I look forward to the third weekend in June when Cincinnati's many community theaters come together for their annual excerpt competition and awards banquet. It's a chance to see 30-minute offerings culled from the seasons of the groups that make up the Association of Community Theatres (ACT). A dozen of ACT's 17 members performed at Parrish Auditorium on Miami University's Hamilton campus last weekend. The spirit of this gathering is refreshing: These theater artists are volunteers, mostly people with day jobs who devote their spare time to theater. When they gather in Hamilton, however, they're not competitors -- they're a community. Many performers go from one group to another, seeking shows that attract them. Some excerpts are elaborate, others are simple. But in Parrish Auditorium, the audience watches intently, and everyone cheers for one another. It's a remarkable atmosphere of camaraderie, one often involving generations of families and friends who've known each other for years.
Excerpts are presented like clockwork; four on June 22 and eight more on June 23. Stage manager Gary Rogers keeps things moving, overseeing a set-up period of 10 minutes for each excerpt; after the 30-minute performance, groups have five minutes to clear the stage. Three "adjudicators" offer brief critiques. Then the cycle repeats for the next excerpt; it's an assembly line of actors, musicians, small sets, lighting and sound cues. Several excerpts were chosen for the statewide Ohio Community Theatre Association (OCTA) competition in September in Beachwood, Ohio, with performances from the state's four other regions. Due to the expense of transporting casts and productions over a great distance and presenting in a hotel ballroom, five companies (including the much-praised and well-received staging of Parade by Footlighters, Inc.) preferred to "showcase," meaning their excerpt would not go on. From the remaining seven excerpts, Mariemont Players' THE QUEEN OF BINGO and Wyoming Players' TALK RADIO were selected; Beechmont Players' staging of GREASE was named an alternate. ...
ACT handed out Orchid Awards at its June 23 banquet: Footlighters' production of PARADE, staged by Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll, was the big winner, collecting 17 Orchids and 13 "outstanding" OCTA recognitions, probably some kind of a record. There were also individual recognitions. The Art Rouse Award went to RON and FRIEDA HOUCK, honoring their longtime commitment to Footlighters, Inc.; the Mario Pittoco Award singled out Beechmont Players' ED SPENCER for his efforts in technical theater. The first Roger Grooms Award, for an individual who combines artistic achievement with educational impact, went to choreographer and dance teacher BONNIE SHANTZ, 82, from Loveland. ...
I liked a point made to me by ED COHEN, who co-directed Parade with Dee Anne Bryll. He suggested that if one of Cincinnati's semi-professional groups had presented an ambitious musical like Parade (the 1999 Tony Award winner for best musical), it would have received many accolades. As a community theater production, it was largely ignored by the media. Cohen's production of the serious story of about Jewish businessman Leo Frank, tried and ultimately lynched in 1913 for the Atlanta murder of a young girl, used 28 actor-singers and 21 musicians. It's silly to draw arbitrary lines: Good theater is good theater, and you can find just that with Cincinnati's many community theaters. The season ahead will offer great musicals, including Follies (Cincinnati Music Theatre), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Beechmont Players), The King and I (Loveland Stage Company) and Children of Eden (presented by Footlighters and Greater Hamilton Civic Theatre); contemporary plays like The Retreat from Moscow (Showbiz Players), The Drawer Boy (Mariemont Players) and Proof (The Village Players); and classic works such as Inherit the Wind (The Drama Workshop), To Kill a Mockingbird (Greater Hamilton Civic Theatre) and The Glass Menagerie (Lebanon Theatre Company). These and other productions -- often with modestly priced admissions -- are certainly worth your time.
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