July 10, 2011
By ALISON PARKER - Special to the Bulletin
The stage holds a special place in the hearts of everyone at TheatreWorks Community Players. With the lights, flashy costumes and the live music, we escape into another world where we can forget about the bills, the pets, the kids and everything else.
For three hours, we completely embrace new characters, their happiness, their struggles and lives different from our own. TheatreWorks is providing an artistic outlet for creative people who have “regular” jobs, students who are looking for something to ease the summer boredom and even those who want to make the theater their living.
If you ask cast members of any TheatreWorks production what the theater means to them, you will hear different answers. The theater touches our hearts differently, and we all have our own reasons why we enjoy it so much. As an audience member for many TheatreWorks shows, I can clearly see the happiness of the actors and how honored they feel to be part of something special. Even though many of the cast members have full-time jobs during the day and children to care for at home, they continue to audition because they love it.
Tina Sell, director of exhibitions at Piedmont Arts Association, found herself singing along with the cast from her seat in the audience of many TheatreWorks productions.
“Though I was nervous about auditioning, I also wondered, even if I was given a role, would I be able to remember lines, hold a tune, or learn the choreography? I found the courage to audition for Chicago, and I would not let fear of failing keep me from trying,” Sell said.
“After I had been invited to be a part of a very talented cast and after a few rehearsals, a sense of family began to develop. You have older students, adults, parents, people with strong voices, people who pick up dance steps with ease, people who are natural-born actors and very gifted musicians. It is fulfilling as an artist, whether you consider yourself a painter, a singer, an actor or a dancer, to feel such validation for the effort and time spent preparing for each show,” she added.
Bryan Dunn, the drama teacher at Magna Vista High School, believes community theater is a great opportunity for newcomers to the Martinsville/Henry county area.
“It has allowed me to get involved with something I love and make valuable connections in the community. This experience in Chicago has helped me to humble myself — as an actor instead of someone who has been writing/directing/teaching for the past several years,” said Dunn.
He added that theater is more than just putting on a show.
“While entertainment is the business of theater, the purpose for me has always been to develop essential life skills and sharing with an audience. And the applause at the end of the show isn’t so bad either,” he said.
For others, the stage presents an opportunity to find themselves and be who they want to be through the roles they play. Scott Reynolds, a rising second-year theater major at Patrick Henry Community College, always has been shy.
“I was voted shyest in the Bassett High School Class of ’10, but TheatreWorks has given me a chance to meet new friends, find new ways of expressing myself and enjoy new experiences. I believe theater has a power to bring people together like nothing else can. It also has the magic quality of offering a beautiful escape from harsh reality,” Reynolds said.
His ability to break free of his shyness and become the sly, smart-mouthed character of Billy Flynn within a matter of seconds was truly amazing to see.
Devin Pendleton, a familiar face to TheatreWorks audiences, has performed in “Peter Pan,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Broadway in the Black Box,” “Chicago” and is a member of the cast of the upcoming production of “Beyond Broadway: A Music Revue.”
“Martinsville is my hometown, and I strongly believe in supporting the arts,” Pendleton said. “I’m passionate about bringing more culture to Martinsville and giving audiences a taste of Broadway on a smaller scale. Nothing matches the feeling of being on stage and seeing the audience applaud and smile, and knowing you were a part of that. This is why I commute from Roanoke to Martinsville for every TheatreWorks production in which I’m involved.”
Tom Berry, retired general surgeon and owner of Snow Creek Sound, has been a technical adviser for TheatreWorks for the past five years.
“I got involved with TheatreWorks after attending their first musical and noticing that they could use some help in the sound department. I can honestly say it has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done, and I think the productions are as professional as any I’ve seen,” Berry said. “I’m not originally from here, but Martinsville is my home and I’m proud of that. Things have been rough for the community, and I think showcasing our local talent makes people proud of what we have here.”
I, too, have been a part of TheatreWorks for the past two summers, playing French horn in the orchestra of “Beauty and the Beast,” running the lightboard for “Broadway in the Black Box” and both choreographing and having my TheatreWorks stage debut as one of “Billy’s Girls” for “Chicago” this summer. Finally, those 15 years of dance lessons paid off!
Through these experiences, I can honestly say I have made friends that will remain when I go back to school in the fall. We all share the same passion for theater, and during a production we spend so much time together that we feel like family.
It’s not just the fun, the friends and the applause that matters. TheatreWorks, Piedmont Arts’ Studio 107, the Artisan Center, Arts at the Rives and the newly restored courthouse are a vital part of what is driving economic development in the uptown area. These organizations believe that the arts are important in Martinsville and Henry County, and I appreciate the opportunities they offer.
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