Krista Vowell, Madeline Golden, Kris Lee and Graeme Buchanan all act out a scene from Starkville Community Theatre's award-winning production of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike." Photo by: Courtesy photo
Kat Hester, Graeme Buchanan, Pattye Archer, Kris Lee, Beth Accardy, Krista Vowell and Madeline Golden accept awards at the annual Southeastern Theater Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. Thanks to Starkville Community Theatre's Best Production award, the troupe will take their production of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" to the American Association of Community Theatre in Rochester, Minnesota this summer.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
March 7, 2017 10:55:06 AM
Sitting in an auditorium full of community theater enthusiasts in Lexington, Kentucky, over the weekend, Gabe Smith sat back and watched his friends with Starkville Community Theatre perform a comedy at the Annual Southeastern Theater Conference.
"It was great to just see people laugh," he said. "I was sitting next to some, probably college-age, students who just really got into the emotional parts of the show, and when one character is kind of on an important phone call, they were sort of inflating and deflating in their seats."
Smith is chief administrative officer for SCT and has been with the organization for more than a decade. Though he didn't work on this show, he's directed and acted in others SCT has put on and was pleased with how this one turned out.
Still, he wasn't expecting the theater's production of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" to be one of two plays to win Best Production at the competition, meaning the actors will advance to Rochester, Minnesota for the national American Association of Community Theatre festival this summer.
"I think my heart might have stopped (when we won)," said Pattye Archer, who directed the show. "I know I screamed."
It's the second time in less than a decade SCT has won Best Production and gone on to compete at the national level against other community theatre organizations. The troupe took its production of "Catfish Moon" to Tacoma, Washington, in 2009 and picked up a handful of awards.
Building an institution
But last weekend is only the latest chapter in the story of a theatre group that's spent 40 years building its stellar reputation in Starkville.
In 1978, "a group of people just got together and decided we needed a community theatre," said Marsha Williams, a veteran actor who has seen the stage dozens of times over the years.
She was involved on-and-off with SCT in the early days, when the group lived a "hand-to-mouth" existence, but she became "hooked" after landing her first stage role in spring 1983.
With no theater to call its own, the group performed in whatever venues it could book -- whether on Mississippi State's campus or at local hotels, Smith said.
That all changed, Williams said, about 20 years ago, when SCT purchased its permanent downtown location, Playhouse on Main.
"Once we got that theater downtown, everything just exploded," she said.
SCT now puts on about eight productions per year, Smith said, including comedies, musicals, dramas, productions written by locals and a kid-produced play for SCT's annual summer program.
Most productions see the stage nine times, Smith said -- the 90-seat theater simply isn't big enough to accommodate SCT's 650 season ticket holders, to say nothing of others who show up, for one production.
Foundation of support
Williams credits SCT's success to the people who kept the organization going in its early days, most notably Bob and Mary Ellen Anderson.
"The theater was their life," Williams said. "...They could devote just a tremendous amount of energy and love into pushing the theater and keeping it going."
Until the "explosion" following SCT's purchasing the downtown theater, the Andersons helped pay for many of SCT's expenses, Williams said. Their contribution was great enough that when SCT went to AACT's national competition in 2009, Bob Anderson was recognized for exemplary volunteer service to community theatres.
Mary Ellen had died a few years before that, and Bob would follow in 2013. Yet, SCT has maintained its momentum.
"I think we are a source of pride for them and for Starkville," said Kris Lee, who has been involved with SCT for 20 years. "I think, in this way, we give back to each other and to the (Golden Triangle) area at large. It's a challenge to showcase productions that appeal to everyone all the time -- different people, different tastes -- but the fact that we continue to sell out, continue to bring in new faces onstage, offstage, backstage ... and that we're still looked to as a significant place of interest in Starkville and Oktibbeha County and beyond, is the definition of genuine pride."
Lee won Best Actor at the regional competition over the weekend. He also directed "Catfish Moon" when it went to Washington in 2009.
A little bit of everything
In fact, everyone in SCT does a little bit of everything -- almost no one just acts, Williams said. That dedication and teamwork is another thing that makes SCT successful, she said.
"It's a community," she said. "It's a group effort."
And that community adds to the overall Starkville community, Archer said.
"I think the arts just improve the quality of life, especially if you offer shows and opportunities for children, which we do," Archer said. "...Theatre, kind of like books, can take you to a place you can't go in the real world. It allows you to see and experience things that aren't always possible for people to see and experience. And unlike books and even movies, a live theatre allows you to have that experience with other people. ... It's a shared experience for those people who are there on any particular night."
"I think the arts are tremendously important," she said. "Any community needs a thriving community arts program. These things make a town livable."
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