Love, passion, theater: River City Players hosts free workshop

Thursday, July 17, 2008

During the 1960s, Ann Abbott was a student at Southeast Missouri State University with a passion for theater. She had her heart set on organizing a community theater group, so with the help of friend Chuck Ross and a few others, Abbott founded "Acts I, II and III," and they started doing plays at the Old Firehouse Theatre in Cape Girardeau.

"There were only 6 or 7 of us, and back then if we drew a crowd of 10 or 15 people, we thought we were doing great," Ross said. "We did it just for the love of theater — we had a passion for it."

As more people took interest in the theater group, they outgrew the Old Firehouse and moved to the Concorde Theatre on Broadway where Old Towne Cape now sits. With better accommodations — like a bigger stage and more seating — and with promotion by the Council of the Arts, they started drawing as many as 50 people to the shows. Once again, they needed a new venue.

"We sat down as a board group to decide where to go from there since the Concorde Theatre needed so much repair," Ross said.

In the early 1990s they decided to try a dinner theater and took up their idea with Dennis "Doc" Cain, who agreed to let the group use the River City Yacht Club. They changed their name to the River City Players Community Theatre and moved to the upstairs of Port Cape where the audience could enjoy a good meal, have a drink and watch the show.

Forty years since its start, the community theater is going strong with four plays a year in the Yacht Club. They run Thursday, Friday and Saturday for two weekends in a row, with some productions such as "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Steel Magnolias" selling out crowds nearly every night.

Ross is proud of the how much the group has grown since its start. "I helped to bring it from its infancy to what it is now, so watching it grow has been really fulfilling — especially to know we are providing something to the community that is needed."

He has held every position on the board, including president and vice president for four years each, and he is still an active member.

This Saturday he will be teaching how to prepare, focus and run the lights and light board for a play production at a free workshop hosted by the River City Players. The workshop will run from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Yacht Club, and Ross is one of eight board members who are teaching the different aspects of plays and community theater.

President Debbie Barnhouse said light/soundboards, costume/set design and stage/prop managing are all going to be focuses of the workshop. "We will be able to show anyone who has ever wondered about community theater or how a play is put on, how it is done," Barnhouse said.

Barnhouse encourages people to come meet and greet and learn at the workshop, and hopes new friendships are made. Ross said he has made strong bonds and friendships just from being a part of the group. "You get to know many members of the community that are very talented, and you share that talent with them," he said. "We are proud of what we do."

Barnhouse said the members share a talent, but they also share a love for theater and just wanting the show to go on.

"They are like me in 1999 when I tried out for my first play. They hear about auditions, show up, fall in love and keep coming back," she said.

The group's next play, "When the Reaper Calls," will be performed Sept. 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20.

For more information, call Debbie Barnhouse at 335-8120.

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