It might not be Broadway, but members of the Community Theatre of Clay County have been bringing wholesome, entertaining theater productions to the area for 25 years.
"The audience has been there all along. It crosses all demographics and we've had people come from all around the state come to our shows," CTCC President Lee Reberger told The Brazil Times recently. "Some of our audience members even schedule their vacations and trips to visit their family who live in the area so they can see one of our productions. We are really proud of that."
Although there was another theater group in the area producing one show a year, in 1983, CTCC founders felt the community would support the arts and more theater shows if they were available.
Reberger said a nine-member board of directors was organized to manage the theater's activities and operation. The board is composed of supporters of Community Theatre with varying expertise to allow the theater to tap into those backgrounds for advice and input.
Performances were initially held at Adami's Restaurant, which later was named Waterwheel Restaurant.
"Since the beginning, we've always been a dinner theater," Reberger said.
In 1988, with the help of donations and many volunteer hours, the dream of owning their own building became a reality. The CTCC purchased the old JC Penny building, which in the early 1900s, was the home of The Lark Theater.
The building continues to house the theater with Carl McKinney acting as building trustee.
"The Lark Theater is such a comfortable place and has a stage that is very close to the audience," Reberger said. "It's such a unique social experience for both the actors and the audience. Many of our audience members show up a couple of hours early just to 'table hop' and visit with everyone before dinner is served."
Other than planning on more productions, the founders wanted to reach out to children in the community.
"That first year we did two shows, one in the spring and another in the fall," original founder, past president and current board member Susan Sneddon said. "The second year we put on three productions and a theater workshop for children. We've been doing them every since."
Throughout the years, Sneddon said as many as 120 children per year have participated in a production. For some, organizing that many children, from 5-years-old to teenagers, for a stage production would be an impossible task, but not for Susan.
"I love working with the children. The fun thing is how quickly they learn. After being on stage for five minutes, that shyness goes away and the children just love it," she said. "There are not a lot of opportunities for children to perform or experience theater at the elementary level."
Sneddon believes that participating in theater helps improve a child's self-esteem and performing on stage helps them gain confidence.
"It's great to watch them step on that stage for the first time during auditions then see their new self-confidence during the show's performance," she said. "Many of our child actors have grown up and returned to do adult theater. Some have moved on to bigger and better things in college and professional theater, which is very rewarding to see. And they always keep in touch with us, which is great."
Including both children and the adult theater productions, Sneddon and Reberger estimate thousands of people have "stepped on the stage and given it their all" in the name of community theater.
"We're alive and thriving," Reberger said. "It amazes me, that no matter what production we attempt to tackle, the cast rises to the performance. There is always someone who steps up to create the character we need. When you have talent in a community, as we do, you can put on great theater productions."
There's a place for anyone interested in participating in a theater production.
"If you walk in the door and show an interest in theater, we'll find a place for your talent," Sneddon said. "Although we do encourage people to step outside their comfort zone and try something new, there is something for everybody in Community Theater."
"Once we get people in the door, no matter how shy they are, they get hooked and come back the next year," Reberger said.
Providing wholesome entertainment the entire family can enjoy is important when it comes to choosing a production.
"We do a drama periodically, but we really enjoy the comedies and musicals," Reberger said. "Our shows are family oriented for a reason. We want to not only entertain the audience, but also include them in the theater experience."
Some of the shows presented in the past 25 years include "Hello Dolly," "Sound of Music," "South Pacific," "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Music Man," "Showboat," "Anything Goes," Mame," "Camelot," "Damn Yankees," "Alice In Wonderland," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Man of La Mancha" and "Cyrano de Bergerac."
"It is a real shame that a lot of local people living here in Clay County haven't been to one of our productions or they don't even know about us," Sneddon said. "Where else can you enjoy piano music while eating a wonderful dinner and then be entertained with a really great theater production? If you try it once, I guarantee you will enjoy it."
The upcoming 2008/09 Community Theatre of Clay County Season includes the following theater productions:
* Oct. 2- 4: Clue, The Musical
Book by Peter DePietro, Lyrics by Tom Chiodo
* Nov. 13-14, 7 p.m., and Nov. 15, 2 p.m.: The Pied Piper of Hamelin Town
A Children's Musical Adapted From the Fairy Tale
* Dec. 4-6: "An Old Fashioned Christmas Eve" Christmas At The Lark
* Jan. 24-25, 2009: Under the Big Top: Sounds of the Circus
Directed by Brazil Concert Band Master Col. Matthew S. Huber
* March 5-7, 2009: Calamity Jane
Adapted for stage by Charles K. Freeman, Music by Sammy Fain, Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.
* May 1-2, 2009: A Salute To Broadway: Clay County Style
Ticket sales (which are final) and reservations are required for all performances, while cancellations must be made at least one day prior to performance show time to receive a refund. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with dinner, catered by Jack's Fine Foods, served at 6:30 p.m. with most evening performances scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.
For information about performances, ticket prices or becoming a supporter of the theatre group, send a self addressed stamped envelope to Community Theatre of Clay Co., Inc., P.O. Box 102, Brazil, 47834, or contact Lisa Beyers at 812-442-6909.