Carolyn McCloskey - Theater depends on community

The stage is bare and dark now at Gallery Theater in McMinnville, waiting for the production team to begin work on the next play. It’s a bittersweet time for the “Honk!” team, which ran the show for four weekends.

All around Oregon, the same thing is happening.

Community theaters range in size from small groups led by single individuals performing in borrowed spaces, to large, permanent companies with well-equipped facilities of their own. Plays are performed in every kind of venue: firehouses, churches, malls, libraries, grange halls.

Gallery Theater is lucky to have its own building.

Does this happen by magic and mirrors? No, more likely by a number of passionate people doing what they love to do, so that equally passionate people can watch and be entertained, moved to tears, laughter or challenged to think.

I’d like to share my experience of directing the musical “Honk!” which required:

  • A music director who also could find a rehearsal pianist and band members.
  • A set designer to bring my vision to life.
  • A lighting designer to design and hang show lighting.
  • A sound engineer to work with the mikes.
  • Someone to run the light board and the sound board.
  • A costumer willing to take the lead in designing all costumes needed.
  • A choreographer.
  • A stage manager.
  • Set builders.
  • Enough talented people to audition for all the roles needed, including five children, five teens and six to eight adults at a minimum.

This is how the community becomes community theater. It takes time. Anything worth doing does.

But ask anyone who has been in a show, whether on the stage or behind it, what they receive from the long hours and hard work it takes to finally put a play in front of an audience. They will tell you about the sense of pride, the bonding with others, the opportunity for creative expression, the personal growth — all hard to find in other places.

We were able to bring to life a wonderful production of “Honk!” primarily because people like you stepped forward to play a role. Let’s look at who these people were:

  • A student working on her master’s degree, also a pianist for churches and a piano teacher, served as music director.
  • A hairdresser who works at a winery and a graphic artist became our set designer and painter.
  • A construction worker, a winery employee and a retired military person volunteered to be set builders.
  • A graduate student from Western Oregon University traveled to Mac to act as lighting designer.
  • A high school student learning the tech side of theater operated our light board.
  • An employee in the library at Linfield College ran the sound board.
  • Without a head costumer, our costume team was a graphic designer, a high school student, a theater mom and a retired ballet instructor.
  • A postal worker became the stage manager. And her backstage crew consisted of high school students.

Our cast included stay-at-home moms, middle-school students, a high school senior, a frame shop worker, a student at Chemeketa Community College, a graveyard shift worker at a local care center, employees of local restaurants and event planners.

I wish there were a way to convey how many people in this community have passed through Gallery Theater in its 46-year history: people pictured in our archive of photos, news articles and posters, kids now adults and others in their 80s. It is like a huge family.

Sometimes, we hear that new people don’t have a chance of being selected for a part. Not true. A 72-year-old and a 6-year-old made their stage debuts in "Honk!" We welcomed a few returning to the stage after some time away, as well as children whose second home is Gallery Theater. Some were performing in their second show, while others had been in many shows here and elsewhere. The combination worked beautifully.

These are not professionals. They are your neighbors, people you see throughout Yamhill County. They are people just like you.

You don’t have to go to Portland for a high-quality live theater experience. You will find community theaters within driving distance in Forest Grove, Salem, Newberg, Albany, Corvallis and the coast. When you are traveling, check out the closest community theater. Your support is always appreciated, and you will be amazed by what you see.

Community theater plays an important role in the culture, spirit and vitality of a community. The goal of the newly formed Oregon Community Theatre Alliance is to support community theater throughout Oregon. I work with the Alliance, networking and sharing common issues, so we can continue to do what we love.

In order to do this, however, we need more of you to share in the fun. We offer training workshops in all aspects of theater, a summer camp for young people, a readers’ theater for adults as a way to take small steps into acting, and mentors willing to work with you.

For more information, stop by Gallery Theater on Second and Ford streets, call us at 503-472-2227, visit us at www.gallerytheater.org or find us on Facebook. Become a part of the Gallery family. We are ready to embrace you. We are your local community theater.

Guest writer Carolyn McCloskey is a retired educator serving as president of the Gallery board. She has directed 13 plays and enjoys acting in plays, golfing and traveling. She lives with her husband, Bill, in McMinnville, where she is known as the “daughter of John and Mary Day and sister of Patti Webb.”



Patti Webb

Well written and informative article. Good job sis!

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