By DARLA HIGGINS
The shows will go on.
Although the complete lineup for the Opera House Theatre Players’ upcoming 2018-2019 season hasn’t been set in stone, Vice President Marcia Thomas says they’re fine-tuning the details, including securing a venue.
“The brochure will be out by Sept. 1,” she says, adding that they’ve selected dates but all productions haven’t been decided.
One that’s defiitely in the works, however, is “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”
“The Wonderette shows are cute and very popular,” says Thomas, adding that the Players have performed it in past seasons .
Before this season kicks off, the Players will host an event to get everyone excited about the group and the arts in general. “Flappers & Gangsters,” a membership kickoff event taking place on Sept. 1, has a Great Gatsby theme and will be hosted at the Twin Oaks Plantation. Tickets go on sale on Aug. 8 for the event, which is designed to “give incentives for people to renew their membership or join,” Thomas says. “We have 50 people who are members, and it’s amazing; we have quite a few people who have given us some nice money to keep us going.”
With 22 nonprofit organizations in Marion County alone, “that means everybody is looking for the extra support,” she says. “I’m surprised we’ve kept it together this well.”
At the Gatsby party, awards will be given to several people who have contributed in various ways to keep the Players thriving.
“The award event is usually a dressy affair with dinner and a cocktail/wine hour before,” Thomas says.
Performances for the 30th season will take place in late November/early December, April and July. Despite the stress involved – funding is always an issue — Thomas says she’s up for the task.
“I can do a musical for about $5,000,” she says. “That’s cheap.”
Marcia Thomas has a long-held belief: If theatre is in your blood, it’s something you have to do.
She’s been at it since she was 3 years old, when her mother entered her in a local talent show at the movie house.
“I did my 3-year-old impression of Mae West,” she recalls. “They had me singing a song : ‘Oh Johnny.’ I had a black velvet gown on, my hair was piled on my head, and then they had me toddle out onstage.”
The number was a hit – especially with judge Tex Ritter.
“He said, ‘I’m taking that kid to Hollywood!'” Thomas says.
Instead, she stayed put, ultimately allowing Jefferson to benefit from her artistic passions for several decades and counting. One of her most significant accomplishments is helping to keep the Opera House Theatre Players alive for 30 years.
“We’d love to keep it up and not have any problems,” she says of the all-volunteer troupe. “We want to just roll along.”
But the past three decades have not been problem-free. The group was born in 1989, when local legend Lucille Terry decided the town needed a community theater. They were offered use of the library, which was once called the Opera House.
The actors suddenly had a name for their group, which performed at the library for a fee of $50.
The Players then went to the city council to ask for funding. After Terry worked her magic — “You couldn’t say no to her,” Thomas says – the group received a $5,000 grant.
“We walked outside and fainted,” she says. “We said, ‘Well, we’ve got to do a show for sure!'”
The first was “Hello Dolly,” with Thomas in the starring role.
“We put on a doggone good show for a small amount of money,” she says. “And we had to work with no backstage – just two cubicles and a toilet. But we had a full house every show.”
The group quickly got to work on another production, “The Wizard of Oz,” followed by “The Music Man” and two others that first season.
It was a lot.
“We realized it was about to kill us,” Thomas says, so they reorganized and established set seasons. Another change: They eventually had to move from the library, due to increasing fees.
Since that time, the Players have existed as theatrical vagabonds, looking for a place to perform with each new season.
“It’s always the biggest challenge,” Thomas says of trying to find a venue. “We’ve been struggling with this since 1994.”
But they have been creative; the group has put on shows in a local car garage, the parking lot behind the courthouse, the high school, the middle school, the city’s visitor’s center – any useable spot they can afford.
But even after 30 years, the Players focus less on challenges and more on their ultimate goal: to entertain.
“We’re just trying to have fun and do our own thing,” Thomas says. “If you’re not having fun, why do it?”
► Watch OHTP’s July 2015 full production of “Gigi” (71 min)
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