For years, Mineral Area College Theater Department has presented shows that have caused people to laugh, shed a tear or be carried away for just an evening to a magical place or a fixed moment in time.
But how does that moment happen, when do people suspend all reality and believe in the reality of what is stage? What does it take to provide two and a half hours of quality entertainment?
According to Chuck Gallaher, director of theater at Mineral Area College, it takes a lot of time, hard work and the dedication of his the staff and actors long before opening night.
“From the time I begin picking scripts, doing the research and designing the sets, it can take anywhere from a year to two years depending on the show,” Gallaher said. “I am currently reading and picking shows, not for next season, but for the season after.”
Bringing quality shows to the theater all begins with finding the right script, and for Gallaher and the theater department, there is no set process on how a show gets picked.
“Sometimes I look at what the community is into at the time, what’s on TV or the cultural buzz,” Gallaher said. “Other times students or community members come to me interested in doing a particular show.”
In addition, Gallaher did say he has picked scripts that he really wanted to do because it was something new or different and he wanted to see what the theater could do.
“We have a lot of theater style showings in the community,” Gallaher said. “It’s really hard not to over-saturate the community with the same old shows – ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ – community favorites.”
Next theater season, Gallaher has selected some shows that are community standards, but they are the ones most high schools or touring companies can’t put on because of the sheer size of the production.
“I try and think what the high schools or one of these production companies could do with the show,” Gallaher said. “Then I think how we can push past that because we do have a bigger space and a better budget, like what we did with ‘Into the Woods.’”
Although Gallaher has the sole responsibility of what play or musical the theater department will perform, he has occasionally gone before the school board to get certain things passed.
“If I don’t know how well a play will be received by the community, I have a small group of people I will shoot a script just to get a better idea of what they think of it,” Gallaher said. “I know we live in a community with high moral standards and I really don’t want to offend them.”
Gallaher admits the biggest problems in picking modern plays is the language, especially in productions in the last 20 years because many of these plays have four-letter words the community would not respond to favorably.
Once the play or musical has been picked, Gallaher is faced with the unenviable task of casting. According to the theater director, this chaotic process is actually easier with musicals than straight plays.
“With musicals, it can seem much more difficult because you have to sing, dance and read your lines,” Gallaher said. “But you get to see so much more of the actor and what they can do.”
With straight plays, you may have an actor read for three of four different characters, but because they are nervous you don’t get to know where they are coming from or who they are.”
During casting, Gallaher says he usually has someone there who can bounce ideas off of and ask for their opinion.
“Typically it’s just a gut feeling that a person is right for a role,” Gallaher said. “But it always helps to have someone – voice director, choreographer, costumer- to bounce ideas off.”
In the five years Gallaher has been the theater director, there has been three times when he admits his mind was completely blown away by a performer and really wondered where this person came from.
“My second year as director, I had this cast of people who I did not know from anywhere, and I am from Park Hills, came out on stage and when they opened their mouths I thought ‘why have you not done this before?’” Gallaher said. “They basically told me they didn’t think they could do it.”
Gallaher says he is always amazed how much talent the community has to offer, but at the same time he is equally amazed how many of them don’t realize how much talent they really have.
“I have my class do an assignment where they have to give me their opinion of a production,” Gallaher said. “About 75 percent of the time, they mention how professional our shows are compared to other shows they have seen. I think that says a lot. These performers are all very passionate about what they are creating on stage.”
Gallaher also believes one of the strengths of his production comes from the idea of being able to play ‘pretend’ again. The actors get to come to the theater and pretend they are someone else.
“As adults, we forget how to play and how to pretend, or at least we think we do,” Gallaher said. “But here, we can pretend. I live with a woman who would not let me swing from the chandelier at home, but here I can. The theater is kind of like having a really big monkey bar gym.”
When most people view a play they get lost in the scene. They watch the actors and listen to the music, but that is only one side of the coin. A great deal of the charm of the theater comes from the work done backstage.
“Working backstage is every bit as difficult as acting,” Gallaher said. “Those who are working behind the scenes, setting up the scenes, doing lights, painting sets, are all working just as hard as the actors.”
According to Gallaher, once the play has been cast, his crew immediately goes to work looking for props and building sets.
But just like the process of picking a play takes more than just eight weeks rehearsal plan, so does the creation of the set. Accordingly, Gallaher is constantly designing and thinking of how he wants the stage to look long before most people even know the play has been scheduled.
“During the Christmas break, I will be designing the shows for the spring and into the summer,” Gallaher said. “And during the summer, I will be designing for fall and the first play of the spring.”
With all of his hard work and planning, Gallaher seems to move from one play to the next effortlessly, spending most of his time either in the theater or planning what to do next.
“I am going to get about a week and a half when I will be away from the theater, and I am going to sleep, eat and catch up on TV,” Gallaher said. “Then it’s back to whatever I do.”
With the last production ending just week ago, Gallaher is already in production for his next show. “Rumors,” a classic Neil Simon farce, will run Feb. 19-21.
For more information about future productions, call the theater office at 573-518-2181.
Craig Vaughn is a reporter with the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or at email@example.com