Putting the community in community theater | VailDaily.com

Putting the community in community theater

Tamara Miller
Dominique Taylor/The Vail TrailLance Schoeber played Don Quixote, a mad knight, during a dress rehearsal of the play "Man of La Mancha" at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle-Vail last summer.

Vail Valley residents will yearn for big city culture, but their appetite for small-town acts still may need to grow a bit.

Annah Scully, director of the Vail Performing Arts Academy, is quick to praise local residents for their support of her group. The academy, which is primarily a development program for kids, has so much interest that there’s a waiting list to join. Turn-out for performances is great – the company’s production of “Aladdin” earlier this year sold out twice. And while money is always a challenge, the academy still manages to get the show on, no doubt aided by the membership fees each child (or parent) must pay to participate in each show.

But challenges still persist. The Vail Valley Theater Company’s efforts to rally more support – the company’s performance of “Man of La Mancha” last spring was a success, those inside and outside of the adult theater company say – but attendance was down at its most recent production, “Butterflies are Free.”

Dave Priboth, vice president of the theater company, is trying to raise the profile of his group. Priboth moved to Edwards more than six years ago from Overland Park, Kan. The only thing he misses is the vibrant community theater scene he left behind.

“We need to get the community more involved in what we do,” he said.

At around 50,000 permanent residents, Eagle County’s local theater scene will never draw crowds the size Priboth regularly enjoyed while performing in the Kansas City metro area. But community theater in neighboring counties seem to enjoy broad-base support. Scully and Priboth expressed admiration for the community theater groups in Summit County – which hosts about a dozen of locally-produced shows a year – and in Aspen, home of the 30-year-old Aspen Community Theatre. And with a similarly growing, vibrant (and wealthy) community, Scully sees no reason why Vail’s theater groups can’t enjoy the same.

The key is to involve the entire community as much as possible, said Colin Meiring, artistic director for the performing arts academy.

“If your program is just about self-serving your own ideas, and not the people on the stage … you’re not giving back to the community,” he said.

That’s the focus of the relatively young Porchlight Players, an adult theater company created by and for downvalley residents. Lora Silagy, who helped form the company with a few other like-minded downvalley folks, said the company isn’t trying to come off as being professional.

“One of our big goals is to mentor the people around us,” she said.

If a person is interested in directing a show, he or she might be paired with someone with directing experience, for example. The Porchlight Players have put on five productions since the summer of 2005. Turn-out for the shows, which are primarily put on at the Eagle Valley High School auditorium, hasn’t been stellar, but more than expected.

“We get a little more than 100 people at each show,” Silagy said. “It’s a developing thing in the valley as we get our name out there.”

As the downvalley community grows, Silagy expects turn-out – and participation – to grow as well.

Both of the adult community theater groups share two similar challenges: too few people who want to work behind the scenes, and too little money.

The two challenges kind of go hand-in-hand, Priboth said. When he first got involved in the Vail Valley Theatre Company, he saw “a very, very dedicated group of people who were doing stuff that they wanted to do, but they had no funding.”

The company also put on performances that didn’t have broad appeal – something that Meiring also said was important to the success of the children’s performing arts academy.

As Priboth said, “we’ve got to do shows that people recognize and love. Theater people hate to do ‘Oklahoma!’ and ‘The Sound of Music,’ but if we did ‘Sound of Music’ we could eat for a week.”

The theatre company has worked to raise the quality of its shows, Priboth said. Now it needs to work on getting more involvement – financial and otherwise. Most of those involved are interested in acting, but what’s needed are people with a passion for theater and the deep pockets to help fund it, he said. A show like “Man of La Mancha” cost about $28,000 to put on, and despite the encouraging turn-out, the company did not quite break even on the gig, Priboth said. The company doesn’t charge its actors to participate – “it’s our sense that that’s not the role of community theater” – and ticket prices run between $15 for plays and $25 for musicals, he said.

“We need to raise the level of what we do,” Priboth said. “Without jingling our bell too much, we’re well on our way.”

Tamara Miller can be reached for comment at tmiller@vailtrail.com.

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