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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Hairspray" for Kids

With the local theatre scene being quiet, I once again turn to national news (or actually, international news) for today's post. As you can read in this article at Playbill.com, the popular musical Hairspray has spun off into a unique TV show from London.

As the story tells us:
Hairspray is currently a West End hit, but on Aug. 31 the production will face competition from a North London suburban school when the students of Kingsmead School bring their production to Shaftesbury Avenue's Lyric Theatre for one night only.

The TV series, entitled Hairspray: The School Musical, offers the London high school what publicity materials call "the challenge of a lifetime": to audition, rehearse and perform a West End-worthy performance of Hairspray in one summer holiday.
It sounds like a lot of fun! I'm not sure if the series is going to be available in the U.S. (hopefully BBC America will pick it up), but the final show of the series will air on Oct. 19.

For more details, visit http://schoolmusical.sky.com.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Meeting the Cast of "13" (The Musical)

Wow, news has been slow this week - presumably because everyone's off running around enjoying their holiday weekend! (I trust you're doing likewise, gentle reader.)

However, for your entertainment, I stumbled across a fun video posted at Broadway.com that gives a behinds-the-scenes look at some of the cast members of the new musical 13, which is all about young people who are 13 years old (thus the title).

You can see the video right here. It's entertaining, because the cast doesn't even seem to be sure why they're having their pictures taken. I especially enjoy the teen actor who says he's been waiting for this show for "a long, long time." Ah, youth!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Free Summer Concert on Labor Day

If you're looking for a fun event on next week's holiday, here's a suggestion: the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert on Labor Day, which is Monday, Sept. 1 at 7:00 p.m. at the Woodrow Wilson High School Auditorium at 400 Stanaford Road in Beckley, W.Va.

My pal Ryan Hardiman (who holds the "Symphony Idol" title) wil perform four songs, including "I Need To Know" and "This Is The Moment" from Jekyll & Hyde, "Remember When It Rained" by Josh Groban and "Music of The Night" from Phantom of the Opera.

It's the last of the three summer concerts being offered by the WVSO, so don't miss it!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

ACTC theater's future remains on hold

Apparently the next season of shows at ACTC is facing some hurdles. According to this story in The Herald-Dispatch by David E. Malloy, there are shows in the works - but no schedule is set yet:
While there currently are no stage productions scheduled at Ashland Community and Technical College, there will be other plays and stage productions at the J.B. Sowards theater, college president Greg Adkins said Friday.

Adkins canceled the production of Sweeney Todd earlier this month after several people received minor injuries when a theater set collapsed while cast members posed for a photograph after a rehearsal. Several people were treated at King's Daughters Medical Center and released, and two more sought medical attention later for bumps and bruises.

Zach Davis, a Huntington resident attending the college, said in a letter to the editor of The Herald-Dispatch that he's concerned about future theatrical productions at the college.

"Ashland Community and Technical College is now in full session," Davis wrote. "However, the theatre students have nothing to look forward to. In fact, the faculty and students who attend the theatrical productions have only an empty stage to watch.

"I decided to go to ACTC because of what the theater has to offer," he said. "If the theater can't produce shows, then what's the purpose of continuing my education at ACTC? I'm not saying that the school has officially canceled all productions. I am just saying the future of the theater season is unknown."

Adkins said he told students there will be future stage productions and plays.

"It's not a matter of whether, it's a matter of when," Adkins said.

Because of the collapse of the set, school officials have to bring safety issues under review, he said. "I had to make a decision in favor of safety" in canceling the earlier performance, he said. "It was a decision I didn't take lightly."
You can read the rest of the story at the link above.

It's good to see the students getting involved in the effort to get things moving - and Zach, who's quoted in the article, is a local community theatre veteran, having appeared in a number of shows, including several of mine! (Hi, Zach!)

Hopefully the school will be able to overcome their difficulties and get their next season off the ground soon!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Look at Marshall's College of Fine Arts

My pal Jack Cirillo, who is a professor with Marshall University's Department of Theatre, recently sent me a link to a new video the school has posted on its website to promote its excellent College of Fine Arts. (Full disclosure time - your humble writer is a proud graduate of good ol' MU, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.)

The video is about 12 minutes long and it features quite a few shots of the theatre department in action - and it also has several clips of interviews with Jack and his fellow educators.

It's very nicely done, and paints a warm picture of the department. It also features some beautiful shots of Marshall's campus and Huntington in general. You can see it by clicking right here - highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The State of Community Theatre

Once a year the President delivers a “State of the Union” address to give an overview of how things are going in the U.S. (I know, it’s a gross oversimplification - bear with me here). Governors do the same for their state, so I figured, what the heck - we should have one for the “State of Community Theatre.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk anyone else into writing it, so you’re stuck with my opinion here - without the usual flowery speechifying (if that’s a word). I hope you’ll feel free to make your own observations through the comments below, gentle reader.

So, how is community theatre doing in our area? The short answer is: quite well - though there’s always room for improvement. Every major city in our area has some kind of community theatre group staging shows, and Huntington, Charleston and Ashland have more than one group operating in each town.

And the shows they’re offering are (mostly) a good mix of programs, including classic shows, big musicals, small shows, original productions and entertaining showcases for local performers.

There are occasional lulls between shows (like right now), but most months out of the year you can choose from several different performances - in fact, we almost have too much of a good thing, because often more than one show will run on the same weekend. And that problem isn’t going away soon - we’ll see more of it this fall.

The talent level in our shows is really impressive, from the experienced local stage veterans to new faces in town and the young performers, some of whom have virtually grown up on the community theatre stage.

It’s also great to see area high schools putting on shows. Some have long traditions of doing shows, while others have more recently revived their programs - but they’re doing excellent work, and you can see some terrific shows at schools like Paul Blazer, Huntington High, Capital, Ironton, Portsmouth and Cabell Midland (just to name a few).

National touring shows are more common, too, thanks to organizations like the Marshall Artists Series and the excellent facilities available at the Keith Albee, the Paramount and the Clay Center.

But there is room for improvement. It would be nice to see a local group tackling more modern, edgy work. Most local groups only stage family-friendly fare, and that’s good - but it would be nice to see more variety, too.

I’d like to see more theatre groups (though others might say we already have too many). There are lots of stages available in our area, and months when there’s no show to see - new groups could fill in those gaps and, as they say in baseball, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

One of the big problems facing local groups is the ever-rising cost of putting on shows. Renting a hall, paying for the rights to shows, building sets, renting (or making) costumes - it can quickly add up to a lot of money, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a big enough crowd to recoup your expenses. And because there are so many good shows out there every year, it’s more of a challenge to bring in an audience big enough to support the shows.

I’ve preached it before, but it’s worth repeating - another failing for most groups is advertising. It’s vital to market your show and get the word out. If the audience doesn’t know you’re staging a show, they definitely won’t show up and buy a ticket. Advertising can be expensive, but there are creative solutions.

So in closing, to our theatre groups, I say, “Keep up the good work!” To theatergoers, I say, “Support your community theatre groups - they need your help!” And to those who aren’t theatergoers, I say, “How can you not attend local performances? There’s a lot of amazing talent in our area - you’re missing some outstanding shows!”

That's enough for now from me - I’ll close with the words of the immortal Red Skelton - good night, and may God bless!

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's Rehearsal Time

As August winds down, you'll notice that the local community theatre scene is very quiet. That's because most groups are spending their time running rehearsals right now, or getting ready to start rehearsals.

For example, over at Fifth Avenue Theatre my pal Clint McElroy is directing the cast of the Agatha Christie murder mystery, And Then There Were None, which will take the stage at City Hall in October.

Today's the first day of class at Marshall University, so the Dept. of Theatre (presumably) haven't even had auditions for their next show - though it'll no doubt happen soon.

At ARTS, they're working on Clue, The Musical, which runs in October.

And First Stage Theatre Company just had the parent's meeting for its fall show, Peter Pan - and what a mob scene that was! Rehearsals will soon follow.

No doubt other groups in our area are also hard at work on their upcoming shows. So the question is, what's the "State" of community theatre in our area? That's the topic of tomorrow's post.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Auditions for “The 1940’s Radio Hour”

Here's another show coming up later this year, and auditions are in a couple of weeks. Here's the press release:
Arts Resources for the Tri-State (ARTS) announces auditions for The 1940’s Radio Hour, to be presented in December. Roles are available for four adult women and eight adult men.

The 1940’s Radio Hour takes place during WWII, in December 1942, as stars of a radio broadcast, “The Mutual Manhattan Variety
Cavalcade” perform for a studio audience and “for our boys oversees.” Featuring the big band favorites “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Chatanooga Choo-Choo” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the cast performs music of the Big-Band era, including the “Pepsi Cola” jingle and a commercial for Sal Hepatica laxative. With a Frank Sinatra wannabe in the lead, the cast of colorful characters performs a colorful, memorable tip-of-the-hat to wartime 1940s, with a patriotic finale of “Strike Up the Band.”

Serving as both director and musical director is ARTS regular, Bruce Rous. Rous has previously worked on the show four times, and is thrilled to be bringing the production to Tri-State audiences: “This show is wonderful. It’s filled with joy, and the music is some of the best ever written. The characters are terrific, very real people who work at this small NYC radio station.” Rous, a veteran of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Regional theatre is “extremely excited for the talent of the Tri-State to have a shot at this show.”

Production dates are December 4-6, and 11-14 in the Renaissance Center. Auditions are by appointment only September 13 and 14. Actors should prepare a song from the period. Appointments can be scheduled by emailing rous1@marshall.edu. Minimal weekend rehearsals begin in September, with the full rehearsal period beginning the last week of October.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Coming Up - Music, Dancing and a Meal

ARTS has a couple of programs coming up soon at the Renaissance Center (also known as the old Huntington High School). They are:

- Carl Toler Group “August in New Orleans” - August 24 the show runs from 2 to 5 p.m. - $15. Dancing will be offered on the ballroom floor.

- John Eric Booth – Swing Music, many of Frank Sinatra’s favorites - August 29. Dancing offered on ballroom floor. Dinner at 6:30 p.m. - $15. Show begins at 8 p.m. - $15. Reservations due by August 25.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vote for Chris!

I had an interesting email message from my son Evan (who writes a great videogame blog here and a music review blog here).

It's all about Huntington's Chris Sizemore, who's been nominated for an award - but he needs your vote to win! Here's how you can help:
The DC Theatre Scene puts out Audience Choice Awards and Chris is nominated for Best Actor in a Musical. Go to www.dctheatrescene.com and scroll down to Best Actor in a Musical and click on his name. Chris says, "Thanks, guys, for all the support."
So vote early and vote often!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thirteen Teens on Broadway

Now here's a new Broadway show children's theatre groups around the country can look forward to staging - once it becomes available, that is.

The show is called 13, and the cast is made up entirely of teenagers - a first for Broadway. Here's the cast announcement from Broadway.com:
The complete all-teenage cast and teenage band have been announced for the forthcoming Broadway production of 13. The new musical will begin previews on September 16 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and open on October 5, directed by Jeremy Sams.

The 13 young performers include Al Calderon as Eddie, Eamon Foley as Richie, Caitlin Gann as Molly, Ariana Grande as Charlotte, Aaron Simon Gross as Archie, Elizabeth Gillies as Lucy, Malik Hammond as Malcolm, Joey La Varco as Simon, Delaney Moro as Kendra, Eric Nelsen as Brett, Graham Phillips as Evan, Allie Trimm as Patrice, and Brynn Williams as Cassie.

Also in the cast are Riley Costello, Henry Hodges, Mary Claire Miskell, Liana Ortiz, Max Schneider and Corey Snide.
The show also features an on-stage teen band. It sounds like a terrific concept - the only question is, will the show be a good one? Here's hoping!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Cast of "Peter Pan"

Just announced today is the preliminary cast for the First Stage Theatre Company production of Peter Pan! Here's the press release:
We would like to thank each and every one of you for coming out to audition for First Stage Theatre's production of Peter Pan. It takes a lot of courage to simply go through the process of auditioning, and we applaud you all for such amazing character shown! Everyone did a tremendous job and we do hope that if you did not make it in this show you will try out again. Not everyone gets cast their first time out, so please do not get discouraged and keep on working at it. First Stage has two more show coming up this year! With the huge turnout we had, and so many talented young people auditioning, it took us quite a while to come up with the final cast, but here it finally is! Look down the entire list as some people are cast in two roles.

Peter Pan - Mary Kate Young
Wendy - Ruth Finley
John - Josh Meredith
Michael - Franklin Norton
Mr. Darling/ Capt. Hook - Tommy Smirl
Mrs. Darling - Lara Donahoe
Tiger Lilly - Alyssa Fetherof
Liza - Nikki Coughenhour
Smee - Caleb Donahoe
Grown Up Wendy - Katie Pettit
Jane - Lydia Waybright

Cecco - Elliot Imlay
Noodler - Cody Verbage
Starky - Elijah Boyles
Bill Jukes - Jacob Smith
Mullins - Andrew Sowards
Bones - Andrea Steele
Crip - Allison Conley
Barni Cle - Sarah Carr
Doc - Diane Dawley
Plank - Holly Smith
Biggun - Jack MacGee
Earwax - Chad Arthur
CorkScrew - TJ Thompson
Kneecap - Garrett Gaunch
Bucket – Rachel Enders

Twin #1 - Nathaniel Porter
Twin #2 - Kyle Sheridan
Nibs - Nathaniel Fornash
Curly - Jesse Donahoe
Toodles - Salem Carlton
Slightly Soiled - Levi Kelly
Peanut - Cady Lewis
Bed Bug - Rachel Morgan
Spider – Rachel Geiger
Booger - Gavin Beverage
Loogie - William Beverage
Scraps - Noah Legrand
Ditto - Luke Lovejoy
Dot - Anastasia Jones
Scootie - Chase Coughenour
Greasy - Andrew Edwards
Lost - Griffen Conaty
Found - Teddy Haddox

Nana - Garrett Gaunch
Croc - Chad Arthur
Ostrich - Caroline Hunter
Kangaroo - Samantha Young
Lion – Sarah Bryan
Shadow - Elizabeth Schmitz

Chiefs - Rachel Meadows, Becky Pettit, Betsy Pettit, Kristin Caviani, Elizabeth Schmitz, Angela Pino

Squaw Squad - Emily Waybright, Emily Dennison, Sydney Pay, Megan Edwards, Mallory Norton, Christa Navy, Chloe Donahoe, Amanda Duncan, Kate Colcough

Wig Wams - Rileigh Smirl, Madeline Jackson, Annie Wolfe, Anna Coughenour, Olivia Goodenough, Lindsey McKelvey, Sheridan Collins, Maggie Donahoe, Kathryn Booth, Katia Sheridan

Tee Pees – Meg Barber, Abigail Manis, Samantha Young, Sarena Johnson, Ellen Chambers, Lindsey Cremeans, Elizabeth Conaty, Kylie Magnor, Sarah Bryan, Rebecca Craig

Indian Braves - Cody Verbage, Elijah Boyles, Jacob Smith, Elliot Imlay, Drew Sowards

Neverland Animals - Danielle Derring, Kennedy Magnor, Emma Wolfe, Rebecca Gaunch, Alexandra Cornell, Joanna Finley, Hannah Kirby, Mary Hannah Stevenson, Catherine Dennison

Trees - Cody Verbage, Elijah Boyles, Jacob Smith
Night Fairies - Rebecca Craig, Rileigh Smirl, Ashleigh Duncan
Nursery Teddy Bear - Olivia Goodenough
Nursery Rag Doll - Anna Coughenour
Nursery Clown - Sheridan Collins

Tinkerbellettes - Natalie Eastone, Jenna Dorsey, Gracie Perdue, Anistyn Collins, Abigail Rose, Emily Belcher, Gaby Thomas, Danielle Reber, Madyson Knipp, Macenzie Simmons, Zoie Fornash, Hannah Crager, Kelly Whitmore, Emma Taylor ,Hannah Pauley, Carlee Magnor

Little Pirates - Nicholas Goodenough, Ashton Leslie, Devin Willis, Brogan Workman, Bryson Parker, Jackson Parker, Ben McKelvey

Macbeth Auditions

Here's an audition notice for a new production of one of the greatest plays in the history of theater - namely, Macbeth!
Auditions for the Red Lion Theatre Company's fall show, Shakespeare's Macbeth, are coming up!

There will be three separate days of auditions, with times, dates and locations as follows:

- Tuesday, August 26 at 7:00 p.m. at the Flatwoods Public Library

- Thursday, August 28 and Friday, August 29 at 7:00 p.m. at the Raceland High School Multicultural Arts Center

Auditions are open to everyone, with a variety of roles available. Materials will be provided on site, and there will be no need for a prepared piece.

Performances will be at the Greenbo Lake State Park's Amphitheatre, October 17, 18, 24 and 25 at 7:00 p.m. and Midnight.

Come and be part of what may be the creepiest version of this classic show ever staged...

We look forward to seeing you there!

For more information, or if you have any questions, call 606-571-6478 or email us at redliontheatre@yahoo.com.

The Red Lion Theatre Company is a non-profit, community theatre organization for performers of all ages. Its formation is owed, in large part, to the lack of a place for all generations of theatre performers to express themselves, to the need for quality entertainment and expressive arts for Boyd and Greenup County, and to provide the community with an alternative to the movies on Friday and Saturday nights.

Our mission is to foster the artistic growth of individuals in the community; to provide excellence in arts education; to give back to the community and enrich and enhance the life of the community in the form of song, dance, drama, writing, and creative arts of all types.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tough Times on Broadway?

We've talked here from time to time about the economic struggles facing community theatre groups, but even the pros on Broadway occasionally face money problems.

As you can read in this story from the Playbill.com website, they're postponing a revival of a show that has been in the works for a while:
The Broadway revival of Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak's Godspell, which was scheduled to co-star American Idol finalist Diana DeGarmo and Tony nominee Gavin Creel, has been postponed.
The article goes on to blame the problem on the loss of a major investor, and goes on to point out:
Godspell is the latest casualty of the new theatre season, which has already seen postponements and/or cancellations of the revival of Brigadoon; the Harry Connick Jr. vehicle Nice Work If You Can Get It; and the revival of Ntozake Shange's acclaimed play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
Godspell had been scheduled to begin previews Sept. 29 with an official opening on Oct. 23.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wrapping Up "Pan" Auditions

Sunday was the final round of auditions for Peter Pan, and it brought out a lot of hopeful actors - in fact, for a couple of hours, it was quite a mob scene!

The Saturday auditions were busy enough, but on Sunday as many people showed up for auditions in the first half-hour as we had in four hours on Sunday! I'm not sure why so many waited until the last day - perhaps they thought it was a good way to avoid the rush - but it made for a hectic and long afternoon. But it's a good problem to have! The more young actors who audition, the better the cast!

I'm glad I'm not directing the show, because the directing team is going to have a tough time choosing the leads. They had so many terrific performers audition, it's going to be tough to narrow each part down to a single actor.

Still, it's great to see so many young people interested in taking part in the show - it's going to be a terrific production!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cast List for "Clue: The Musical"

My pal Jazzy sends along this cast list for the next show from ARTS - Clue: The Musical:
ARTS Resources for the Tri-State presents Clue: The Musical with:

Mr. Boddy -- Nathan Cron
Mrs. Peacock -- Karen Pruitt
Miss Scarlet -- Marina Jurica
Professor Plum -- Miles Klein
Colonel Mustard -- David Mize
Mr. Green -- Todd Preston
Mrs. White -- Jazzy Dodson
The Detective -- Rachel Mize

Production Staff

Producer -- Josette Gibson
Director -- David Day
Musical Director -- Christopher Bowling
Choreographer -- Shayne Gue
Production Stage Manager -- Justin Hodges

Mark your calendars now to see which one of these colorful characters will kill Mr. Boddy each night.

Performance Dates and Times:

October 24 -- 8 pm
October 25 -- 8 pm
October 25 -- 2 pm

October 31 -- 10 pm (special Halloween show)
November 1 -- 8 pm
November 2 -- 2 pm

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fun At Auditions

I helped work the table at today's auditions for the First Stage Theatre Company production of Peter Pan, and as always, it was a lot of fun.

Auditions are always a great mix of old friends, performers you've worked with in other shows, and actors who have never been in a show before.

It takes quite as bit of courage to audition - you're putting yourself out there, singing, dancing and reading for a team of directors. But the benefits are great - if you're cast in the show, you have a fun experience ahead - and even if you aren't cast, you gain the confidence and experience to make auditioning just a little easier the next time.

Tomorrow's the last day for auditions for Pan, so if you missed it today, you still have one more chance! See the last post for all the information - and good luck!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Remember: Peter Pan Auditions This Weekend

Just a reminder for young performers out there:
Auditions for the First Stage Theatre Company's production of Peter Pan will be held Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Aug. 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pea Ridge United Methodist Church at 5747 E. Pea Ridge Road in Huntington.

Casting is available for young actors ranging in age from kindergarten to seniors in High School. There are multiple parts with all different varieties of skills.

Those auditioning should have a 30-second song prepared. There will be a pianist, but you may use an accompaniment tape or CD (with no vocals) and must be cued to the proper song. Wear comfortable clothes for dance.

The show will be staged at the Huntington High School Auditorium at 1 Highlander Way on Oct. 31, Nov. 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9, 2008. The classic musical tells the story of the boy from Never-Never Land who refuses to grow up, and his adventures with Wendy, Michael, John and the Lost Boys, as they fight the evil Captain Hook and his band of pirates. The directing team includes director Mary Smirl, musical director Lara Donahoe and producer Elaine Young.

The First Stage Theatre Company is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an educational, developmental experience for young people through the performing arts.

Cerveris Teams With Sondheim Again

More news about Huntington's own Michael Cerveris, who's once again performing on Broadway - this time in a revamped version of a Stephen Sondheim classic.

From Broadway.com:
Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani will star in the Public Theater's forthcoming New York premiere of Stephen Sondheim's Road Show, the musical formerly known as Bounce. The show, which features a book by John Weidman and will be directed and designed by John Doyle, begins previews on October 28 and will open on November 18. The limited off-Broadway engagement is scheduled to run through December 28.
You can read more about it right here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mark McVey at the Hollywood Bowl

As mentioned in this post, Huntington's own J. Mark McVey reprised his role as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables last weekend at a special concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

My pal Len pointed out that you can see some amateur videos (hoo boy, are they amateurish) from that show - where else? - on YouTube. Here's the clip of Mark singing "Bring Him Home."

And here's the clip of the cast singing "One Day More."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First Stage Announces Its 19th Season

Here's a long-delayed announcement - the next season for First Stage Theatre Company! (As always, I should mention that I'm the President of that non-profit children's theatre group).

Here's the press release that went out yesterday:
The First Stage Theatre Company has announced its lineup of performances for the Fall 2008 / Spring 2009 season, which marks the 19th season for the children's theater. Three shows will be staged: Peter Pan in Fall 2008 and A Year with Frog and Toad and Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business in Spring 2008.

Peter Pan will be staged at the Huntington High School theater on Oct. 31, Nov. 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9, 2008. The classic musical tells the story of the boy from Never-Neverland who refuses to grow up, and his adventures with Wendy, Michael, John and the Lost Boys, as they fight the evil Captain Hook and his band of pirates. The directing team includes director Mary Smirl and producer Elaine Young. Auditions will be held Aug. 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Aug. 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pea Ridge United Methodist Church at 5747 E. Pea Ridge Road. Casting is available for young actors from kindergarten to seniors in High School. There are dozens of roles available, and there is no charge to audition.

A Year with Frog and Toad will be presented in March 2009. The Broadway hit musical is based on the famous children's books by Arnold Lobel. It was nominated for a 2003 Tony Award as Best Musical. Funny and uplifting, the family musical follows two great friends, the cheerful Frog and the grumpy Toad through four fun-filled seasons. The musical will be directed by Chuck Minsker and produced by Jeanette Rowsey, and auditions will be held in January 2009.

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business will also be presented in March 2009. Based on the popular book by Barbara Park and Denise Brunkus, it tells the story of a strong-willed six-year-old girl who's dealing with a soon-to-arrive baby brother, and another problem - what will she bring for show-and-tell? The play will be directed by Amy Browning and produced by Jeanette Bills, and auditions will be held in January 2009.

The First Stage Theatre Company is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an educational, developmental experience for young people through the performing arts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paying for Community Theatre - Part 2

As mentioned in yesterday's post, it takes some money to make it possible for a community theatre group to stage shows. For most groups, that money comes from ticket sales.

The question each group has to answer is: how much do we charge for a ticket?

It's a really tough question to answer, and the answer you'd get from most groups is: "It depends."

It depends on where you're staging the show. There's a big difference in the cost of putting on a show at the Clay Center, the Keith Albee or the Paramount, as opposed to a much smaller venue.

It depends on the potential audience for a show. If you're fairly certain you're going to get a big crowd, you can afford to charge less per ticket. If it's a specialized show that only has limited appeal, then maybe you have to charge a little more to cover expenses.

It depends on the cost of the show. If the show is underwritten, or if it's a relatively inexpensive show to stage, you can keep the ticket cost down. If it's an expensive show, requiring lots of sets, costumes and a full orchestra, then your tickets may reflect that.

It depends on your organization. Some charge the same for every show, no matter how big or small the production. Some adjust the ticket price for each show, depending on the factors we've discussed.

Ticket costs can really run to extremes - from just a few dollars per ticket to well above $50 for some professional shows - and for Broadway shows in big demand, that cost can run into several hundred dollars.

I thought it would be interesting to look at what different community theatre groups in our area have charged for tickets recently, and it's interesting to note that, with two exceptions, every group has a different price. Most groups have two prices for tickets - the full cost and a discounted cost for children (or students) and senior citizens. Where two prices are listed below, that's the difference between the two.

This is just a random sampling from recent shows, so don't expect a scientific survey. But here's what I found:

- At the upper end of cost, the Charleston Light Opera Guild charged $20 / $15 for Grease: The Musical. That's not surprising, since it was staged at the Clay Center.

- Our first tie is between Huntington Outdoor Theatre and the Kanawha Players, both of which charge $16 / $10.

- Close behind is our other tie - ARTS and the Charleston Stage Company at $15 / $10.

- Marshall University's Dept. of Theatre has a unique tiered price range, which runs $14 / $12 / $7 / $5.

- Fifth Avenue Theatre's most recent show featured tickets at $10 / $8.

- First Stage Theatre Company's last show went for $8 / $6 (although that base price can vary - High School Musical tickets were $12 / $10).

- And the best bargain around goes to ACTC at $6 / $4.

I guess what it comes down to is this: each group does its best to charge a price that works for its audience, but allows the group to continue presenting shows. Lots of factors have to be balanced out, and more than one group has failed over the years because of a miscalculation along the way.

It would be nice if community theatre could be offered at a cost no more than, say, a movie ticket - but that's just not practical for some shows. So it's up to the audience to look at the price and decide, is it worth it?

You can guess the answer each community theatre group is hoping to hear - "Yes!"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Paying for Community Theatre - Part 1

A past subject on this blog has been how expensive it can be for a community theatre group to put on a show. The short version is, it can run anywhere from several hundred dollars (for small shows you never heard of before) to thousands of dollars. There have even been reports of shows costing in the $100,000 range (though that’s also rare in our area).

People who are involved in community theatre tend to be in it for the fun of it, but at some point, they have to look at the cold hard facts - and drum up the funding needed for their show.

So just how do local groups come up with thousands of dollars? Well, some have the support of wealthy individuals - someone with enough money to cover the expenses out of his or her own bank account. Lots of groups actually start this way (often with several people pooling their resources). I only know of a few incidents like this in our area, and it’s usually for a specific show - not a season. Needless to say, every community theatre group would love to have a supporter like that.

Some groups do fundraisers - car washes, bake sales, bagging groceries, pancake breakfasts - whatever they can dream up. First Stage once raised money by selling candy - gourmet suckers, to be precise. Fundraisers are a good way to raise extra money to add to the till, but it’s difficult to raise enough money to fund a show this way. Not impossible - but difficult.

Some groups rely on grants from federal, state or local organizations. This is an area I don’t really know much about, but I do know they take a lot of work and they can vary from year to year. And most grants are given for a specific purpose - not just a general fund a group can draw on.

There are other sources of money - selling ads for the program, selling snacks or "Star Grams" or other trinkets at the show - but most community theatre groups live - and die - based on “The Gate” - in other words, ticket sales. If you have good attendance at a show, you can raise enough money to stage the next one. Poor attendance, and your group may not be able to stage that next performance.

And that brings us to the tricky question every single theatre group has to answer - how much are you going to charge for your tickets?

It’s a tough call - and it’s the subject of our next post...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Sad Weekend

Sad to see two obituaries this weekend of talented men who died too young, and whose work gave so much joy.

First we lost Bernie Mac at the age of 50. (The photo at right is courtesy the Associated Press). Here's the story from the AP:
Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh as well as connect with him. For Mac, who died Saturday at age 50, it was a winning mix, delivering him from a poor childhood to stardom as a standup comedian, in films including the casino heist caper Ocean's Eleven and his acclaimed sitcom The Bernie Mac Show.

Though his comedy drew on tough experiences as a black man, he had mainstream appeal—befitting inspiration he found in a wide range of humorists: Harpo Marx as well as Moms Mabley; squeaky-clean Red Skelton, but also the raw Redd Foxx.

Mac died Saturday morning from complications due to pneumonia in a Chicago area hospital, his publicist, Danica Smith, said in a statement from Los Angeles. She said no other details were available.

"This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie," said Don Cheadle, a member of the "Oceans" gang. "He brought so much joy to so many. He will be missed but heaven just got funnier."

Mac suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body's organs, but had said the condition went into remission in 2005. He recently was hospitalized and treated for pneumonia, which his publicist said was not related to the disease.
Now Isaac Hayes has left us (the photo is also courtesy the Associated Press).

Here's what the AP has to say about Isaac:
Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician whose relentless "Theme From Shaft" won Academy and Grammy awards, has been found dead at home. He was 65.

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office says a family member found Hayes unresponsive near a treadmill on Sunday. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis. The cause of death was not immediately known.

In the early 1970s, Hayes laid the groundwork for disco, for what became known as urban-contemporary music and for romantic crooners like Barry White. And he was rapping before there was rap.

Les Miz in Concert

Concert-goers on the West Coast got a real treat this weekend, as a special concert based on the musical Les Misérables was presented at the Hollywood Bowl.

I mention it here because the concert featured Huntington's own J. Mark McVey, reprising the Jean Valjean role he performed on Broadway.

Of course, he wasn't the only performer - several other actors who have played in Les Miz were also featured. Concert versions of shows are becoming more popular, especially of shows that feature such wonderful music.

One of these days, a local group should tackle a similar project... (hint, hint)!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Grant for First Stage

It's always nice to share good news, and the First Stage Theatre Company got some recently, as this press release explains (and yes, I know it's a story that includes me - including the photo here taken by my pal C.E. Wilson, which shows the presentation of the check from Foundation for the Tri-State Community President Mary Witten Wiseman to yours truly in my capacity as First Stage President) - but every now and then you just have to say "Thanks" when people do nice things):
The First Stage Theatre Company has received a grant for $3667 from the Foundation for the Tri-State Community, which is based in Ashland, Ky.

The grant will be used to purchase new sound equipment for the local children's theatre group. According to First Stage President Chuck Minsker, "We're very grateful to everyone at the Foundation for their support and generosity. This grant will make it possible for us to update our system of wireless microphones - a vital tool for any theatre group. Our system was badly in need of replacement, and that's possible now, thanks to this grant."

The check was presented by Foundation President Mary Witten Wiseman. The Foundation for the Tri-State Community is celebrating its 35th anniversary and focuses on providing support for the non-profit community in the Tri-State area and on the distribution of charitable dollars.

The First Stage Theatre Company is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an educational, developmental experience for young people through the performing arts. This fall the group will begin its 19th season of shows with a production of the classic musical Peter Pan.
I'm working on a blog entry about the challenges of funding a community theatre group, but I have to tell you, support like this is invaluable to a local non-profit organization like First Stage. More on that soon.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Deadline Near for Applications for Jim Stone Scholarship

Here's a cause that's near and dear to my heart: the Jim Stone Scholarship. It was created by the First Stage Theatre Company about seven years ago to honor a wonderful guy (and a heck of an actor) who was so supportive to young actors.

It's also designed to offer some financial assistance to young performers - "veterans" of First Stage shows - as they go off to college. Here's the press release that announces the upcoming deadline for entries - if you know of any seniors who are heading off to college and will be studying some branch of the performing arts, let them know about this:
The First Stage Theatre Company is still accepting applications for its annual Jim Stone Scholarship.

First Stage sponsors the scholarship to honor the memory of Jim Stone, a longtime supporter of the arts and mentor to local children in the performing arts. A $250 scholarship is available for entering freshmen or current full-time students who are studying dramatic or performing arts at a college, university or certified school of the performing arts.

The scholarship may be renewed each year for a total of four years. Three previous winners are eligible to renew their scholarships this year.

The deadline for entries is Monday, August 18, 2008.

Applicants must have been involved with at least one First Stage Theatre Company (or Musical Arts Guild - Children's Theatre) show, either on-stage (as a performer) or off-stage (as a member of the tech crew). Applicants must send a transcript of their last year's schooling, a list of the shows they've been in and a short essay (no more than 300 words) on why the applicant is planning to study dramatic or performing arts.

Applications should be sent to First Stage Scholarships, c/o Jim Lamp, P.O. Box 2488, Huntington, WV 25725.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Peter Pan" Auditions Coming Up Soon

It was about eight years ago that the First Stage Theatre Company tackled the musical Peter Pan, and I remember the auditions were the most crowded I had ever seen - before or since - as literally hundreds of young performers tried out.

It was a terrific show and a great experience for all those who took part. Now the next generation is about to get its chance, as:
First Stage Theatre Announces "Peter Pan" Auditions

The First Stage Theatre Company will present Peter Pan as part of its 19th Season. Auditions will be held Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Aug. 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pea Ridge United Methodist Church at 5747 E. Pea Ridge Road in Huntington.

Casting is available for young actors ranging in age from kindergarten to seniors in High School. There are multiple parts with all different varieties of skills.

Those auditioning should have a 30-second song prepared. There will be a pianist, but you may use an accompaniment tape or CD (with no vocals) and must be cued to the proper song. Wear comfortable clothes for dance.

The show will be staged at the Huntington High School Auditorium at 1 Highlander Way on Oct. 31, Nov. 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9, 2008. The classic musical tells the story of the boy from Never-Never Land who refuses to grow up, and his adventures with Wendy, Michael, John and the Lost Boys, as they fight the evil Captain Hook and his band of pirates. The directing team includes director Mary Smirl, musical director Lara Donahoe and producer Elaine Young.

The First Stage Theatre Company is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an educational, developmental experience for young people through the performing arts.
It's going to be a great show! After all, how often do you get to fly on stage? To everyone trying out - good luck!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Derek Keeling in the Spotlight

West Virginia native son Derek Keeling is getting lots of attention thanks to his star turn as Danny in the musical Grease on Broadway.

He's interviewed in this story on the Playbill website, and it includes this mention of his home state:
Q: On TV, you were presented as "The Wholesome Danny." Do you endorse that version of yourself?

Keeling: I'm from West Virginia. I'm from a Southern Baptist family. I think that's where a lot of that came from. I believe I am genuinely a really nice guy, and I respect people that I work with. On TV, they take little parts of you and want to build it up into a character. I do think I'm a pretty wholesome guy. I am really good friends with my mom - I talk to her every day. I'm very close with my family, and I'm very traditional. I think that has a lot to do with where I grew up and how I was raised, but I do have a lot of those Danny qualities in me too [laughs].
If that's not enough, you can also read a short feature on Derek right here on the Broadway.com website. He's everywhere!

More About the Lame Name Players

As promised, here's more info about the Lame Name Players, courtesy of my pal Stephen Vance:
Bil Neal and Stephen Vance have put together a 10-minute play night, featuring some of the usually unfeatured talent of the area. The idea was to give young intuitive actors the opportunity to design and perform pieces that aren't generally seen in the area. Thus, the Lame Name Players were formed. There will be pieces from famed comedic writers David Ives and Christopher Durang, and some very witty pieces by lesser known artists. The evening will be full of light-hearted and often clever humor.

Although Bil and Stephen will be performing in extremely limited measure throughout the evening (ie: segues and small bit parts), the true essence of the evening will be the performances given by the talented faces that most have not yet seen or didn't realize that they had. The Lame Name Players will feature: Nick Husted, Amelia Rapp and Stephanie Budrus.

Nick Husted is a third-year theatre major at Earlham University in Indiana. Nick is often considered top choice by local directors for any number of roles and has performed in several community theatre shows including: Oklahoma, 1776 and Neil Simon's The Good Doctor.

Amelia Rapp is a recent graduate of Huntington High and is a freshman at Pittsburgh. Amelia won two state championships for individual performance this year, including one for her work on The Miracle Worker where she portrayed all three characters in the piece.

Stephanie Budrus is a senior at Huntington High where she is the captain of their award winning Speech team. Stephanie recently finished 13th in the nation for her interpretation of pieces by Roald Dahl and Robert Penn Warren.

The concept has two levels to it. The first is to give these kids the experience as leads working with a very fast pace to develop very defined characters. The second is to provide an intimate and entertaining environment where an audience can be right in the midst of what is happening. Fortunately for us, ARTS has agreed to allow us to use their ballroom as the venue.

We also have baritone saxophonist Justin Cron and guitarist Sean Pauley for musical interludes. They were recently featured in HOT's preshow.

What an audience can expect is an evening full of fun and laughs, while ultimately discovering some of their new favorite performers.

Tickets will only be $10 with refreshments provided. The performance dates are Friday and Saturday, August 8 and 9 at 8 p.m.

For more information or tickets, contact 304-733-ARTS or email thelamenameplayers@gmail.com.
Sounds like fun! Mark those calendars, theatre fans!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Lame Name Players - and much more!

The group known as ARTS, which makes its home in the Renaissance Center (also known as the old Huntington High School), has several programs coming up in the days ahead. For example:

- Cabaret with Lame Name Players - August 8 & 9, performance begins at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10. Reservations not needed but suggested. (More about this show in the next post.)

- Carl Toler Group “August in New Orleans” - August 24, Lunch at 1 p.m. – the show run from 2 to 5 p.m. The program will feature favorite foods of the region, dancing will be offered on ballroom floor (which is the largest in the Tri-State). Dinner $15 – Show $15 Reservations are due by August 20.

- John Eric Booth – Swing Music, many of Frank Sinatra’s favorites - August 29. Dancing offered on ballroom floor. Dinner at 6:30 p.m. - $15. Show begins at 8 p.m. - $15. Reservations due by August 25

- “Old Friends” Music of the Four Freshmen & More - September 26, Dinner at 6:30 p.m. - $15. Performance at 7:45 p.p - $20. Reservations due by September 22.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Shows in August

I've been warning that August is a lean month for shows, and September is even worse - but the good news is, things will start to pick up again in October.

In the meantime, the only stage shows left this month are courtesy the Jenny Wiley Theatre. Here's what they're offering:

A Chorus Line - Aug. 6, 8, 10, 12, 15

The Wizard of Oz - Aug. 7, 9, 13, 14, 16

Honky Tonk Angels - Aug. 13

And that's it! Luckily, there are also some other programs coming up in the area that I'll talk about in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, stay in the shade, y'all!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

More About the Marshall Artists Series

If you'd like to know more about the upcoming season of the Marshall Artists Series, you should definitely read this story in the Herald-Dispatch by my pal Dave Lavender. You can also see a photo gallery right here.

Here's the part of the story that theatre fans will focus on:
Booking a series that's equally appealing to the Tri-State community and Marshall students, Penny Watkins, executive director of the Marshall Artists Series, said the new season brings art, culture and fun to the downtown.

"The Marshall Artists Series' 72nd season guarantees to both stretch one's intellectual soul and flip to the other extreme with pure entertainment," Watkins said.

Watkins said the base of the Artists Series is Broadway-built as series patrons have fallen in love with seeing classic, and the latest touring Broadway shows inside the opulent and expanded Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

Angela Jones, marketing director for the series, said the upsurge in Broadway shows is by request after folks asked for more Broadway shows on a series survey a couple year ago.

The Artists Series has gladly complied.

"That's a pretty big Broadway season this year," Jones said. "I think people love it because we don't get that much of it. I think for so many years it was the same tours out, but now they're taking out these big shows, and different shows out on the road. I also think getting to see a show in the expanded Keith too is a big draw."

Last season, the Artists Series packed the Keith-Albee with Billy Joel's Movin' Out, and the rip-roaring season closer, Hairspray.

This year, there are six big blasts of Broadway, including Nunsense, starring Sally Struthers on Wednesday, Oct. 22, Oliver, on Wednesday, Nov. 12, Wizard of Oz (as seen in the photo above), on Tuesday, Dec. 9, Sweeney Todd, on Thursday, Feb. 5, Golda's Balcony, on Saturday, March 7 and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, on Tuesday, April 28.

Jones said the Artists Series is excited about the Broadway shows. For example, Wizard of Oz is a new Broadway touring production of the iconic dream-filled story written by L. Frank Baum.

Add to that new touring productions of new musicals, Sweeney Todd, and Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Jones thinks they've got some nice magnets for Marshall students to get downtown and enjoy the series.
It's shaping up to be yet another outstanding season. Is that great or what?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

"Sweeney Todd" Shows Cancelled

Sad news tonight, as an accident on the set of ACTC's production of Sweeney Todd has apparently forced the cancellation of the remaining shows this weekend.

My information comes from a second-hand source (so if I have anything wrong here, please correct me), but from what I'm told a staircase that was part of the set collapsed Thursday night while cast members were posing for a photograph. Thankfully, the only injuries were minor ones.

But as a result, college officials decided to shut down the production. It must have been a tough decision - a lot of work goes into a show, after all - but the safety of the cast and crew has to come first.

This story just reinforces the importance of safety on the stage. The potential for bad things to happen is always there - you're working with temporary sets, moving pieces of scenery, other actors, low (or no) lighting - there's always the chance of a stumble, and there have been other shows where actors got hurt (or could have been hurt) when a section of a set gave way.

Try though every theatre group does to make the stage a safe place, there's always an element of danger. Kudos to ACTC for putting safety first.

The famous theatre saying is, "The show must go on," but there are exceptions - and this is one of them.

Friday, August 01, 2008

On Stage This Weekend - Lots o' shows!

Enjoy the summer's last show-filled weekend, theater fans!

Here's your weekend rundown for local community theatre shows:

- Anything Goes! (HOT) wraps up its run at the Ritter Park Amphitheatre in Huntington, tonight, Saturday and Sunday.

- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (ACTC) also has three more shows at the J. C. Sowards Theater in Ashland, running tonight through Sunday.

- Grease: The Musical (Charleston Light Opera Guild) is on stage tonight through Sunday at the Clay Center.

- The Little Prince (Backstage Players) runs tonight and Saturday at the Boyd County Fairgrounds annex building.

- Jenny Wiley Theater has its usual hectic schedule, with Honky Tonk Angels and A Chorus Line tonight, In The Mood (A Special Event) - Aug. 2; The Wizard of Oz - Aug. 3; Little Red: Life in the Hood - Aug. 5; A Chorus Line - Aug. 6; and The Wizard of Oz - Aug. 7.

So get out there this weekend and support your local theater!