Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Importance of Community Theatre

Standing on stage when a show starts is comparable to watching the sunrise and feels exactly like magic. All of a sudden nothing else exists, just me and the other actors, who have transformed into the characters they have been chosen to portray. A stage becomes the world, plywood trees come to life, and house flats turn into 3D homes full of family and history and everything - everything - is really really real.

Months of dedication lead up to that moment. Countless hours of memorizing, rehearsing, and learning have paved the path to a successful opening night. People have (probably) cried, there have been ungodly amounts of sweat, and most likely some blood. Hair has been pulled out, directors have shouted, and memories have been made. Oh, and 50 or so people who have never met before have created a family, and with that, a living, breathing production for the enjoyment of the audience.

But we don't act to please audiences - okay not entirely - mostly we act because we have no greater joy than walking onto that stage and becoming a whole new person. Again, and again, and again. I believe that actors live many lives. We live as ourselves, as our characters, and through our performances.

I was introduced to theatre - and musical theatre in particular - by my grandmother when she took me to see the Omak High School production of "A Christmas Carol: The Musical" the first time it played on the PAC stage. I was entranced by the idea that people did things like getting together and just putting on shows. It made me so jealous and excited that these high schoolers got to parade around in fancy costumes and sing and dance and people wanted to watch them. Every year we would go see the Children's Dance Theatre show in the winter and the OVOC (Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus) musical in the spring. After a few years of this tradition, I yearned to be up onstage with all of them. These were people I looked up to and admired. Admittedly, I was a little starstruck by all of them. I had seen so many of them in these plays and met a lot of them in the lobby after the show that I felt like someday I could be one of them, someday I would be up on that PAC stage acting with Ugo Bartell, who I first saw as Gaston, and Doug Leese, who I saw debut as Rooster. Lisa Bauer played a French Maid in the same show Carine Wood played Belle and I wanted to be just like both of them. The girl who played Kim Macafee (Janelle Cutuli) I thought was so fun and young - if she could do it, why couldn't I? My main point here is I grew up watching these people, wanting to be these people, and seeing these people in many roles with the Community Theatre group. Watching normal people get to be stars in their own right inspired me to start acting.

Seeing Les Miserables, June 2012
Now I'm in a show directed Janelle Cutuli and co-starring Ugo Bartell. I have worked with Doug Leese on several productions, I worked at a drama camp for Lisa Bauer and Carine Wood and I see each other every summer for the Princess Party where she reprises her role as Belle. These people have continued to push me to be a better actress and work hard for my dreams, just by continuing to pursue their love of theatre. My point here is that Community Theatre plays a huge role in people's lives. Some places don't have access to big shows and big theatres like those who reside in Seattle or New York might. We don't get to see Broadway casts tour through the Omak PAC and leave us awestruck. We have doctors who leave work and go to rehearsal. We have teachers, and moms, and dads, and bus drivers, and retirees, and news paper photographers who put a smile on their face just from seeing the clock strike 6:45 and heading out the door to go to their 7:00 blocking rehearsal. And all of these people put on a show that will touch the lives of a child in the audience.

Community theatre gives children and young adults a venue in which to explore a potential career, something that could turn into their life or maybe just a hobby. It gives people a chance to see shows they would otherwise never get to see. It gives small town dwellers like us Omakians a chance to be big stage stars for a couple months, and it's pretty fun, too. Theatre isn't just for the geeky kids in high school, I believe that theatre is for everyone and a good community theatre can give a whole town - heck, a whole county - a way to see magic happen right before their very eyes.

Alexis Olmstead is an aspiring Broadway actress and Dorothy in OVOC's spring musical "The Wizard of OZ". She works out of a tiny town in Washington as a part time waitress, and a full time diva. For more insight on her life and useless opinions about other things, check back often. 


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