The following article was written for a February 1984 publication for the Salem Mall. How many issues did this publication run? Why was a Yellow Springs theater selected for this feature article? At any rate, it gives a good thumbnail sketch of a lost Yellow Springs institution (all posts concerning Center Stage are indexed under the “Blog Multi-Part Series” tab above).
by Carol Siyahi
Thanks to Center Stage, community theater here is alive and well. Some of its staunchest supporters tell why.
Yellow Springs Center Stage is, in the truest sense, a community theater. The character of Center Stage is very much the product of the diverse group of people who contribute their time and talents to make this magical thing called theater “go” in their community.
Center Stage, like many community theaters, is a kind of huge family of 300 or so people who become involved each year, who work intensively for weeks on end, who fight with each other, help each other, exhaust and energize each other — in the dynamics of grassroots theater.
I’s run by a score of volunteers from the Miami Valley area, who make decisions about their repertoire with a sense of freedom which is more characteristic of academic theater than of one almost totally dependent on its box-office sales for survival.
A typical Center Stage season may include one or more productions that would have to be considered a long way from being big box-office boosters. These productions, however, do provide a diversity of theater fare which Center Stage members believe is their responsibility as a community theater.
The most recent season, for instance, included such varied works as Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple,” Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” Paul Osborn’s “Morning’s at Seven,” Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the controversial “Streamers,” and Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sorcerer.” In its selections, Center Stage displays a diversity of theater that looks at the broad spectrum of our existence — the dreams, the absurdities, the nightmares, the boredom and the humor.
‘As the had of this “family” called Center Stage, Board of Trustees President Jean Hooper assumes ultimate responsibility and, as a result, you hear different opinions about her. People disagree with her on many issues relating to the theater, but there is a genuine respect, for the commitment and energy she pas put into launching this group and keeping it afloat over the past dozen or so years.
Board Member Camille Hill sums it up simply: “Center Stage has survived all these years because of Jean Hooper.” She has been the [missing] who is always there.
Center Stage has had the help of many individuals, all of whom volunteer many hours to keep the theater going. Following are highlights of interviews with some of the members of the decision-making body, the Board of Trustees. They may provide a flavor of the tenor of this community theater.
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Theater is a tradition in Yellow springs. “It is a part of the fabric of the community,” Hooper says. Theater is also part of the fabric of Jean Hooper. “I’ve been involved in theater all of my adult life,” she says.
Since Center Stage’s first production in 1971, “The Amorous Flea,” Hooper has seen the theater through 72 shows that have included everything from works by Shakespeare, Shaw and Moliere, to Neil Simon and Gilbert and Sullivan, to the work of local playwrights. Center Stage ha a commitment to theater and young playwrights, she emphasizes: “Theater is suffering from the fact that so few plays are being written. If, by accident, we help someone come along who is a viable playwright, that would be wonderful.”
Center Stage is more than what happens on stage, she explains. It takes people working at many different jobs to bring a production together.
The Yellow Springs theater has developed a reputation in southwest Ohio for its Gilbert and Sullivan productions, she notes, with a different Gilbert and Sullivan being performed each year. But Center Stage needs to improve in producing different kinds of theater, she says.
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You could say that Ron Siemer found his voice — his singing voice at least — at Center Stage. The theater transformed Siemer from a man who “never sang a note in my life” to a frequent and enthusiastic participant in many local musicals and plays.
He has worked with the Yellow Springs theater for five years. What dose Center Stage have, Siemer asks rhetorically, that makes you give up whole chunks of your life, at times standing in a sweltering or cold theater, until late at night, at times giving up a family vacation to be in a play? “It’s an absurd way to conduct your life,” he says. “There’s either something very wonderful or crazy going on.”
“Center Stage if financially poor,” Siemer says. It is an all-volunteer group and exists solely on its box-office sales and its annual New Year’s party fund raiser.” “Most of the support is from people who have the same sensations I do.” What Siemer refers to is the chance to, at times, “add some laugh lines to the worry lines” of the audience and the opportunity to produce “a happier way to touch the existence around us.”
The work of Center Stage also may mean attempting to expose and give meaning to some of the harder realities of life. A case in point is the theater’s production of “Streamers,” a controversial drama set in a military barracks. There are those who found the play offensive, but Siemer defends the decision to produce it. “The play reflects the seamier side of life,” he says. “Theater helps some of the truths slip through . . . it helps awaken people to the reality. It’s what all the arts are supposed to do . . . We need to have parts of life read to us . . . It makes reality more real, more understandable.”
There is a lot of drudgery, Siemer says, “to keep this wonderful thing going.” The experience of Center Stage is very personal. There is a lot of warmth — “an overalls, cracker-barrel kind of warmth” — in this theater which makes its home in a converted garage. “The spirit of Center Stage supports it more than the patronage,” he says.
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Board Treasurer and Founding Member
Who gets involved in Center Stage? “People on ego trips,” says Radin, “people widowed or divorced and needing outlets, young people trying to do things, warhorse actors who have been acting for years, technical people . . . . Theater attracts people for so many different reasons. It’s an escape or a habit.”
Radin has seen many talented performers move through Center Stage, from its beginnings in the Bryan Center Community Center gym (“We had to take the lights up and down — basketballs would knock holes in the sets . . .”) to its location in the old Ford dealership garage (“The gallery was a driveway into the garage”). “We’re so fortunate having so much talent around.”
Board of Trustees Secretary
Sharon Campbell, involved in Center Stage since the early 1970s, says, “I enjoy seeing what happens to make a show go on, but the most important thing to me is the people.
“There is no cliquishness at Center Stage . . . . There are some constants in the people at Center Stage, but the large body of people keeps changing. It is a sign of acceptance that people can come and go. There are times people need to be in a show. There is a support system there . . . .”
Campbell started by being recruited to sew costumes. “I got involved. I liked the people. I started contributing more. It became part of my life.” Like many of those involved, she has done everything from serving as stage manager, doing set work, working box office and mailing lists, cleanup, and some acting. She has many times lent her personal belongings for productions, enjoying “seeing a piece of my house on the set.”
The theater’s move within Yellow Springs from Bryan Center to the present Dayton Street location was a benchmark for Center Stage. For the first time the theater had “its own space,” she says. “I used to work in that building when it was the Ford garage. I like the way we made that space change and be different. There is magic in that. There is magic in the way every set happens, how people assume roles on stage and the transformation of people when they drag in tired after work and suddenly take on new energy. What chemical thing happens to give you that energy? There is magic in that.”
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The next production of Center Stage will be “A Shot in the Dark,” a comedy-mystery by Marcel Archard. Performances are scheduled Feb.10-12 and 16-19.