My Theater Journey
In addition to reviews, you’re going to see some of the things that enter my mind about theater. I’m a self-proclaimed theatre geek, and those who know me will tell you I can be a wee bit obsessive when it comes to theater. At times I find it’s all I want to talk about., and I can see that I’ve gone to far when my friend’s and family’s eyes start to glaze over, they begin to look at their watches or phones, or in the case of my son, they say something like, “Mom, stop!” So if you’re a geek like me and can’t seem to get enough, you might enjoy my musings. If not, feel free to stop reading right now and skip these posts in the future.
Some of you may be asking, “What makes this crazy woman think she’s qualified to review and promote theatrical productions??” I will answer this simply — first of all, I’m not a woman — I’m a kid at heart, Fairy Godmother, Special Education Teacher, and Mama Jody to many. Secondly, I’m not sure that I’m qualified as much as passionate about theater. The experience I’ve had in theater is not the result of a college degree in theater, but of a lifetime apprenticeship. I’d like to offer up my resume as a narrative of how I began in theater, where it has taken me, and how God has called me to make this sacred space part of my life so as to serve others.
I was bit by the acting bug at a very young age. I remember at 4 years old I begged my mother to be on Romper Room, a local TV production which was essentially a week of Preschool televised. Sadly that didn’t work out, even though I recall sending them a postcard to be on the show.
My next theater opportunity came when my parents enrolled my sister and I in a summer park and recreation program. I was 8 years old, and cast at “Mrs. Anguish” in a Sherlock Holmes spoof entitled The Case of the Missing Pearls. What I do remember, was that I read for the part of Felicia, Mrs. Anguish’s daughter. When the cast list came out, I went home in tears. I didn’t want to be an old, fluffy lady. I wanted to be the young daughter. My loving and encouraging dad pointed out to me that Mrs. Anguish had “top billing” and I had been cast in a much more important part. I had a difficult time wrapping my eight-year-old brain around playing a woman in her 50s; nevertheless I played my part as well as I could with a pillow in my costume (which just about fell out during the closing production) and a grey wig on my head. In the end I found it was fun to pretend to be someone else and work with others to produce something others could enjoy.
For the next few years I played minor roles in school plays (the manger donkey in a Nativity play, Susanna in a rendition of “Oh Susanna”, a sheep in The Littlest Angel). I also attempted to direct and star in backyard plays I’d written with my friends in the neighborhood. We charged a nickel admission which my parents forced me to return to the patrons once the show was over. I also spent hours in the living room with my sisters recreating our favorite musicals, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, and Oliver.
In 1976 we moved to Milledgeville, GA. My dad took a position at Georgia College as head of the English department where he took advantage of his faculty discount and bought season tickets for the family to the college’s plays. I especially remember the bottle dance in Fiddler on the Roof and the spectacular mysterious world of Brigadoon. When I was 12, Dad volunteered my services as a no-neck monster in the college’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Back in the 1970s, children’s theater wasn’t as common as it is today. The college had trouble finding 5 children to play the parts. Parents weren’t keen on letting their children stay out until 10 PM on school nights with a bunch of college students exploring the mature content of Tennessee Williams (which is of course, mild by today’s standards). Dad trusted that I was mature enough to handle it. In the end, they only had 2 no-neck monsters–I played Dixie and my sister played Trixie. My memories of hanging out in the balcony of the theater with the stage manager while I waited for my few short scenes were some of the best of my life. Even though I was the youngest cast member, the cast and crew accepted me with open arms. It was the place I felt at home, unlike school, where I tended to be socially awkward. I’ll always remember the dress rehearsal where Big Daddy’s birthday cake caught on fire, the excitement of opening night, and the evening where the actor playing Big Daddy fell ill causing the director to fill in on script allowing the show to go on, as it absolutely must.
Our family moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1979, where Dad took a position at New Mexico State University. In 9th grade I was in the ensemble of a Christian Production entitled “Bright New Wings” with the First Baptist Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico (I’m Catholic, but the Baptists had a better youth group with cuter boys). It was my first musical and I felt lucky just to be on stage. At this point in my life, I was busy playing flute in the high school marching band, and didn’t have room in the schedule for theater classes.
Our move to Chickasha, Oklahoma gave me my next opportunity and first actual audition. I was cast in the ensemble of The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s summer production of Pirates of Penzance as a ward of the Major General. This was the summer after my sophomore year of high school. Once again, I felt the sense of inclusion and acceptance afforded to me when I was 12. Had I been more astute, I would have joined the theater department at my high school. Instead, I spent my time working to cling on to the edge of the popular group. I didn’t want to be seen as a “theater geek”.
I spent my Junior year onstage in a different capacity singing with the school’s Jazz ensemble. Senior year I cheered for the wrestling team as a “Mat Maid”. These activities along with a 30 hour a week high school job kept me away from the stage except as an audience member.
In college at the University of Oklahoma, my appetite for the stage was satisfied with Sorority skits and follies. We had two events each year–University Sing and Sooner Scandals–which gave us the opportunity to compete against other campus groups in ensemble numbers. I was given the opportunity not only to perform, but to choreograph and direct. I still only saw this as an extracurricular pastime. Even so, these events hold some of my fondest memories.
Eventually I went on to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, got married (to the wrong guy), moved to Worland Wyoming, moved back to Albuquerque, got divorced, graduated college, got married again (to the right guy this time), attended graduate school, became a teacher, and had 3 children (whew!!). In addition, I directed adult and children’s choirs at church. I was also a certified aerobic instructor and taught fitness to adults and children. In the summer I would help with Vacation Bible School, either directing choir or leading drama. The days were long, but the years were short, and time moved quickly.
My husband and I moved to Northeast Georgia from Albuquerque New Mexico 12 years ago. The kids and I became involved in Odyssey of the Mind, a STEAM problem solving competition where team members showcase their solution with an 8 minute performance. My two oldest children took the skills they learned in Odyssey and began to take drama classes at school. I stepped in to help in any way I could. I didn’t see myself as a “Drama Mama”, but a contributor to the arts. Costumes, props, helping backstage, acting as a liaison between the middle school and high school drama teachers, running the concession stand or the box office, and just offering moral support to the cast, crew, and directors. I jumped at the chance to do anything I could do to be around this wonderful community.
While my children worked to become thespians, I was blessed to be embraced by the local theater community. I have met and been mentored by so many talented people who took me under their wing and allowed me to spread mine.
At this time, I became friends with Gail Jones, a pillar of the Northeast Georgia community who touched the hearts and minds of so many thespians in the area. She was an incredible woman, and I feel blessed to have known her. She taught me so much about working in all aspects of theater. She allowed for my next opportunity on stage as an ensemble member in the Johnson High School production of Footloose, and agreed to be the sponsor of an Odyssey of the Mind team made up of thespians who advanced to World Finals. Gail introduced me to another theater icon of the area, Jan Ewing, whom I adore and admire.
Next came Colleen Quigley. She directed at Johnson for one year, and a glorious year it was. That was the year of Hairspray — which was lauded as the best high school production many had seen in the area at the time. Colleen brought in two college students to direct, Haden Rider and Carly Berg. Haden and Carly had success in creating a children’s theater company, Play on Players. My children begged to audition for this award winning group, which performed at Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta.
The years following, I became an active member of Play on Players. Running concessions, directing front of house, theater managing, stage managing, designing lights, and costuming. Wherever a niche needed filling, I was eager to learn and contribute. This is an amazing family of actors and actresses, crew members, directors, and parents. I’ve made so many friends working with this company and I dearly love each and every one of them. It is here that I was given the title of “Fairy Godmother” due to the fact that if there’s a need, I do whatever I can to fill it. Recently, there have been circumstances in my life where I’ve had to back off for a while in my capacity to help out, but they always welcome me back with open arms. I can’t even express how much I love Carly, Haden, Dan and Cindi Berg, Heidi Rider, Kaitlyn Gentry and Terri Rider. They are family, and they give me purpose.
Through Carly, I’ve had the good fortune to work with Lambert High School designing lights, and this community is also an amazing theater family to me. If you’ve seen their productions, you’ve seen the quality and dedication that these students and families put into every performance.
I’ve enjoyed volunteering in front of house at The Historic Holly Theatre in Dahlonega, the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, and the Lyric Theatre in Marietta. I’m also an active member of the Gainesville Theater Alliance group, Theater Wings. For those of you who want to get involved in theater, these organizations are always in need of volunteers.
I told you I’m obsessed. Much like the staff in the Beast’s castle, I only live to serve. I get great satisfaction out of helping others and being part of something that’s so much bigger than myself. I hope you’ll continue along this journey with me as part of our community. I also ask that you help promote this site and our Facebook page by sharing on social media. Thanks for reading to the end. If you’d like, please do me the honor of returning the favor by emailing me your theater journey. Peace be with you and may God Bless you!