There's something so special about experiencing live theater, sitting in a darkened auditorium as living, breathing actors perform at their very best. Tickets to performances at venues like Atlanta's Fox Theatre can often rival prices on Broadway.
Sometimes it's worth every penny, like this October when "Wicked" comes to town. But as a regular activity for my family of four, the Fox is way above our pay grade. That's OK, though. There's wonderful theater to be experienced right in our hometown, at local high schools and universities.
During the 2007-2008 school year, our family saw live productions of "High School Musical" (twice), "Butterflies Are Free," "Oklahoma," "The Curious Savage," "Once Upon a Mattress," "Crimes of the Heart," "Oliver" and "Seussical the Musical," all for about $5 a ticket. We saw GTA's "Metamorphoses" and "Into the Woods." There was Derrick Ledbetter's brilliant "Compleat Female Stage Beauty."
With eight area high schools (and their corresponding middle schools) and three universities within comfortable driving distance, there's always something playing. The Times does a great job of publicizing the productions; just check for arts events in the Get Out section. Coming up later in this current school year is "Footloose," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Miracle Worker" and "Godspell."
And that's just at Gainesville and North Hall high schools. Sure beats sitting at home watching yet another repeat of "Law and Order."
There are also the Georgia Mountain Players, Gainesville Park and Rec's summer plays, Gainesville Theatre Alliance and the Sautee-Nacoochee Community Association ... the list goes on and on.
There's the Holly Theatre in Dahlonega, a 1946 gem of a movie theater that's been transformed into a community performing-arts center. I would be remiss as a drama mama if I didn't mention that our Molly is currently appearing as Annelle in the Holly's production of "Steel Magnolias" and her sister, Rachel, will be an evil stepsister in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" later this fall.
One result of 15 years of playgoing is that our two girls have grown up with a love for and appreciation of theater. The expression on my then 5-year-old Rachel's face was priceless when she realized the bag boy at the grocery store had also played one of the lead roles in the play we'd seen earlier in the week. Talk about making theater accessible.
She's gone on the appear in plays at her middle school and I have no doubt she'll continue in high school. I suppose she's spent so much time in darkened theaters watching other kids perform that stepping from the audience to the stage was a natural progression.
This week, Molly and I attended Gainesville High School's production of "The Savage Dilemma," a comedy that's the sequel to "The Curious Savage." We've come to expect extraordinary theater from Gainesville High's Pam Ware and, as usual, she and the cast delivered.
There are a couple of standouts who bear watching. Ariel Thilenius and Chandler Darby are talents who change and shine in every role they're given. I can't wait to see what they do next.
It's just a shame there were only a handful of people in the audience, maybe two dozen at the very most. I'm pretty sure we were the only patrons who didn't have a blood relative on the stage. Work of this quality deserves a full house.
For less than the price of a combo meal at a fast food restaurant, you can have a great evening at the theater and show support for young people and the arts at the same time. That's what I call a win-win scenario.
(Originally published in the Gainesville Times, September 19,2008)