Why we call it Community Theatre
Most of you already know that I’m the Vice Chair now at Vive Les Arts Theatre, the community theatre in Killeen, Texas. A member of a newly established Board of Directors who have stepped in as the theatre was about to close its doors. Myself, along with 19 other committed local area residents have banded together to keep our theatre viable. An interesting mix, our diverse new board is comprised of lawyers, accountants, artists, business owners, teachers, and social workers.
As a business owner myself I’ve been slugging it out at VLA with business eyes. Bottom line, efficiency, strategy, effective progress towards a common goal, etc. In that pursuit I spent the better part of today, Sunday afternoon, at the theatre along with Cody Sulak and Kristl Evans cleaning out the old coat closet which has become a store room for what looked like piles of forgotten financials, old props, and script and musical score copies that no one would ever need. “Efficiency Mike” was there to clean house and free up the space for better use. That’s when “Efficiency Mike” got stopped in his tracks and remembered why he was there in the first place.
Myself, Cody, and Kristl started hauling old files out of dusty cabinets while we told each other our life’s stories. The plan was simple: shred the older files that had sensitive information, store the more recent files, and keep anything that might contain significant historical value for the theatre. As I began pouring through manila files that hadn’t been touched in over a decade I found myself at a standstill. Work slowed as I scanned a newspaper article featuring Summer Heidtbrink (our immediate past Chairperson), Leslie Gilmore, and Karen Weiss, all who graced the stage with their incredible talents in Honky-Tonk Angels about 18 years go. I saw that show – it was crazy good. I opened an old Playbook and found a full-page ad placed by Jack Bradley when he was working with his father, the late, great Charles Bradley. Jack has also been in a slew of great plays at VLA over the years. He looks like a teenager in the picture, taken around the time I first met him. Clearing shelves I pulled down the framed poster from “The Mousetrap” and never realized that our own board member, Jerry Juliano, had graced our stage in 2014. I found an old newspaper article that raved about the upcoming play “The Owl And The Pussycat” in 1994 and did a quick double-take when I realized that the guy pinned to the sofa by the grimacing redhead was none-other than Michael DeHart, who now serves as the Association Executive for the Fort Hood Area Association of Realtors. My wife, Priscilla, showed up to help and found the color pictures that had been stowed away in the corner of “The Buddy Holly Story”, my first time ever to perform in a play, the lead in a musical no less, with my friend John Deane under the tutelage of Musical Director Mitch Connell and the oversight of theatrical director, Eric Shephard.This was from 15 years ago. We looked so young, life was so different, and I stopped working while the life force of this institution suddenly crashed through my nervous system.
I’ve always loved this theatre but haven’t been in a while, and certainly hadn’t been in a production in quite some time. Now I was back for the first time in years, not to be entertained, not to participate in a production, but to clean it, fix it, purge what wasn’t needed, and make the numbers work. In that effort I had completely forgotten the magic of this building, the very reason for its existence, the real reason why I needed to be here and the mission before me.
I realized why this is called a community theatre. Once you dig through its history you understand how many of us have suddenly become actors. Accountant by day, devious 30’s era street thug by night. Realtor all your life but at 6:00 p.m. now you’re a legendary rock icon who died unexpectedly. Teacher? Not tonight you’re not. Get dressed up, take the stage, and sing your heart out because you’ve just become someone completely different. This theatre offers to every one of us the chance to, at least for a fleeting moment, become someone else, explore a talent you never thought you had, and to forget all your top-of-the-mind problems because you’re faced with taking center stage in front of your neighbors and co-workers and responsible for taking them to a place that only exists in their imagination.
Nothing else brings the community together on this level. There is nothing else that will take you completely out of your element and open new doors that you never knew existed. I can’t think of any other experience that will bring you closer to people you already knew and create new friendships that will last forever.
I smiled as I poured over these old pictures, took snapshots with my phone, and texted them to the very people who had created these memories ten and twenty years ago. The texts and calls I got back were just as happy as mine were and, for that moment, we all relived those times and smiled at the memory.
We can’t lose this, and we won’t. Tuesday night at the theatre myself and members of the Board of Directors will meet and conduct our main Membership Drive for the season. If you were a past member then please expect a call Tuesday night between 6-8 p.m. to renew your membership. If you’ve never been a member but don’t want to see this theatre close then call me anytime and I’ll be glad to sign you up. If you’re a friend, neighbor, or family member of mine then expect a call from me Tuesday night and be ready to join this cause, because I’m not going to stop until we make this thing work again.
I’ve never been more motivated to save something. After today I truly realize the enormity of the task before us, because nothing would be more devastating to this community than to lose this theatre. True to that, I will work my fingers to the bone to keep it open. Be ready for Tuesday night, because chances are your phone is going to ring. If it doesn’t then please email me any time this week at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to sign you up.
The show will go on! Check out our new lineup for the 2017/2018 season at our website at www.vlakilleen.org, get your membership, your tickets, and be ready to be entertained! And, if you haven’t tried it before, then come out and audition for a play. Take my word for it – you won’t know what hit you.