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Raising the Curtain: Community Theater in Cape

RCP Performs 'Dracula' 2014Any town’s community theatre is an important addition to the culture and identity of small town America. There are several community theatres that work to bring whimsy and entertainment to our area, Acting Out!, River City Players are just a couple of groups whose goals are to bring the theatre to the masses. Not only is it affordable entertainment for the public, but it allows the everyday person to step on stage or behind the scenes and become something more.

 

In Cape Girardeau the River City Players are always gracing the stage of Port Cape, relying on the hard work and talent of volunteers, and the patronage of the community. Debbie Barnhouse who is on the board of directors for the RCP, helps take in aspiring directors and approve the script that they pick out. The more they get to know their audience the better idea they have for what scripts to use, “We found out that we have a certain audience, they like comedy. They don’t want to come out of a theatre feeling sad, they want to come out and have a good time.”

This knowledge helped lead to their latest project, Sleuth, a play of mystery and hilarity. With Sleuth Barnhouse said they were very flexible with the auditions, while the play originally featured two male parts the RCP version will have two females. Barnhouse says that when it comes to community theatre you have to be open to changes, and work with auditions, focusing on skill.

The River City Players feature everyday people, some with no stage experience at all, who become part of the theatre world, “They get ‘bit by the bug’ and have to come back. We have a lot of repeats, and some go on to learn behind the scenes stuff. It’s really great.”

Above all Barnhouse feels that the theatre is important to the community; besides entertainment RCP also provide services to organizations like the Glenn House who might need actors or storytellers for events, and they provide an endowed scholarship for Southeast Missouri State University. Barnhouse sees it as a way of giving back, “We’re very appreciated by the community, they see what we’re doing, and they see that we’re not going anywhere.”

Acting Out! is the other big community theatre to service Cape Girardeau and Jackson. Now in their third season Acting Out! follows a seasonal schedule, offering patrons a free Shakespeare show, a musical, and a Night of the Living Dead performance in October, which provides fun audience interaction. This year is Twelfth Night, and Into The Woods.Acting Out! Performs 'Little Women' 2014

Like RCP Acting Out! doesn’t require past experience to take part in the play. Founder and Artistic Director Kasey Cox says, “we hold blind auditions so that there’s plenty of diversity. If someone shows talent or promise that’s who gets the part.” Cox says that they hold one audition at the beginning of the year for all the shows, then fill in the gaps as they go. This season was their largest attendance yet with 70 auditions.

“We always give a free Shakespeare show because it’s a way to introduce people to theatre,” Cox adds that it’s especially educational for children, “children actually understand Shakespeare better than their parents because they have a broader scope, while adults focus on details.”

Twelfth Night isn't your traditional performance either. Director Melissa Jennings says there were some challenges bringing a modern flare to the classic play, "One of the first obstacles when directing a Shakespeare play . . . is modernizing the setting in a way that is fun but still makes sense. For example, last year's A Midsummer's Night Dream had the lovers attending a summer camp. In 2013's Romeo & Juliet, the Montagues and Capulets were opposing political parties. When trying to decide what direction to take this year, I knew one thing for certain - Viola had to, somehow, end up stranded on an island." To make this happen Jennings decided to allude to Gilligan's Island for the play. 

Acting Out! is also useful for SEMO students when school is out for the summer, “It gives them an opportunity to practice their art.”

Cox emphasised Acting Out’s! contribution to the community, not only do they focus on local businesses for their needs, like printing and equipment, but create an emotional connection with patrons of the theater, “It’s really cool to see how we affect people emotionally. For some it’s not just a show,” Cox recalled how one mother - who had just moved to the area with her son - expressed her gratitude to the theatre, as it provided her son with the means of making new friends. “It’s a way to find your people, find your tribe. It’s a place to call home.”

In Mount Vernon Illinois the King City Theatre Company also hold public auditions, but they do things a little different with murder mystery dinner theatres, having recently put on an Alice in Wonderland Themed mystery. In past seasons, King City Theater Company has presented many popular Children's Theater shows such as The Princess and the Pea, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Pinocchio, James and the Giant Peach, and more. 

Help keep theater strong in the community and watch each group for upcoming shows. Acting Out! will perform Twelfth Night June 12 and 13, the River City Players will host Sleuth July 9-12.

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