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Doing theater for the love of it

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When Center Stage closed its doors in 2003 after nearly 30 years of community theater performances, founder and director Jean Hooper predicted “someone else will step up…the theater will continue,” she told the Yellow Springs News. It turns out she was right.

This summer Kay Reimers is agitating to formally bring back Center Stage. She and a core group of directors, actors and tech crew members are hosting a party to discuss ideas and gauge the community’s interest in staging a come-back for the local theater company. The party will be held in the Arts Council garden behind Oten Gallery on Saturday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. Absolutely anyone who has ever been in a play, seen a play or wants to try a role in producing a play is welcome to dive into the act.

The first sign Reimers had that community theater was ripening again was the unexpected response she got when she put out a call for a production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. The team of professional and amateur directors, actors and tech help pulled together a surprisingly sophisticated production in six weeks, she said in an interview last week. And the next sign she had that they might actually be able to revive the theater was the audience reaction to the show.

“The response was overwhelming,” she said. “It was the first time I thought it might be possible to bring back community theater here.”

Out of her own interest and professional development, Reimers, a Yellow Springs native, has tested the community quite a bit since returning to town with her family in 1998. Reimers has called on local talent to perform several historic plays she has written and produced regionally for both the stage and radio, including All Blood Runs Red, about the first African-American combat pilot, Sacred Fire, about abolitionist John Brown, The End of Emerald Street, about the 1913 Dayton flood, and Dangerous Women, about suffragettes. And they have not disappointed.

“When I came back I was surprised at the lack of theater here considering the amount of talent we have here,” she said.

Walter Rhodes, whom Reimers calls her guru, knows just who to call to produce a play, and both he and Marcia Nowik have a wealth of expertise from their acting days in New York. Troy Lindsey was a veteran actor in the musical Chicago, and Dan Davis played in Blue Jacket, the outdoor drama about the region’s native Shawnee. Flo Lorenz and Howard Shook have both had careers as regional actors, while others such as Ron Siemer and Reimers’ husband Gary are less experienced actors who took a chance and have been absorbed by the stage, agreeing to play whatever part they can get, including a mill farmer, a congressman or a drunken congressman, Gary said.

Local resident Virgil Hervey is another amateur who was drawn in by the energy Reimers’ plays have brought to the village. The two met a decade ago at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop, when Hervey was getting his feet wet as a fiction and poetry writer. As a playwright he “had no idea what I was doing,” but was inspired to give one a try for the Corner Cone’s 10-minute Play Fest last year. The result was a series of rehearsals during which Hervey said he has “never laughed so hard in my life.” The audience response to his “play about old guys” was very positive too, he said, and several people requested that it be performed again.

Some of Hervey’s cast, including Rhodes and Jerry Buck, who have acted professionally, made the experience all the more intense. When a less-experienced actor would forget his lines, Buck would just automatically step in and say them for him, Hervey recalled. Hervey and Reimers both feel the village has a wealth of theater professionals who “make all the difference in the world because they know what to expect, they’ve done it a million times, and they keep it all on track,” Reimers said.

In addition to know-how, the group also needs a space. While the revived Center Stage does not have a dedicated home, Reimers thinks the group has many options in the village and can choose plays to fit particular spaces. The Presbyterians’ Westminster Hall served quite well for The Cherry Orchard, given a set of borrowed professional lights and a little creativity on how to use the entire space for the performance. And while the Center for the Arts nonprofit group is exploring the possibilities of a space on the Antioch College campus, the Center Stage group could be actively demonstrating the need for such a space by going ahead and producing theater in the village, Hervey said.

One of the group’s first events will be the second annual 10-minute play fest to be held Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28–29. Reimers, Hervey, Carol Allin, and possibly a fourth person already have about four plays for the event, which is aiming to get six to 10. Reimers is also hoping this weekend’s party will generate conversation about potential venues to stage productions, possible productions suitable for the local resources available, and connections between people with skill or interest.

While community theater doesn’t normally turn a profit, the local group will be looking for donors willing to support small capital needs, such as the $300 Reimers fronted for costumes and advertising for The Cherry Orchard, which did come out ahead in its second week of performance. It was enough to cover the actors’ transportation costs, Reimers said. In most cases, community theater participants invest in an intense and short-lived experience to put on a production and then they “kick back and pray that audiences are big enough to cover expenses.”

While Hervey’s one-act was not profitable, he liked the experience enough to do it again.

“It’s not for the money, and the glory was short-lived,” he said. “But we had so much fun doing it that my troupe of actors wanted to do another play.”

Reimers has found the same is true for herself and those she knows in community theater.

“People do it for the love,” Reimers said.


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One Response to “Doing theater for the love of it”

  1. Webb Dunlap says:

    I knew a Walter Rhodes in New York. We attended college together at Georgetown (KY). Same person?

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