Tri-State Theater

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Wearing Many Hats in Community Theatre

My pal Dave Lavender files a good story about a woman who wears many hats in this summer's production of Annie.

Here's the story:
Through open slats in the revolving stage of Annie, Kerri Easter Stambaugh frantically hunts for a good vantage point to watch the show in little slices from backstage as it unfolds.

Stambaugh, the Huntington Outdoor Theatre veteran is not only playing Sophie and Frances Perkins in Annie, but she is also choreographing the show.

If that is not enough to worry about, Stambaugh is also the director of the children's pre-show called, "A Taste of Broadway," that features a song from each of H.O.T.'s 17 shows through the years.

H.O.T. continues its run of Annie at 8:30 p.m. nightly Friday through Sunday, July 16-18 and 23-25 at the Ritter Park Amphitheater. You'll want to get there early as the pre-show entertainment begins at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $16 and $15 for seniors 65 and older and children ages 5-12. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.

Gates open at 6:30 p.m. for picnicking. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and a picnic if you'd like although there is full concessions including catering by Wesvanawha, which has pulled pork sandwiches, mesquite chicken and other fresh picnic-style foods.

Stambaugh, a 1998 graduate of Marshall University with a bachelor's degree in theatre/dance, said when this season of H.O.T. started she had signed on as the director of the pre-show.

A Kentucky resident who has starred in past H.O.T. productions of Footloose, Beauty and the Beast and All Shook Up, Stambaugh said she also told director Helen Freeman that she would play any minor part that Freeman needed as well in Annie.

"I was a lead last year but since I was directing the pre-show I told Helen wherever you need me, if you need me to stand there and be a tree I will do that," Stambaugh said.

At first Freeman kept her out of the show since she was directing the pre-show, which means herding several dozen kids that range in age from 5 to college age during a constantly moving 45-minute dance and music-filled show.

"She took me out of the cast and about two weeks into the show Patty Freeman (the choreographer) had to drop out," Stambaugh said. "They just handed me the CD and said, 'Here.' There wasn't a choice in the matter. They know I love choreography and it was literally 15 minutes after I was handed the CD that I started choreography."

Stambaugh, who has been teaching dance for nine years at Tammy Jo's Studio in Greenup, Ky., said she didn't think twice about directing the pre-show and choreographing the main show.

"I just love it and I love helping out, and I wouldn't have said no in a million years because that made it easier for Patty," Stambaugh said. "I was already there for the pre-show so that made it easier on her, knowing that she needed to be with family at this time. I was glad to be able to ease that worry for her."

As fate would have it, although Freeman had pulled Stambaugh out of the show with her two directing hats on, another sickness in the show caused Freeman to reinsert Stambaugh back as two minor characters in Annie.

Stambaugh said being in the show, once the weekend run has started, has made it interesting to try and tweak the choreography.

"I'm already in costume so I can't just come out and sit for Annie, so there are peepholes and I am spying on them some of the time," Stambaugh said with a laugh. "I try and stay out of their (the tech crew's) way, and Helen is always looking out there too."

Stambaugh, who has been dancing since she was three, and who also choreographed such H.O.T. shows as Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady, said Annie has been a lot of fun to put together.

"I was really excited because I have some trained dancers in the show and so there are some points like the serving staff is cleaning and were able to add some difficult dance moves that only trained dancers could do," Stambaugh said.

At other points, Stambaugh said the choreography called for a wilder, un-trained rumpus of sorts.

"There are a lot of great dance moves from that period like the Charleston is more 1920s but it was still hanging on and a number of these elements are in the kids numbers but we left some of them messy because they are orphans," Stambaugh said. "I told them just go out and have fun and don't look like the Rockettes, make it yours and put a little flavor of your own character in your kicks."

For the pre-show Stambaugh has gotten some assistant direction from Cody Verbage, a Huntington High School graduate who is attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in the fall, as well as her mom, Randy Easter.

With the shows opening a week early because of the soccer tournament, Stambaugh said that help has been essential.

"My mother is my assistant and she is my sanity keeper," Stambaugh said. "That is what she is in charge of -- keeping me sane. There's a lot of paperwork and who is there and who's not, and she's calling 'why are you not at rehearsal?' and she is making sure things are in order so I could concentrate on the performance itself."

Although she got pretty worn down by the long rehearsal days that were running from about 4 p.m. to midnight and topped with an hour and a half drive to get herself and her niece (who is in the show) home, Stambaugh said she has thrived because she is working with a great group.

And as someone who loves improve dancing she doesn't mind working on the fly and under more than a little pressure.

"The time crunch was definitely the hardest," Stambaugh said of losing a week of rehearsal, "But I actually think that sometimes I work better under pressure. I discovered that in college when I had the most hours is when I had the best grades."

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