By editorial board • 

Gallery Theater marks 50 years of enriching community

The list of potential benefits from well-established arts organizations is lengthy — especially for smaller cities. They can break down social-economic barriers, improve the psychological well-being of residents and serve as a community development force, thus moving the needle in the right direction. 

More and more, communities are realizing the power of arts, culture and heritage to their downtowns, their schools and their everyday lives. 

But none of that was on the minds of a few McMinnville residents 50 years ago, when they sought to fill the local community theater void. Leah New, Elmer Fricke, Virginia Davidson, Mort Kresner, Winnie Combs and then theater professor Paul Little decided to produce a two-show summer theater season because there were no productions while school was on break. 

Nearly 400 productions later, Gallery Theater, as it would become to be known, celebrated its golden anniversary last week with a well-deserved gala. 

For some, the community theater is family — literally as well as figuratively in the case of Shelly Sanderlin, who met her late husband while appearing in the 1984 show, “Bus Stop.”

For others, it has served as a launching pad. Many McMinnville youth have honed their acting chops early, without a cumbersome amount of travel to “the big city,” and gone on to study and make a career out of acting and theater. 

While theater insiders find sustenance in the theater lifestyle, audiences reap the rewards of entertainment and creative inspiration. For other residents, the theater is a place they really intend to visit some day, but never seem to quite get around to it.

To those people, we say, stop the idle chatter and buy a ticket. And if you have kids, take them. There’s plenty of evidence that attending live theater enhances kids’ vocabulary, tolerance and overall performance in school.

For any arts or nonprofit organization to make it 50 years is a huge milestone. Every person who has had a part in a Gallery production since 1968 — and there are a lot of them — can take pride in helping create such a grand tradition.

Many will testify to ways their involvement in the theater has enriched their lives. And the rest of us, whether we’ve personally taken in performances or not, can join in singing the praises of the contribution of an established community theater organization. 

Cheers to 50 years, Gallery Players. We look forward to the next act.  

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