LIMA — When we purchase tickets to go see a community theater’s latest show, we get the pleasure of just showing up and enjoying the show. We usually don’t think about how much time and effort goes into it.
The average community theater production takes four to eight weeks to put together. From the leads learning their lines to the sets and costumes being designed, it takes nearly the time of a full-time job to be ready for showtime.
Speaking of time…
Barry Blake joined the Encore cast for the first time when his daughter, Hannah, wanted to be in Encore Theatre’s July production of the musical “The Little Mermaid.” He had been very involved in productions when he was younger, but he was shocked at the amount of time he had to put in to play Grimsby.
“I think just the challenge of us all having to — it kind of sounds like the old story, but us working and going to school and doing everything and still coming here and doing the rehearsals and learning the lines on the side,” he said of the toughest part of being involved. “I think people should realize the amount of effort that the average Joe puts into making it happen, all on a voluntary basis.”
Madison Downing, a senior at Shawnee High School, is directing Encore’s “The Jungle Book Kids” this weekend, all on top of maintaining her school work and her school play.
“Right now, I go to school and then from 3 to 5 p.m., I do play practice at school, then from 5:30 to 7 I come here,” Downing said of her schedule. “Rehearsal ends at 7, but I’m not done until about 8 or 9 p.m. until after every kid leaves. Then at home for about a half-hour to an hour, I’m finishing stuff.”
Downing began acting with Encore at the age of 9 and has been in 27 productions with the company. She has helped co-direct before and directed her first play last year with Encore’s “Aristocats Kids.”
“My mom figured it up one time, and she was like, ‘You’re literally doing plays nine months out of 12.’ Sometimes I do school plays and this at the same time,” Downing said. “I’m always like, ‘Why do I do this to myself?’ But I genuinely love doing it. It is stressful, and I’m always thinking I can’t do this, or it won’t work, but you just love it, so you put up with the stress of it all, and it ends up working out.”
Downing said she is planning on pursuing acting and/or producing in college as well, but for most in community theater, they all have full-time jobs.
Chris Butturff works full time on the sales staff of Kerns Fireplace and Spa but still carves out time to act in three or four productions a year. He serves on the board of directors for both Encore and the Wapakoneta Theatre Guild.
“When you’re doing a show, it’s a full-time hobby,” he said. “You’re there Sunday through Thursday, typically for at least a couple hours a night, and the average rehearsal period is anywhere from four to eight weeks before a show opens.”
Bringing the characters to life
Vickie Beining leads the charge on costumes for many of Encore’s larger productions. She led a team of a few volunteers through “The Little Mermaid” in July and has returned once again for this weekend’s show, “The Jungle Book Kids.”
Beining said she creates costumes for six productions a year between Encore, the Wapakoneta Theatre Guild and a few local high schools, including Spencerville, where her daughter-in-law is the music director.
“It gets the character into the character, if that makes sense,” Beining said as to why she puts so much time and effort into perfecting each costume. “For this production (“The Jungle Book”), when the kids finally get to come out in their monkey or their elephant costume, that’s what finally gets them really excited.”
For “The Little Mermaid,” Beining was joined by five other volunteers to sew and craft costumes for 40 people, some of whom had two or three costumes throughout the show. Much of that group also helped out with Van Wert Civic Theatre’s “Assassins: The Musical” and returned to Encore for “The Jungle Book.”
“If I say that they’ve been here for 300 to 400 hours doing these costumes, I’d be underestimating,” said show director Christa Manning. “Everybody comes, and they see this (final product), but they don’t realize how much goes in behind it all.”
Once the costumes are completed, the actors then have to bring those to life.
Anna Kahle played Ariel and said that part specifically was much more than the average challenge of just learning her lines and music.
“The toughest part for me is trying not to be the movie Ariel,” Kahle said during her rehearsals in July. “I know there are going to be little kids here that are going to be expecting a certain thing, and I’m obviously not an animated character. I try to do the best I can to bring her to life in my own way and to remember that they’ll love it no matter what.”
Bringing a character to life is even more challenging when it’s not human. Joshua Gooding, who played Ariel’s trusty advisor, Sebastian, said he studied a lot of videos of Mr. Krabs from “Spongebob Squarepants” just to see the movements of the animal.
“Portraying a crab is just totally different, and I wanted to experience what it’s like to be on the fantasy side of things,” Gooding said. “His personality is definitely different than me. He’s more aggressive, more talkative and more open about his feelings. I’m not so much. Developing that was a challenge for me, a new experience.”
Downing had similar struggles with her “Jungle Book” cast, which is comprised entirely of children ages 6 to 14.
“It was hard to make them act sometimes as animals, especially because I’m not having them crawling on the ground and stuff,” she said. “I’m trying to get them to move like a snake, and they don’t know what that means, so it’s about the movements of types of animals and trying to figure out how to show them how to do that stuff. They got it, but it took a little bit.”
Bringing the set to life
Another way to bring a production to life is through the set — which again, just adds that much more work.
“I feel like the costumes really show what they look like, but the set makes it more realistic,” Downing said. “I saw one version, and they just painted the wall and it was just the kids. I think it’s more about immersion — like you’re in the movie theater, and it’s a 3-D view of everything rather than only the kids being the 3-D element.”
Christa Manning, who directed “The Little Mermaid,” also directed Van Wert Civic Theatre’s “Assassins” at the beginning of the month. “Assassins: The Musical” combined the stories of nine characters who assassinated U.S. presidents or attempted to do it. In order to bring together the different stories of time periods of John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and others, the production was written to take place in the same setting.
“It’s set in a carnival, and you have these two basic storytellers, one who is a balladeer and the other is more as a ringleader of the circus,” Manning explained. “It breaks off into vignettes of the actual shootings and tells the story of why these people did it.”
Manning even incorporated live gunfire from replica-era guns firing blanks that the theater rented.
“It was very important to me that we use guns that were replicas of what they had used in history,” she said. “We scoured the internet and found a company that we were able to rent them from.”
Why put yourself through it?
The rationale is always the same as Downing’s: It’s all about the love of theater.
“It’s just about the enjoyment of acting and creating art, of challenging myself to become a different person and walk in their shoes,” Butturff said. He has been involved with area theater since 1996. “As long ago as I remember, I always wanted to be an actor, whether professional or otherwise. I lived in Columbus and had a failed career path in management, so when I moved back to the area, I said if I’m moving back, I’m going to get involved in acting. It’s something I’d always wanted to do, so I auditioned for a play at Encore Theater.”
Butturff said many of his very close friends come from the theater, and he’s even convinced some of his non-theater friends to give it a shot, and they’ve loved it. For most people, it’s that sense of community that is important to them, regardless of age.
“I think here it brings so many people together, people that I would not always talk to in a school environment,” Downing said. “There are kids here that are really good at sports, and then there are kids here who have no friends at school, but they come here, and I’ve never had a problem with kids not getting along. It’s always just been people kind of welcoming each other, and I really like that. I’ve always had friends here. If I felt like I didn’t have friends at school or something, I could always come here, and it was fine.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.