alissa Fetherolf
James - John Purcell
Susan - Sydney Pay
Cathy - Alison Batchelor
Alan - Clark Lewis
Cyndra - Devon Collins
Other Thespians - Courtney Cremeans, Emily Davis, Amy Klim, Maggie Patterson, Sarah Wolfe, Mary Kate Young, Sharonna Young

The Brainiacs -
Taylor McKessie
- Hannah Boyles
Martha Cox - Maggie Saunders
Jack Scott - Levi Kelly
Kratnoff - Morgan Jacobson
Other Braniacs - Sophia Berhie, Rachel Enders, Candace Imperi, Ashley Johnson, Alisa McGrony, Katelyn McGuffin, Christa Navy, Karla Nyhuis, Ashlee Simkins

The Skater Dudes -
Ripper -
Caleb Donahoe
Mongo - Jacob Smith
Other Skater Dudes - Todd Childers, Sarah Clark, Marissa Clayton, Chloe Donahoe, Brooke Estep, Chloe Herrold, Rachel Mannon, Ashlee Matthews, Troy Nicely

Cheerleaders - Allison Bartram, Hailey Bellamy, Grayon Collins, Shelby Hall, Allison Harker, Angel Harrison, Kiki Palmer, Morgan Raines, Meg Riley, Holly Smith

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom!

That's right, today is my Mom's actual birthday - and even though she insists that it's her 29th yet again, I'm starting to wonder about that, especially since I'm 51. I know she can work miracles, but really now...

Still, my family and my brother Eric's family and daughter-in-law Diane took her to a nice lunch in Charleston at the Tidewater Grill, where we had a great meal and had a ringside seat to the police wrestling a young man to the ground and taking him away in cuffs. Usually you'd have to pay for a dinner and a show.

But Mom is doing well, I love her with all my heart and it's always great to spend time with her and the family, so it made for a nice day.

(Hey, Chuck - aren't you supposed to be writing about local theatre? - Ye Editor)

Ahem! Oh yeah - theatre fans, tune in tomorrow evening for the cast list for First Stage Theatre Co.'s production of High School Musical. And we might have some other news this week, too. Maybe.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

An End to Auditions

Today we wrapped up the callbacks for High School Musical auditions, and the directing team sat down to start figuring out the cast for the show. It's a challenging job, because there were so many amazingly talented young people to choose from.

We'll post the cast list on the First Stage Theatre Company website at www.firststagetheatre.org at noon on Monday. It'll also show up in this space a little later in the day.

We'll start rehearsing the show as soon as school starts in September, and the show will take the stage in November. I can't wait!

Friday, July 27, 2007

This Weekend

Lots to do this weekend! It's your last chance to see Oklahoma at the Ritter Park Amphitheater - I'm hoping this is the weekend I get to see it! (What can I say, it's been a crazy month.)

You can also take a drive along Interstate 64 and catch the Charleston Light Opera Guild's production of Disney's High School Musical at the Clay Center. My spy in that group tells me it's an awesome show! If you can't make it this time around, it also runs next weekend.

As for me, the directing team for the upcoming First Stage production of that same show will be making the decisions about casting the show this weekend. We'll announce the cast Monday both here and at the First Stage website.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: A Review

If you haven't read the book yet, don't worry - there's nothing in this review that will give away any of the shocking surprises or plot twists. And even though it has nothing to do with local theatre, I had to take a moment and express my appreciation for the book series that has sparked a love of reading for a new generation.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It’s the moment Harry Potter fans have been waiting for - the final book in the incredibly popular series by writer J.K. Rowling. In masterful fashion she has created a world of wizards and witches - some benevolent, some malevolent - as seen through the eyes of young Harry, the Boy Who Lived despite a murderous attack (when Harry was just an infant) by the evil Lord Voldemort. Over the course of seven books Harry has learned some important life lessons and has triumphed over evil through intelligence, courage and the help of his devoted friends.

For the final chapter, Rowling does the unexpected - she takes Harry and his friends away from the comfortable confines of Hogwarts School and sends them out alone into the world to find their way. They embark on a quest that (they hope) will help them bring down Voldemort, who’s also on a quest - though his goal is domination over the world of magic and regular humans (muggles).

What follows is an action-packed adventure as Harry and his friends face amazing obstacles, terrible setbacks and painful loss. They also discover the answers to the questions that have dogged readers since the first volume.

I don’t want to give anything away - let’s just say that you will have a very tough time putting this book down. If you're a fan of the series, you know that Rowling has an amazing ability to surprise the reader, and her skill continues in this book. Just when you think you know where she's going, she throws you a curve - but it's not a cheap writing trick, but rather a natural path for the story to follow. That and the well-delineated characters make the books so much fun to read.

The series is an amazing achievement for Rowling, and I expect this series of books will be entertaining readers of all ages for generations to come. Highly, highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I just finished reading the last Harry Potter book. I certainly don't want to give anything away to those who haven't read it, so I'll post a "safe to read" review tomorrow (though admittedly the book has nothing to do with theatre - the review is just one of those little extras we like to provide for you, gentle reader).

The great thing is, I can stop living in fear of someone spoiling it for me - apparently one of the early reviews gave away key parts of the ending. That writer shouldn't be allowed to write reviews.

OK, I'm off my soapbox.

Controversy Continued

Getting back to the huge comment string connected to this post, one of the comments that got a lot of attention came from someone who was identified as "Scott" - his comments were from someone outside the world of theatre, and he has some great advice for any theatre group. Here's what he had to say:

As a longtime resident of this area I feel like I should add to the discussion. I have no fine arts background whatsoever and am not a thespian by any means - but I think that actually gives some weight to what I have to say.

First, a little more background about me: I'm a late-twenties college educated business professional. I.e., someone with a fair amount of disposable income to spend on things such as theater. I.e., someone that should be a target audience member of anyone wanting to produce a successful community based theater experience. Which leads me to my next point:

Where is the promotion for these shows? I am not talking about the youth theater groups - those are advertised plenty but are marketed more towards the family atmosphere (something I pretty much have no interest in). The only way I found this discussion is after meandering my way over here from a somewhat unrelated article on the HD online website... at least 4 or 5 clicks away.

I am someone that is not well versed in theater and don't have a lot of theater friends - so I am never going to hear of these shows by word of mouth. I would definitely be interested in seeing some more adult oriented shows - and by that I mean thought-provoking or a little more difficult to digest than squeaky clean family friendly versions of marginally controversial material to begin with - but I never hear about them.

Only by reading this discussion did I learn that Marshall does that sort of thing (and successfully, at that). I suspect there is fair degree of incestuous promotion going on - MU theater promotes to friends of MU theater - sustaining a large, somewhat closed group of MU theater fans. I may be way off base, but hey, that is my opinion of the situation as an outsider.

So I say to you theater folks - I suspect there is a growing crowd of folks not unlike myself who are interested but are simply unaware of what is available to us. Post flyers! Schmooze some newspaper/TV contacts for some media coverage (reading a Dave Lavender article is how I arrived here, by the way). Get your word out, make it appealing, and branch out beyond the folks you know are going to be coming to your show anyways. Good luck and I look forward to checking out what you have to offer!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Hairspray" is a Hit

It's been getting rave reviews, and apparently the movie adaptation of the Broadway musical Hairspray is officially a hit. (If you're not familiar with the film, it's based on a long-running musical which was based on an earlier John Waters movie, which was based on real events connected to a TV show... oh, never mind.)

Even though it finished in third place this week, behind the apparently awful Chuck and Larry and the quite excellent Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hairspray did well enough to earn the title of biggest opening weekend ever for a musical film.

Of course, there are a few technicalities to consider: recent musicals have opened in limited release before going on to open around the country, and some classics started slow and turned into monsters over time (Grease being a great example).

Still, it's getting great reviews, and we already know the music is terrific - I hope to see it soon myself. You can read more about it in this article at the Broadway.com site. And if I get to see it I'll post a review (hey, it's been a crazy month, and I still have 250 pages to go in my Harry Potter book).

For the latest movies reviews and news you might also want to keep an eye on Derek Chapman's new blog, Reel Dude. Didn't mean to step on your toes, dude! And welcome to the Herald-Dispatch blog family!

Monday, July 23, 2007


Oh, we hear lots of rumors over here at the Tri-State Theatre blog. But we try to avoid talking about such things, because we detest gossip (unless it's really good, of course).

After all, just because we hear about possible shows coming up in the months and years ahead, that doesn't mean we should mention them here before they're officially announced - after all, schedules can change and the show might never happen.

Even when we hear that the Marshall Artists Series might just be bringing in one of our all-time favorite musicals in the upcoming season - a show that everyone reading these words is dying to see - that doesn't mean we should talk about it before the news becomes official.

The real schedules are enough fun - there's no need to stir everyone up with "might be's."

Is there?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Second Day of Auditions

That sound you hear is the directing team heaving a sigh of relief. That's because we wrapped up the second round of High School Musical auditions earlier today.

Until the auditions are finished, the questions in your mind are always, "Do we have enough performers who are right for the parts? Will enough guys show up? Will we get enough strong singers?"

The answer to all those questions, this time around, is a resounding "Yes!" After screening almost 100 hopeful actors, I'm confident that we're going to have a strong cast for this show.

The next step is to hold callbacks. In this case, we're bringing back about a dozen performers who are being considered for the four lead roles. Once the callbacks are finished, we'll sit down and cast the show, and then post the cast list on July 30.

Casting is always difficult, because you just can't cast everyone who tried out - there wouldn't be enough room on the stage if they were all up there. It's a difficult process to make the decisions of who stays and who goes, especially when you know an actor has a lot of talent - but they're just not right for this play. I always worry that I've soured someone on the theatre by rejecting them - but it's part of the process that every actor - and every director - has to go through.

More news later! Now, back to Harry Potter (I'm on page 300)!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

First Day of Auditions

As I've written before, next to the actual performance of the show, the auditions are probably the most stressful part of putting on a show - both for the actor trying out and for the directing team.

We had almost 50 young actors turn out today for the High School Musical auditions, and the talent level is really impressive. We saw quite a few returning veterans of First Stage Theatre, and some actors who are new to the children's theatre. The good news is, we're well on our way to lining up the cast.

Of course, we're still looking for more talent. As usual, we have lots of young women vying for parts in the show, but a real shortage of guys. I'd love to have a cast that's almost half male, but that's a rare event - and First Stage has lost quite a number of its older male performers to graduation in the last three years.

I'm looking forward to see what Sunday's audition will bring. That will leave callbacks a week from now and then the final casting.

We'll see what tomorrow holds! Now, back to my Harry Potter book.

Auditions Today for "High School Musical"

After much anticipation, today's the first day of auditions for "HSM!" It's always exciting to be part of, and for many it's the first step in the process that will wrap up with the last show in November. I'll tell you how it went this evening!

Here's the basic information:

First Stage Theatre Company Announces Auditions for "High School Musical"

The First Stage Theatre Company will hold auditions for its fall
production, Disney's High School Musical, Saturday, July 21, 2007, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 22 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Pea Ridge United Methodist Church, 5747 East Pea Ridge Road in Huntington, W.Va.

Auditions are open to any tri-state student entering grades 6 through 12 in Fall 2007.

Be prepared to sing a 30-second song selection of your choice. A keyboard accompanist will be available for those bringing sheet music, as well as a CD player for those bringing pre-recorded instrumental track. Dress appropriately for dance/movement.

Approximately 50 young actors will be cast in the show, which will be staged in November in Huntington.

Disney's High School Musical is based on the popular Disney TV film, which led to the top-selling music soundtrack, the top-selling DVD and a sequel coming up next month on the Disney channel: High School Musical 2.

The directing team includes director Chuck Minsker, music director Mark Smith, assistant director/choreographer Amy Browning and producer Jeanette Rowsey.

The First Stage Theatre Company is a non-profit organization dedicated
to providing an educational, developmental experience for young people through the performing arts. Based in Huntington, the organization draws on young performers from the tri-state area - West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

For more information, visit www.firststagetheatre.org or call

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Hello Dolly" cast announced

I got an email from my pal Danny Ray, who's directing the ARTS production of Hello Dolly! He wrote:
If I hadn't witnessed it, I would never have believed the level of talent that was at Hello, Dolly callbacks. It was so entertaining that we should have charged admission. I literally had four to five for each role and that included the small cameo parts as well. It was a difficult task to cast it but we finally did.
He's right, there's some amazing talent lined up for this one. Mark those calendars now for October's performances! Here's the cast list:

Dolly Levi - Beth McVey
Ernestina - Linda Reynolds
Ambrose Kemper - Shayne Gue
Horace Vandergelder - Bil Neal
Lodge Members - Zach Davis, George Fleshman, Jedd Flowers, Fr. Eric Hall and Dave Richards.
Ermengarde - Sarah Hayes
Cornelius Hackl - Stephen Vance
Barnaby Tucker - Ryan Jackson
Customers - Chad Arthur, Elijah Boyles, Scott Burner, Chuck Herndon, Levi Kelly, Robert Kirby, Miles Klein, Therese Kirby, Jon Lamp, Nathan Mohebbi, Jay Plyburn, Blaine Roberts and Philip Wright.
Dancers - Jordan Bean, Elijah Boyles, Scott Burner, Kristin Caviani, Miles Klein, Amy Knell, Jessica Maier, Nathan Mohebbi, Mary Petrany (Captain), Jay Plyburn, Jessica Saunders and Philip Wright
Minnie Fay - Brittany Hazeldine
Irene Molloy - Lara Donahoe
Mrs. Rose - Nancy Hazeldine
Coachman - Zach Davis
Rudolph Reisenweber - Jon Lamp
Stanley - Chuck Herndon
1st Cook - Jedd Flowers
2nd Cook - Scott Burner
Waiters - Jordan Bean, Elijah Boyles, Scott Burner, Fr. Eric Hall, Robert Kirby, Miles Klein, Amy Knell, Nathan Mohebbi, Mary Petrany, Jay Plyburn, Dave Richards and Philip Wright.
Policemen - Dave Richards and Zach Davis
Judge - Fr. Eric Hall
Court Clerk / Recorder - Nathan Mohebbi
Policeman - Dave Richards
Paper Hanger - Jay Plyburn
Townspeople (Ensemble) - Chad Arthur, Sarah Carr, Zach Davis, Jesse Donahoe, Maggie Donahoe, Kyle Fisher, George Fleshman,
Jedd Flowers, Rachel Geiger, Fr. Eric Hall, Nancy Hazeldine, Chuck Herndon, Levi Kelly, Hannah Kirby, Robert Kirby, Therese Kirby, Jon Lamp, Madison Perry, Bambi Purvis, Dave Richards, Blaine Roberts, Rileigh Smirl, Megan Smith and Andrea Steele.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Weekend is Closing In Fast

So what's going on this weekend? Well, Huntington Outdoor Theatre launches the third of four weekend performances of Oklahoma at the Ritter Park Amphitheater.

Also, auditions are being held for some show called High School Musical. Seems to me I wrote about it in another post - like this one.

Those should keep you busy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Back to the Controversy

Going back to the controversy about community theatre and staging more shows for adults in Huntington, I wanted to share some more thoughtful comments from Ryan Hardiman. I've once again edited the post down a bit - you can read the complete version (and a boatload of other opinions) right here.

Even though we all have somewhat different ideas, one thing we seem to agree on is that there is a hunger for more challenging theatre in Huntington.

I know I have done some controversial shows (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Rocky Horror Show, Cabaret, Hair) and because my comments started this discussion, some may get the impression that those are mainly the kinds of shows I’m interested in. I’ve done those shows without apology and without inhibition because they allowed me to learn and stretch as an actor. I am not pursuing a career in theatre, but it is an important part of my life and I do take it seriously, whether I am on the boards or in the audience.

You may be surprised that most of the shows I really want to do aren’t (or shouldn’t be) considered that controversial at all. I embrace a wide variety of shows. (as evidenced by going from Hedwig straight into Beauty and the Beast!)

The shows I submitted to the poll of "shows I'd like to see locally" were:

1. Man of La Mancha
2. Sweeney Todd
3. The Secret Garden
4. Evita
5. Jekyll & Hyde
6. The Last Five Years

Of those, I wouldn’t consider any of them too touchy for Huntington audiences in general. I was never suggesting that a group like HOT change their formula and stage Sweeney Todd, but I believe they could easily do at least three of the above shows and I think any show on this list could be produced with success by other groups in Huntington. It just seems that if a show is not either a time-tested classic or extremely family friendly (or can be edited to make it so), there is a fear that it will not bring in an audience, and I do not agree. I have done a lot of shows in Charleston and Ashland and they have been very well attended (by people from Huntington as well).

Some have even been premieres of completely original works, which have had no previous following at all, and they too have been successful. Charleston Light Opera Guild has been in business since 1949, have an audience that ranges from children to older adults, and although they frequently produce old-fashioned shows, they also successfully mount shows like Chicago, Cabaret, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, La Cage Aux Folles, Into the Woods, Little Shop of Horrors, and Pippin among others.

I don’t think for a minute that audiences in Charleston or other surrounding areas are any more sophisticated or smarter than people in Huntington. Neither are audiences in Athens, Ohio who show up en masse for all kinds of theatre. I think the problem might be a false perception of what audiences will embrace or reject and a fear of losing money. We want a guarantee.

What I want personally, whether as an audience member or an actor, is a unique experience and to walk away with some new perspective. I want to be challenged, and excited, I want to feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. At times I want to laugh my fool head off, and at times I want to be moved to tears. Maybe there is a line between art and commerce, but I think they can coexist.

I just feel strongly about taking steps toward more exciting and challenging theatre in Huntington.

What a Relief!

Much gratitude to my pal Andrea (who also happens to be my editor here on the blog) for finally giving in and changing my photo over there on the right. (If you're still seeing the old photo, hit "reload.") I'll never win a beauty contest (unless I'm playing Monopoly), but I really, really, really didn't care for the photo they put on there - it was just scary. (Please - no easy jokes.)

Thanks, Andrea - I'm in your debt!

Blacked Out

The storm that swept through the area yesterday knocked out my Internet connection, so the ol' Tri-State Theatre blog was temporarily shut down - but seems to be back in business now.

Still no word on my long-delayed surprise announcement, which I hereby vow to not mention again until I can actually say what it is (or was).

Many thanks to my pal Clint McElroy for his commentary - I need to get him to write more often, especially if he's going to talk about me in such glowing terms. I was positively blushing! By the way, the easy way to tell us apart is to look at the top of our heads. One has hair - the other doesn't.

Have I mentioned High School Musical auditions are coming up? Oh, OK.

At any rate, it's good to be back!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Audition Advice from One Who Knows

First off, this is NOT Chuck Minsker crafting this installment of the Tri-State Theatre blog for you... this is merely an "honorary" Minsker, Clint McElroy. It is easy to distinguish between Chuck and myself... Chuck went to Marshall, has a lot of white in his hair and beard, has amazing sons, married an incredible woman, is on the First Stage Theatre Company Board of Directors.... was in Huntington Outdoor Theatre's production of 1776. Hmm... maybe it's not so easy to distinguish. Apparently, Chuck and I are the same person.

Regardless, I am taking this opportunity to encourage any young person entering grades 6 through 12 this fall, to audition for First Stage's upcoming presentation of Disney's High School Musical. The auditions are this Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Pea Ridge United Methodist Church, 5747 East Pea Ridge Road in Huntington (which can't be a coincidence... you know, the whole "Pea Ridge" thing).

Here is what will be required of you:
1.) You fill out a very simple form
2.) You sit in a room with a bunch of other kids trying to act like they are not as nervous as you are.
3.) Go into a nice room full of even nicer people and sing 30 seconds of a song.
4.) Maybe read a line or two.
5.) Maybe move a step or two
6.) Exit the room and tell all those tense kids yet to go: "I wasn't nervous at ALL!"
7.) Anxiously wait to find out the Cast
8.) Get cast and spend a wonderful part of your fall doing a great show learning from one of the best directors in the region: the aforementioned Chuck Minsker... and his remarkable production crew: Musical Director Mark Smith, Choreographer Amy Browning and Producer Jeanette Rowsey.

No joke, Moms and Dads: These are some of the best theatre people ANYWHERE... with a true desire to teach and inspire young people. Your children will be in the best of hands, and they will come out of it with terrific experiences.

It's going to be a fantastic show. Why if I were twenty years younger... I'd still be about 15 years too old. I guess I'll just have to fall back on my striking resemblance to Chuck so I can sneak in and be dazzled by rehearsals.

Another Day... Another Delay

Yep, yet another day in which my news must be delayed. Just to make it up to you, I have a guest post which I'll put on the blog in mere moments. (Of course, in the upside-down world of blogging, that means you probably read it before you saw this message, since everything is posted in reverse order. Sorta.)

It includes words of wisdom from a fine director, a good friend and a heckuva Parcheesi player.

"High School Musical" Auditions? Great Idea!

Hey, there's a great story in today's Herald-Dispatch about the upcoming auditions for High School Musical. You can read all about it right here.

(I know, I'm shameless.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fantasia Staying on Broadway

My pal Angela (who writes the "Idol Chit-Chat" blog) has been teasing me, so to get even I'm snitching one of her stories - this one (which comes to us from the Associated Press) is about former Idol Fantasia, who's decided she likes being on Broadway:
Fantasia Extends Stay in `Color Purple'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Performing on Broadway apparently agrees with Fantasia.

The former "American Idol" alum has extended her stay in "The Color Purple," the hit musical based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the show's producers announced Thursday.

Fantasia, who won raves from the critics for her performance as Celie, will appear in the musical through Jan. 6, 2008. She was originally scheduled to leave in October.

"The Color Purple," now in its second year at the Broadway Theatre, received a boost at the box office after Fantasia joined the production last April.

A second company of the musical is currently playing the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago.

© 2007 The Associated Press.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

This Weekend

Lots going on this weekend - for example, I'm just back from my Mom's surprise 80th birthday party. It went off without a hitch, and she was shocked when about 60 of her dearest friends and relatives - including some from across the country - yelled "Surprise!" I was tasked with getting her to Scarlet Oaks Country Club without her figuring out the plan. It took some doing, but everyone kept the secret. It's always a lot of fun to get the family together, and worth all the trouble to see the smile on Mom's face. She's an angel!

The rest of you have stuff to do, too - for example, Oklahoma is in its second weekend of four at the Ritter Park Amphitheater, so be sure to pay a visit. You can read more about it here.

Also, the Museum of Art has a special exhibit dedicated to the eternal sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe. You can read more about it right here.

So get out there and have fun!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Auditions for "Disney's High School Musical"

This press release went out today - so it should start showing up soon at your favorite news outlet. But just because we like you, you can read it here first: the official announcement about auditions for a little show called High School Musical.

First Stage Theatre Company Announces Auditions for "High School Musical"

The First Stage Theatre Company will hold auditions for its fall
production, Disney's High School Musical, Saturday, July 21, 2007, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 22 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Pea Ridge United Methodist Church, 5747 East Pea Ridge Road in Huntington, W.Va.

Auditions are open to any tri-state student entering grades 6 through 12 in Fall 2007.

Be prepared to sing a 30-second song selection of your choice. A keyboard accompanist will be available for those bringing sheet music, as well as a CD player for those bringing pre-recorded instrumental track. Dress appropriately for dance/movement.

Approximately 50 young actors will be cast in the show, which will be staged in November in Huntington.

Disney's High School Musical is based on the popular Disney TV film, which led to the top-selling music soundtrack, the top-selling DVD and a sequel coming up next month on the Disney channel: High School Musical 2.

The directing team includes director Chuck Minsker, music director Mark Smith, assistant director/choreographer Amy Browning and producer Jeanette Rowsey.

The First Stage Theatre Company is a non-profit organization dedicated
to providing an educational, developmental experience for young people through the performing arts. Based in Huntington, the organization draws on young performers from the tri-state area - West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

For more information, visit www.firststagetheatre.org or call

Still Waiting, Part 2

Another day and still we're on hold. This is what I get for not keeping my big mouth shut - I shouldn't have teased you with the big announcement until it was signed, sealed and certified. Hopefully by Monday at the latest I can get this monkey off my back.

Sorry about that, gentle readers - your patience is much appreciated!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Still Waiting

Sorry, we're still circling the Tri-State Theatre blog in a holding pattern. My sources tells me that I should have the big news I've been dying to spill sometime tomorrow.

Bear with me, friends!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pushing the Envelope

While we're waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the announcement which should be arriving any day now, let's look at another comment from the recent discussion about community theatre in Huntington. This comment is from Mike Murdock (I've edited it down a bit because the original was, like, 15 pages long - you can read the full-length version in the comments on this post). As you'll see, Mike doesn't pull punches when talking about local theatre - it's a topic he's passionate about. Take it away, Mike!

I've been involved with local theatre here for a long time. I've since moved to Hollywood and continued on, so I think I can share a few insights into what we're dealing with.

Awhile back, Jeff Elwell put together a season of shows at the MU theatre department that was nearly unthinkable for this area. They did David Mamet's "American Buffalo" and "Keeley & Du", as well as several others, and those shows are chock full of adult themes and language.

MU STILL had their big crowds. If ANYONE should be doing new and cutting edge work, it should be Marshall. If you're training actors, they need to be trained in not only the classics, but new work as well, regardless of content, because the fact of the matter is, you're supposed to be training them to ACT in the real world, wherever that may lead them, and I promise you that not everyplace in the U.S.A. is so addicted to Rogers & Hammerstein. If you want to be an actor, the last thing you want a casting director to say to you is:

"Well, I see you have plenty of classic, safe shows, but have you ever done anything written since 1975? No Mamet? No Bogosian? No Stoppard? No Lucas? No Durang? No Shepard? You know that's over a 30 year gap in time, right?"

I agree that HOT should keep doing the kinds of shows they do. I agree that First Stage should keep doing what they're doing.

Regardless of what anyone tells you, if you do one show a year in order to pay for your next show the next year, you're going to be stuck doing the "Li'l Abner", "Oklahoma", "Cinderella", "Music Man" dances the rest of your life. BUT, if you are producing theatre as ART, you have to live with the fact that you're CHANGING LIVES instead of MAKING MONEY, whether it's the lives of the people working on the production or the people seeing it. The "starving artist" stereotype is a stereotype for a REASON. Sometimes you have to continually pay the price in order to enlighten the people. A guy in the Bible had the same idea.

Marshall should pave the way for the kind of thing we're talking about, if there's not another group, or a "new" group, to come in and take a season of chances. Marshall should never cater to the idea that they have to do stuff that makes everyone happy. They have a responsibility to prepare their students for the real world of theatre. And at the same time, if they're afraid they're going to lose sponsorships or donations or money in general, then those people need to be put under the microscope, because THEY are the ones holding the students back from learning what they need to be learning.

Let me also clarify that this isn't a rant at the MU School of Theatre. I graduated from Marshall. I was in A LOT of Marshall productions. I learned A LOT from the MUT teachers. But before I finished school with them, I had started in the professional actors training program at Ohio University, a program that consistently did nine main stage shows a year and upward of 20 lab shows. Shows like American Buffalo, Angels in America, The Quick-Change Room, Our Country's Good, Red Noses, Speed-the-Plow, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, The Tooth of Crime, Buried Child, etc. And I have to tell you, Athens has the same kind of people Huntington does, and it's only about an hour and half away. Sure, they do their Shakespeare every year, too, and they have a summer theatre that does a musical, as well as some other local theatre groups outside of town that tackle tough subject matter like anything by Neil Simon.

The point is that they do it all, and the people not only respect them for it, but they attend en masse, and Huntington should be no different.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On Hold

Well, I thought I was going to have a cool announcement today - but unforeseen circumstances force me to delay it a little longer. Sorry to keep you in suspense, but I can't say a word until I get the go-ahead. Maybe tomorrow?

Trust me, it's going to be really cool. At least I think so. Your mileage may vary, of course.

We now return to your regularly scheduled blog.

By the way (to change the subject), we had a meeting tonight with the High School Musical directing team, getting ready for auditions July 21 and 22. What a great group - it's so much fun kicking around ideas and working on plans, especially when you get to have a great dinner at Chili Willi's at the same time! Go Wildcats!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Comments About Community Theatre

Let's take a closer look at some of the comments from this post. Ryan Hardiman has some great observations about community theatre. He wrote:
My original comments weren’t directed as much toward the issue of censorship as they were on the thought process that goes into choosing a show to produce, and how much of that decision may be based on the appropriateness of the show.

I wonder, how many shows aren't even considered by local groups because they're not “happy” shows. An example is Sweeney Todd. I feel that some of the shows I am most interested in, while they are not necessarily offensive, are never produced locally because they contain either darker themes or material that might warrant a PG or PG13 rating if they were films. I understand that community theatre needs to attract a large audience in order to pay all the bills and make a profit. But I think a misconception is that only time-tested classics and very family-friendly shows will bring in an audience. There’s nothing wrong with those shows in my opinion. I love some of them… but if that’s all that is ever produced, Huntington runs the risk of stagnating and misses out on some great theatre that we are just afraid to take a chance on.

I realize that the dominant community theatre groups in Huntington concentrate on children’s shows and outdoor family based theatre, and I fully understand the limitations of that. Marshall University is its own animal, because it doesn’t fully depend on ticket sales or community support to survive, and therefore is able to take on shows that explore more difficult themes. The thing is, MU shows are almost always sold out. So there is an audience in Huntington for those kinds of shows.

I have been at parties talking with fellow thespians and ideas for shows will often come up in conversation. And you can feel the excitement in the air… The theatre community really wants to do these shows!… but when it comes down to actually putting one of these shows onstage, themes involving death, violence, sexual innuendo, language or tragedy in general seem to send up red flags. The thing is, a lot of these fears are sometimes based on a false perception or a distant memory of the shows, and the themes are not as bad as you think you remember.

I’m not advocating that we introduce more risky shows just for the sake of including adult content, or that we shouldn’t ever censor shows. There is certainly some responsibility to exercise good judgement and consider your audience. But on the other hand we shouldn’t be so afraid of losing an audience that we are afraid to take on shows that have such potential to actually revitalize an audience base. What will the future audiences want to see onstage? And when do we begin to make that transition locally?

What I love about theatre is that it can present all of the elements of life…happiness, pain, comedy, fear, love, suspense, guilt, passion…and it takes place right in front of us…with real people. When it’s done well, there is a strong connection. For me, the experience is far more immediate and intense than watching TV or movies. This is probably why people are hesitant to put the same content on the local stage that they would accept and enjoy on TV or movies. When you are in public, seeing people you know display the very same behavior and language and going through the very same emotions, it hits you much harder… That should be an asset, and a reason to take on more challenging and emotionally provocative shows.

Excellent comments, Ryan! (I should mention that I edited Ryan's comments for length - you can read the entire thing in the comments section of this post.)

I absolutely agree that there's an audience out there looking for more mature shows. It's a market that Marshall University has a corner or right now, but there are so many great shows out there that the existing, family-friendly groups aren't going to tackle. Certainly several groups in Charleston have enjoyed success tackling those kinds of shows - does anyone really think a group in Huntington can't find the same success?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

More Odds and Ends

The debate about local theatre continues in the comments section of this post, but if you have't seen it, give yourself some time to catch up - we're now up to a record-breaking 56 comments (just click on the link at the bottom of the post to read them). The latest additions include some comments from a graduate of local theatre and a blueprint for the future. We'll be taking a closer look at some of those comments in the week ahead.

In other theatre news:

- There's another performance of Oklahoma tomight at the Ritter Park Amphitheater in Huntington.

- Also, you can read a review of the Into The Woods performance in Columbus that stars Huntington alumni Emily Asbury right here (thanks to my pal Len for the link)!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Happy 07/07/07!

Happy July 7th, y'all! A few items to bring to your attention:

- Oklahoma had its first performance last night - you can read about it in today's Herald-Dispatch, or go here for the online version.

Two auditions are coming up this month:

- You can try out for Hello, Dolly! at the Renaiassance Theater starting Sunday, July 8 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Children ages 14 and under can try out Monday and Tuesday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Actors should be prepared to sing a 30-second Broadway selection with piano accompaniment.

- Auditions for Disney's High School Musical will be held at the Pea Ridge United Methodist Church in Huntington July 21 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and July 22 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Any student who will be in Grades 6 through 12 this fall are eligible to try out. Be prepared to sing the 30-second song selection of your choice - piano accompaniment will be provided if needed. The musical is being presented by First Stage Theatre Company.

(I was hoping to have another big announcement to go along with the audition mention, but it'll have to wait a few days. But later this week, are you going to be surprised!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Something About Mary

My pal Mary Smirl (that's her in the photo taken by Lori Wolfe) has been involved in local dance and theatre for quite a few years now. She's directed a number of shows, including Schoolhouse Rock Live and A Christmas Carol, and she's been the choreographer on even more, including the recent Cats, Seussical the Musical, and Peter Pan, just to name a few.

We've both been on the board at First Stage Theatre Company longer than we'd care to admit, and she's always been a tireless advocate of making dance and theatre available to kids in the area. There's a great story in today's paper spotlighting Mary and her new dance studio - you can read it right here.

And since she reads this blog, let me just say - Hi, Mary! Congratulations on the new studio!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Taking a Star Turn in "Into the Woods"

It's always great to see a local performer enjoy success outside our area. Today's example is Emily Asbury (she's the cute one on the left in the photo above). She starred in quite a few local productions, including Suessical the Musical, Bye Bye Birdie and The Music Man, to name just a few.

These days Emily is going to college in Columbus, Ohio, but this summer she's spending the month of July starring as The Baker's Wife in the musical Into the Woods with the Columbus Children's Theatre. It's ironic, because she starred in so many productions with First Stage (Huntington's children's theatre), but now she's working with a different kind of children's theatre - in Columbus, the shows feature adult actors putting on shows aimed at young audiences (though Into the Woods is a bit dark for young one).

The show runs through the month of July - you can get more information right here (click on the "Summer 2007 Performance Season" button). It's a great musical, and I know Emily will be wonderful in the show. I was lucky enough to direct her in a couple of local shows, and she's exactly the kind of actress you want in your show - beautiful, hard-working, always prepared, always in character, quick-thinking and talented as can be.

If you get a chance, make the trip to Columbus and enjoy the show!

More on OK

Our pal Dave Lavender offers up more info about the upcoming performances of Oklahoma in this story in today's edition of the Herald-Dispatch. You can also see some photos from rehearsals at the Photo Galleries page.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy July 4th!

Hey, hope everyone out there has a Happy 4th of July! There won't be much posting today, so shut off the computer and get out there and have a great Independence Day! Hey, I just realized - I haven't put out the flag yet! Gotta go!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Oklahoma, OK?

The Huntington Outdoor Theatre (HOT) kicks off its summer series Friday with the first performance of Oklahoma. It's the second time around for that show - HOT last staged it 10 years ago.

I asked my pal Jim Lamp (one of the show's stars) how it was going, and he wrote, "Rehearsals for HOT's production of Oklahoma are in full "swing", pun fully intended, because there is a lot of dancing and swinging and singing and laughs. It ain't considered one of America's greatest musicals fer nuthin! Shows start in July and run on the weekend throughout the month, bring your lawnchairs to the Ritter Park Ampitheater for a rollockin' good time. Don't say no!"

So there you go! It's one of the all-time favorite musicals for a reason - and you can check it out this Friday!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Scheduling Shows Too Close Together

OK, one of the many topics that have been talked about recently is the problem of too many shows, too close together. I think Ryan started the topic - he suggested:

Don’t schedule shows the same weekends as other groups. It seems everyone does a fall show and a spring show. And more often than not they are scheduled right over each other. Not only does this cut down on the talent pool auditioning for shows, but it dilutes everyone’s audience and prevents actors from seeing each other’s shows. I don’t know why this happens. A lot of theatres in our area publicize their seasons well in advance (Marshall University, Charleston Stage Company, Kanawha Players, Charleston Light Opera Guild (to some degree), and it’s not difficult to know these dates, but inevitably, we’ll end up with 5 shows happening the same 2 weekends twice a year, and a dry spell the rest of the year. And then sometimes 3 groups in our region within 90 miles of each other mount the exact same show at the same time or within weeks of each other.

You're absolutely right, this happens way too often. There have been efforts to put a stop to the problem - there's an informal gathering of local performing groups that meets at least a couple of times a year to compare schedule dates and shows.

But even with that, conflict is sometimes avoidable. Christmas shows are a great example - if your group wants to put on a Christmas show, you want it to run sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That only gives you three or four weekends to choose from, and you usually want to avoid the weekend just after Thanksgiving (so you have more rehearsal time) and the weekend before Christmas (because no one wants to be busy that close to the holiday). So now we're down to two or three weekends, and you haven't even looked at what stages are available and when - after all, there are other organizations (outside of theatre groups) doing holiday shows.

Scheduling shows without running into another group takes a combination of skill and luck. As you say, most groups run shows in the fall and spring - so their rehearsals usually start in September or January. Allow six to eight weeks for rehearsal, and they're all ready to take the stage around November or March. You have to avoid holidays - Easter, Spring Break, Thanksgiving - and sports events, especially Marshall's home games. For First Stage, we also have to take into consideration school events - Prom, Show Choir performances, All-State Chorus - the list goes on and on. Even if your group manages its own theater, you have conflicts to work around - other groups schedule events, too.

So all that has to be taken into consideration. I really think that most groups try their hardest to avoid scheduling against other groups - but sometimes you just run out of options. It's especially difficult when you have to find a stage to rent.

As to the question of groups in nearby towns scheduling the same shows, I think that rarely enters into the decision as to whether or not to stage a show. If Seussical runs in Ashland and Charleston, should Huntington stay away from it? Everyone wants to do (and is doing) High School Musical, everyone will want to do Wicked when it becomes available - who can blame them? Since there seems to be very little spillover in audience from each town (aside from the theatre fans, of course), it doesn't surprise me that each town tackles the shows in its own way.

So I guess my answer to the question is, from what I've seen, everyone tries to avoid conflicts - honest - but it doesn't always work out.

Coming Up This Week

We have lots of good topics coming up this week on the ol' Tri-State Theatre blog.

Later today we'll start focusing on some of the comments from our ongoing debate about local theatre (which you can find in the comments section below this entry). (Update: It's now up to 50 comments!)

Also, we're just five days away from the Huntington Outdoor Theatre kicking off its summer run of Oklahoma, which you can catch every weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) in July at the Ritter Park Amphitheater. We'll have more on that as the week moves on.

Finally, for those of you who are going to hit the road on Independence Day, drive (or ride) carefully, wear those seat belts, be safe - and have fun!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

New Works Fest - Final Thoughts

If you missed the premiere of Collis P! last night at Marshall University's New Works Fest, you missed a great show!

The musical tells the life story of the founder of the city if Huntington. The cast sang the first two songs in the show (the other dozen or so songs are still being written by Larry Groce). It was a lively, informative and very funny look at the man who played a pivotal role in many key events in the latter part of the 19th century (and into the 20th).

The cast (and the band) did a terrific job bringing the story to life. I look forward to the day - hopefully not far in the future - when the show is completed and takes the stage somewhere in the city named for Collis P!

Judging by the size of the crowds, I'd say the New Works Fest 2007 was a complete success - hopefully it'll be an annual event for years to come!