MIDDLEPORT — A collaborative art form, theater is perhaps one of the best ways for the people of a small town community to come together, and local residents have had that opportunity for more than a decade now.
The local community theater group River City Players (RCP) has seen its share of blockbusters since the group came together in 2001. Many have come and gone over the years, and those involved are always looking for new projects to attract newcomers, as well as longtime fans.
The inception of this group was said to have come from the minds of Amy Perrin and Anna Wears. Perrin said RCP was born of an idea to give people in the community the opportunity to perform. Besides local church events, Perrin said, there weren’t very many opportunities for people to sing, act and dance.
Wears, who is currently serving as RCP’s president, also said there weren’t very many arts programs in Meigs County, and they thought they would be able to change that. The two women went to a Riverbend Arts Council meeting to discuss how community theater would do in the area, and they pitched the idea of doing Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma”.
Perrin continued her story, explaining that the arts council sponsored the show by paying for the royalties and scripts. The two continued their quest to bring the arts alive in Meigs County, gathering more support from local residents. Those interested joined the cast and crew, and “Oklahoma” became a reality. Perrin served as the director, and Wears was cast as Ado Annie. Perrin said the community really came together for that first production, and everything for it was donated.
“It was amazing that we could do a show that big, and we had no budget,” Perrin said. “It was all based on donations.”
Following the success of “Oklahoma”, it would come as no surprise that those in the community would want to do another show. The next show would be a production of “The Wizard of Oz”. In addition to several Oklahomans returning, this show also brought some new faces, one of which was Gary Walker.
Walker said that his daughter, Jennifer, had the role of Dorothy, and he also came on board to help create the sets for the show. Again, the show was successful and paved the way for a fall show to follow — a production of “The Music Man”. Again, Walker’s daughter was involved in the show, and the director was looking for an actor to play the role of Mayor Shinn, who was known in the play as a pompous windbag. His daughter and the director both thought Walker would fit the part, a sentiment that was surely meant as a compliment, and since then, RCP has rarely seen a show without a performance from Walker. He went on to discuss his prolific RCP career in the past decade.
“It’s just a really fun group to work with,” Walker said. “I’ve never, in all the time I’ve been involved, not had a really good time with the show.”
Since its start, RCP has presented numerous performances of plays and musicals in just about every genre imaginable. In addition to those already outlined, the repertoire includes several classic titles such us “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Bye Bye Birdie”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Seussical the Musical”, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, “Back to the 80s” and “Camelot”, among many others.
There have also been performances for the younger generation. Beginning in 2005, RCP Kids has presented its share of children’s shows, as well, such as, “A Little Princess”, and has continued on to include productions of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, “Fairy Tales”, “Honk Jr.”, “Schoolhouse Rock Live”, “Recess”, and the most recent being “The Big Bad Musical”. Much like the adults, once the kids get the acting bug, many want to start again with the next show.
Through working hard on a production with others in the community, friendships can, and most always do, develop. Perrin discussed her reasons for being involved in community theater and said it is about the camaraderie and experience of several different people coming together for one common goal followed by a gratifying feeling of accomplishment. She also expressed why community theater is important in a rural community like Meigs County.
“It’s important because it brings everyone together,” Perrin said.
She went on to discuss some of the aspects of live theater, describing that it’s only there for a moment, and then it’s gone. As one quickly learns in the theater, anything can happen during a live performance, and those involved have to know how to quickly recover from any mishaps.
“It brings you together to see something that will never happen exactly like that again,” Perrin added.
Walker also shared his views on the role of community theater, saying it’s particularly important in a place like Meigs County because today, much like when RCP was founded, there are so few opportunities to be involved with things such as this.
“The arts get underplayed so much, and it’s such an important thing,” Walker said.
Walker continued, stating there have been several individuals who have grown up while involved with RCP who also excel in other aspects of their lives. Academically, he said, the students are at the upper end of their class. There have also been several individuals who started doing community theater with RCP and have chosen to go on and to pursue theater professionally, one of those people being his daughter. Walker also said community theater is a confidence booster.
“When you go on stage in front of 200 people, you’ve got to have some confidence,” Walker said.
Perrin also discussed the importance of community theater among children and the younger generation in Meigs County, explaining that there are several opportunities for young people to be involved in some type of sport, but not as many for them to excel in performing arts. Wears also talked along the same lines saying that after graduating from high school, opportunities for extracurricular type activities also diminish. When that time comes, community theater and RCP is there to provide either a enjoyable hobby or a discovery of a new passion.
As previously stated, theater as an art form is collaborative. For those who dread stepping out on stage in front of an audience, there are still several roles available at RCP — roles that are just as important. Walker discussed these different areas, saying whether one is interested in building sets, working on costumes, using a musical talent for a show such as playing piano or another instrument, or some other behind-the scenes’ aspect, there are opportunities at RCP. Though it may seem that actors and directors get the majority of the credit, those behind-the-scenes in theater know the show would not happen without these essential technical aspects.
“I would encourage anyone that wants to have a good time to get involved,” Walker said.
There is one more important aspect of live theater — the audience. All the preparation in the world ultimately will not matter if there is not an audience to perform for. Walker said there are many in the area who may not be able to travel to cities such as Columbus and Cleveland to see shows at larger theaters. Those same people still have the chance to experience the fun of live theater through RCP.
“We may not be as big, but we’re giving them a quality product,” Walker said when comparing RCP to larger theaters.
While located in Meigs County, RCP is not strictly for those in Meigs County. There have been several volunteers over the years from both Gallia County and Mason County, W.Va., and those residents have always been, and will continue to be, welcome. As president, Wears briefly discussed where RCP will head in the future, stating that the group is looking to have more community involvement and to have more shows throughout the year. The next production on the roster for RCP will be Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ” on August 4 and 5.
The RCP headquarters is located on the “T” in Middleport, at 99 Mill Street. For more information on RCP or how to become involved, visit www.rcplayers.net.