Tri-State Theater

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

Friday, January 31, 2014

On Stage: "Twelve Angry Men"

    Taking the stage Friday night is the powerful drama Twelve Angry Men

   Presented by ARTS, the drama revolves around a tense court case - and the men who must decide guilt or innocence. 

   You can see a photo gallery of shots from the show right here, and you can read a terrific story by Dave Lavender in the Entertainment Section of Thursday's Herald-Dispatch - here's a sample:
There’s good news and bad news. 
The bad news is that you’ve got jury duty. 
The good news is they’re serving dinner. 
ARTS kicks off its 2014 theater season with the riveting courtroom drama, Twelve Angry Men that puts the audience right in the jury room on raised platform seating as the show unfolds around the table below. 
Directed by Stephen Vance, the fast and furi­ous drama is set to run at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31 and Saturday, Feb. 1 as well as 8 p.m. Friday and Satur­day, Feb. 7-8 in the Renaissance Ballroom at the Renaissance Arts Center, 900 8th St., Huntington.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Auditions for "Dear Edwina, Jr."

   First Stage is doing something unique this season - they're holding two auditions for the same show. Months ago the group auditioned for the core cast for Dear Edwina, Jr. - and that group took part in the MTI Festival in Atlanta recently.

   But now it's time to expand the cast for the full stage version, so they're holding auditions again! Here's the info:

   The company will have auditions for the musical Dear Edwina, Jr., a heartwarming musical about the joys of growing up. With the help of her friends, siblings and neighbors Edwina Spoonapple strives to be acknowledged for her accomplishments as well as her advice. “Told through a show-within-a-show format, Edwina and her friends share wisdom that is sure to delight.” 

   The new cast members will join those who attended the Junior Theatre Festival (JTF) in January. This audition will be for additional chorus members who were unable to attend JTF and younger actors interested in participating in the April shows.

   To audition actors must at least be in the first grade and not exceed a senior in high school. 

   Auditions Dates: Saturday, February 1 from 9 a.m. to noon. 

   Location for Auditions: Pea Ridge United Methodist Church
   5747 East Pea Ridge Road
   Huntington, WV 25705 

   Actors should come with a 45 second audition song (accompanist, CD and tape player will be available) and be prepared to learn a short dance.

   Rehearsals will begin in the middle of February. The show, which will run two weekends at the Renaissance Center in Huntington, will open on April 4.

   Show Dates: April 4-6, 10-13, 2014

   If you have questions please contact the production team at dearedwina2014@gmail.com.

Director: Amy Browning
Producer: Jeanette Bailey
Assistant Director: Ashleigh Bailey-Bannon
Choreographer: Melissa McGuffin
Musical Director: Chris Bowling

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Cast of "Twelve Angry Men" - Interview #1

This Friday is the premiere of the drama Twelve Angry Men, the first offering for 2014 from ARTS.  Here to kick off our interviews with the cast of that show is Dylan Clark. As you're about to see, he's a very funny guy (and a heck of a fine actor):
Q: In case our reader isn't familiar with it, tell us the basic story behind Twelve Angry Men.
Dylan: It's a lot like that Pauly Shore film, Jury Duty.
Q: Tell us about the character you play.
Dylan: I play Juror #8. He's the reason for most of the conflict within the story, without him the play would probably last five minutes.
Q: What's your background in theatre?
Dylan: I invented it... at least I think that was me.
Q: What's the most challenging thing about staging this show?
Dylan: Definitely the space. It's far from conventional and when you have audience on two sides you need to be very aware not to block the audience view of important parts in the show.
Q: Why would you recommend this show to our readers?
Dylan: It's a good show in an interesting space that challenges the audience to consider all sides of a story.
Q: Tell us the dates, times and place for the show.
Dylan: Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 7 and 8. It's at the old Huntington High School on 8th Street. Tickets are $15. If you can't afford it, meet me in the back parking lot. I'll sneak you in under my coat.
Thanks, Dylan!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Local Theatre History Part X! - Three More to Remember

   My pal Jonathan Joy had some thoughts to add to our history of local theatre, and he was nice enough to send this terrific essay along for us to enjoy.

   Thanks, Jon!

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

   I can think of three additional companies to add to Chuck's list, and I'm sure there are even more. My theatre history in this town only stretches back about 23 years. These three companies were all short-lived, but ambitious and successful artistically, if not financially.  They also meant a lot to me.  

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

On Stage This Weekend

   After several weeks of quiet stages, community theatre springs back to life!

   Courtesy of my pal Ryan Hardiman, here's the list of shows taking the stage this weekend:

- Million Dollar Quartet (Musical)
Marshall Artists Series
Sun., Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center
925 4th Ave, Huntington, WV
Tickets $65, $56 and $51

- Lombardi (Play)
WV Actors Guild of Parkersburg
Fri.-Sat., Jan. 24, 25 and Jan 31, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m.
Matinees Sun., Jan. 26 and Feb. 2 at 2:30 p.m.
Actors Guild of Parkersburg
724 Market Street, Parkersburg

- A Murderous Wake (Interactive Murder Dinner Party)
Murder and Merriment
Fri.-Sat., Jan. 24, 25
The Greenhouse of Teays Valley, Hurricane
Tickets $45 per guest (includes dinner)
Reservations required 304-397-6316

   So get out there and enjoy some theatre - finally!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Local Theatre History Part X - Here and Gone

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

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

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

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

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

   And then there's the group headed by Eddie Harbert known as the Renaissance Players, and they've also staged a number of shows in the area, including Nunsense, Baby, Little Shop of Horrors, Closer Than Ever and The Rocky Horror Show. That group has been on hiatus for more than five years, and may yet return to the stage (although these days Eddie is busy directing shows for 5th Avenue Theatre Company).

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

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

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

   With five active performing groups in Huntington alone, theatre continues to be a vibrant part of the city - and we wouldn't have it any other way!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Local Theatre History Part IX - First United Methodist Church

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

   The First United Methodist Church in downtown Huntington stages an annual show to raise money as an integral part of First Church's Mission program, raising more than $40,000 for Mission projects through 21 productions. 

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

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

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

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

   The show is always staged near Valentine’s Day at the First United Methodist Church at 1124 5th Avenue.

   Even better, in addition to the show you can also enjoy a great dinner!

   And more good news - in just a few weeks (Feb. 13, 14 and 15, to be exact), the group will present a brand new show, just written by Jon Joy - it’s A Bitsy and Boots Holiday Special. 

   Highly recommended - you get a great dinner, a great show, and you're helping a great cause! You can call (740) 867-8576 to make reservations.

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

Next: The end of history.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Local Theatre History Part VIII - CUP

Continuing our history of Huntington's community theatre groups, we turn the spotlight on the group that's only been around for four years - but they've been very productive:  
The newest theatre group in town is known as CUP (Curtains Up Players).
It was first organized in 2010 under the name Pullman Players, with the original purpose of bringing crowds to the Pullman Plaza Hotel.
Under the guidance of Debbie Wolfe, Shayne Gue, Paul Neace and Marina Jurica (among others), the group staged four shows at Pullman - and then broke away to form an independent group, changing its name to CUP.
Relocating to the Jeslyn Theatre (the former Camelot Theatre), CUP has presented 10 shows, from small non-musicals like How I Learned to Drive, concert performances like Night of 100 Tonys, and big musicals like Avenue Q and last September’s Shrek: the Musical.
They’re in the process of putting together their 2014 lineup, so look for that announcement soon!
CUP may be the new kid on the block, but they’re a hard-working, experienced and ambitious group of veterans - we can expect great things from them!
Next: A higher cause!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Local Theatre History Part VII - Free Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   These days the troupe is in a bit of a hiatus. It's been several years since their last major production. Recent shows include Festiv-all one act performances and nothing more. 

   If and when FSP will return is unsure - only time will tell. 

Next: Curtains Up Players.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Local Theatre History Part VI - ARTS

   For the next chapter in our history of Huntington's community theatre groups, let's look at the local theatre company that's taking a new approach:

   One of the newest theatre groups in town is, basically, a new wing of an organization that got its start about 15 years ago. Arts Resources for the Tri-State (ARTS) began as an alliance of three theatre groups and one orchestra that would work together to refurbish part of the old Huntington High School and turn it into a center for local arts groups.

   For assorted reasons the idea didn’t work out and the original members of the organization - the Musical Arts Guild, the Musical Arts Guild - Children’s Theatre, Huntington Outdoor Theatre and the Tri-State Youth Orchestra - all eventually left the ARTS organization.

   But that wasn't the end. The group's board continued on its own, managing the use of the auditorium and renting it out to other organizations. For several years the organization presented fundraisers in concert form featuring Broadway veterans Mark and Beth McVey.

   About 10 years ago the group started presenting stage shows as a way to raise money to refurbish the auditorium.

   The output was solid, including shows like Amahl and the Night VisitorFiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, Will Rogers Follies and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (among many others). 

   But in 2012, ARTS took a surprising new direction. It built a new structure, basing it around a team of four directors: current President Bil Neal, Gene Anthony, Mike Murdock and Stephen Vance

   They auditioned and cast a resident acting company, and used that group to present a season of six shows in 2013, using open auditions to round out each cast. 

   It was a tremendous success, so they're using the same plan for the 2014 season, which will include Twelve Angry Men, The Pirates of Penzance, The Boy Friend, Much Ado About Nothing, Crazy for You and Rabbit Hole.  

   It's an ambitious plan and a terrific season - mark your calendars!

Next: Being a Free Spirit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Local Theatre History Part V - 5th Avenue Theatre

   For the latest chapter in our history of Huntington community theatre companies, here's a look at the long-running group based out of City Hall:

   The 5th Avenue Theatre Company was founded about 13 years ago for a unique purpose: to raise money for the City of Huntington Foundation.

   Back in 1991 the Foundation began the restoration of City Hall's auditorium. The city had planned to gut the old auditorium to create office space, but interior designer Jean Carlo Stephenson urged City Council to reconsider. She was the Foundation's first director, and because of her efforts, the auditorium is now named after her.

   But maintaining and making improvements to the facility takes a lot of cash. To raise money, the 5th Avenue Theatre Company has staged a number of shows, including Annie, West Side Story, Carousel, Christmas Carol, White Christmas, The Music Man, Camelot, Man of La Mancha and 9 to 5.

   Because of the uneven nature of bringing in money on shows (not every show makes money, as anyone in theatre can tell you), 5th Avenue has been cautious and focuses on presenting strong musicals. 

   In the meantime, the organization continues making improvements to the auditorium, including a new and improved sound system.

   The next show in line is another classic Broadway hit, Pippin, so the City of Huntington Foundation will continue to give audiences a reason to pay a visit to their facility. 

Next: A theatre group that's supporting a classic theater - and taking a new approach to community theatre!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Local Theatre History Part IV - HOT

   For Part IV of our history of Huntington's theatre groups, let's look at one of the area's biggest success stories - and 2013 was its swan song on local stages:

   The Huntington Outdoor Theatre (HOT) got its start back in 1993, and - of course - its origins can be traced to the Musical Arts Guild. At one MAG performance (I’m not sure which show it was), Helen Freeman first met Patti Shaver. The two kicked around the idea of starting a local outdoor theatre - and finally decided to give it a try. 

   HOT’s shows have all been presented at Huntington's Ritter Park Amphitheater. The shows usually run through each weekend in July. Some years the group has presented two shows in a summer, while other times they present a single show.

    The group is led by Helen, who served as the President and Artistic Director, and Patti, who was Vice-President and Managing Director for most of the group's run. Helen directed most of the shows, and Patti choreographed and organized things behind the scenes. Of course, they had lots of help, with a board of directors and an small army of managers tackling every job from designing posters to selling tickets and T-shirts. 

    HOT established itself as a summer tradition, and focused on presenting big musicals, including shows like Hello, Dolly, Guys and Dolls, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, The Music Man, Huntington: The Jewel of West Virginia and Oklahoma.

    Each show also featured a pre-show, with a variety of performers singing or dancing, and a prepared performance by young actors.

    HOT has been a real success story, bringing in huge crowds through the month of July. Like any outdoor theatre, its only enemy is bad weather, but thankfully Huntington’s summers are usually mild.

    But sadly, 2013 was the 20th and final season for HOT. The group went out on a high note, with a powerhouse presentation of the musical Hairspray. Summers will be a lot less fun without HOT livening things up!

    Next: A theatre group that was created to raise money for the City of Huntington!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Local Theatre History Part III - First Stage

 We've looked at Marshall University and Musical Arts Guild, so now it's time to look at the longest-running community theatre group (that's still active) in Huntington. The group has gone by two names over the years, but the one it's carried the longest is First Stage: 

   The First Stage Theatre Company got its start 23 years (and one name change) ago. After auditions in 1990 for shows like Annie and Hansel and Gretel brought in - literally - hundreds of kids, it was obvious that there was a need for an outlet for these young thespians. 

   As with many local theatre groups, its beginning are tied to the Musical Arts Guild (MAG). George Snider and Jennifer Salcines approached the board of MAG and asked the group to sponsor the children’s theatre, and that’s how the Musical Arts Guild – Children’s Theatre (MAG-CT) began. The group’s first production was You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown on Sept. 14, 1990.

   There are, basically, two kinds of children’s theatres. One features adults putting on shows for young people (with the cast perhaps including a few young actors), and the other stars young actors in the leads (with the cast sometimes including a few adults). MAG-CT would be the latter, and over the years it has allowed young people the chance to star in all kinds of shows, both musical and non-musical.

   Like any youth organization, the group has an ever-changing board, as young actors and their parents get involved, graduate and move on to other interests. There's only one board members still involved with the group who were there at the beginning - the group’s past chairman, C.E. Wilson, who was the first liaison between MAG and MAG-CT (he’s a darned good actor, too).

    By 2001 it was obvious that MAG-CT was able to stand on its own two feet, so in an amicable split the two groups separated, and the children’s theatre adopted a new name (one suggested by board member Clint McElroy): the First Stage Theatre Company.  

    Like its parent group, First Stage was a theatre group without a home - so it roams from theater to theater, depending on which one is available and which one fits the needs of the production. Every year the group produces either two or three shows (although it produced four shows in 2010, and five during the current season), each one featuring young actors from across the Tri-State area. The purpose of the group is to provide young people with a positive experience either on the stage or working behind the scenes.  

    If anyone out there is avoiding their shows because it’s a “children’s theatre,” you’re missing out on some great young talent - many of whom you’ll see on stage in other local theatre productions. 

   Over the years the group has staged major shows like Bye, Bye Birdie, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Seussical: the Musical, Honk, Les Miserables: The School Edition, The Little Mermaid, Jr., and Cats, in addition to smaller shows like Tom Sawyer, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Winnie the Pooh, A Christmas Story, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Three Musketeers and Babes in Toyland.

    First Stage also offers up two scholarship programs - one named in honor of Jim Stone, a local actor who was a great supporter of the arts and a mentor to many young actors, and another in honor of Leslie McElroy, an actress and board member for First Stage. 

    First Stage has established itself as a great place for young people to get their start in theatre. There they gain the skills and confidence that will serve them well throughout their life. 

    Next: Started just a few years after the Children’s Theatre, this group ruled the month of July - which must be why it’s called HOT.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Local Theatre History Part II - MAG

   Continuing our history of local theatre, originally written in 2006 and updated a bit. Yesterday we looked at Marshall University's history (presumably it's the longest-running continuous theatre company in the area). Now for the second-longest-running group: MAG.

   The Musical Arts Guild (MAG) is the second-longest-running (and still active) community theater group in the Huntington area. Way back in 1965 several area churches combined their choirs to provide music for a preaching mission, and that was the beginning for the Musical Arts Guild. 

   Those early missions were presented for a while at the Keith-Albee Theater, and when that ended, the group continued doing concerts and finally “regular” shows at the Huntington High School auditorium (now known as the Renaissance Center). 

   Over the years since, the group has produced some terrific shows and given stage time to some local talent, including Michael Cerveris and Mark and Beth McVey

    One of my favorite shows produced by MAG was Fiddler on the Roof in the mid-’90s, starring my dearly departed pal Jim Stone as Tevye.

    Unfortunately, it’s been a while since MAG tackled a stage show - I believe their last stage show was The King and I, directed by Danny Ray and starring Tommy Smirl. The group is still active, but has gone back to its roots and presents shows in concert form only. 

   MAG annually holds a fundraising concert for the three scholarships the group awards every year to Marshall students - two for music majors and one for a theatre major.

   They’ve carried the torch of community theatre for almost 50 years - and hopefully they’ll continue to bring the gift of music to the area for many more years to come.

    MAG was also directly responsible for the next-oldest local community theatre group - the one devoted to local children.

Next: Part III - First Stage Theatre Company 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Local Theatre History Part I - Marshall University

   This post was originally written in 2006, though it's been updated a bit - please let us know of any corrections needed:

   In thinking about theatre here in Huntington, I often think about the history of it. As far as I know, no history of local theatre has ever been assembled - and there's not much to be found on the subject on the Internet. 

   Touring shows have probably been presented in Huntington virtually since the city was founded, and certainly local schools have put on shows since the first teacher or parent walked through the door who was willing to take on the challenge.

   A quick look at the Internet reveals that the newest section of Marshall’s Old Main - the part with the auditorium in it - was built in 1907, and no doubt the students started staging shows there not long after. Although I don't have any research to back it up (and I trust you'll correct me if I'm wrong, dear reader), it seems safe to assume that Marshall has the longest continuing tradition of putting on shows in Huntington.

   I have wonderful memories of seeing great shows in that auditorium. When I was a student in the late ‘70s, one of the outstanding performers was a guy named Joe Johns, who is well known today for his work on CNN (and NBC before that). Perhaps Marshall's most famous acting alumni is the Oscar-winning Brad Dourif (although Billy Crystal also attended for a semester). Actually, my hero Soupy Sales is probably the most famous, though I'm not sure if he ever acted on the Marshall stage.

    There are many other alumni who are actively working now in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, as well as others traveling the country in touring shows.

   These days Marshall has a new theater, and it’s a beauty. The Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center is a state of the art facility, and the Department of Theatre uses it to maximum effect. The shows they’ve staged in recent years certainly live up to (and often surpass) the ones from the past. They stage at least four shows a year, most of them directed by professors Jack Cirillo or Nicole Perrone - and they do amazing work.

   They do a great mix of classic theatre, modern plays, musicals (including one of my favorite shows last year, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and almost every year they tackle a Shakespeare play, like the excellent Midsummer Night's Dream, or this year's The Taming of the Shrew - you owe it to yourself to see these.

   If you’re not checking these out on a regular basis, you’re missing some excellent work - not to mention the chance to see the potential stars of the future!

   By the way, Marshall Department of Theatre also has an excellent history archive on its website, with photos from many shows and lots more information - check it out right here.

   So I'm assuming Marshall has been putting on shows the longest - although certainly the local high schools are also in the running, although their output has been sporadic over the years. So who's next on the longest-running list? 

   That's the topic of the next post, which we'll call: History Part 2 - The Musical Arts Guild.

Monday, January 06, 2014

A Quiet January - So Far

   Sorry for the lack of posts, theatre pals - but frankly, there hasn't been much going on lately in terms of shows on stage.

   There's a lot going on behind the scenes - shows like Godspell, Ten Angry Men, Dear Edwina, Jr. and many others are busy rehearsing, building sets, making costumes and generally getting ready to take the stage - but since Christmas, there have been no shows on local stages.

   The next scheduled show is No Exit, as George Washington High School's Theatre of the Nevertheless presents the play based on the 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul SartreThe play is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It will be presented for one performance only on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

   So what to do in the meantime? Well, I thought I'd run a few "greatest hit" posts from early in the life of this blog. I once did a short history of some of the area's community theatre groups, so in case you missed it, I'm going to update and re-post those in hopes you can add to our knowledge about Huntington's theatrical history.

   That starts tomorrow, so watch this space!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

On Stage in January 2014

   January's usually a slow month for theatre as groups get geared up for the new year (February has lots of shows on tap), but there are a few to watch for! 

   Here's the list:

   - Twelve Angry Men - ARTS presents the courtroom drama at the Renaissance Theatre Ballroom in Huntington on Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 7 and 8 at 8 p.m.

   - Million Dollar Quartet - Marshall Artist's Series brings the touring show based on the Broadway musical about a meeting between rock 'n' roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. The show takes the stage at the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center on Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

   - No Exit - George Washington High School's Theatre of the Nevertheless presents the play based on the 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul SartreThe play is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It will be presented - one performance only - on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

- Lombardi - Actors Guild of Parkersburg presents the West Virginia premiere of a play about Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach. It will be presented from Jan. 24 to Feb. 2.

   And that's it! If I missed any, send a note via the comments below or email the info to me at TheMinskers@aol.com and I'll add the info to the list. 

   Happy New Year!