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‘Wonderful Life’ cast, my new friends open door to world of theater

By Linda Emley

On Saturday, Dec. 8, I did something I’ve never done before. Please forgive me, but I had never attended a play at the Farris Theatre. My first Farris production was “It’s A Wonderful Life – A Live Radio Play,” presented by the Ray County Community Arts Association.
My mother and I had a wonderful time and enjoyed our night out on the town in Richmond. It was good to see people I know on the Farris stage, like my Ray County railroad consultant Jim Sisson, my high school classmate Dawn Stigall and my son Landon’s teachers from RHS, Reis Wright and Cindy Sause.
My mother enjoyed Ryan Kugler and her young friends from church, Elizabeth Etherton and Jenny Corwin. After it was over, I felt like I had actually been in the audience of an old-time radio broadcast. I had totally forgotten that I knew many of the cast members and for that brief time in history, they were the radio players of the 1940s.
I’ve seen this movie many times, but watching it live was a whole different experience. This history girl really enjoyed pretending I was back in 1946 for the evening.
After attending my first Farris play, I decided I needed to see what I could do to help with future productions. I’m not an actress, but I can help with some of the other behind-the-scenes duties.
My next step was attending the monthly Ray County Community Arts Association meeting on Dec. 11. They meet the first Tuesday of each month at the Eagleton Center.
Over the past two years, I’ve watched them meet at the Eagleton because I’m sometimes still working on the hill at the museum. I had been planning on attending one of their meetings, but just never got around to it.
After promising my friend Meg Minnick that I was going to attend, there was no turning back on being there. I was surprised to see that I knew most of the people that attended the meeting.
Meg and I told everyone the value of Facebook for promotion, and before the meeting was over, I found myself making promises and plans for the future of my new-found friend, the Ray County Community Arts Association.
If you would like to join in and help with this wonderful group, make your calendar for the next meeting, which will be on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m.
In honor of my new-found friends, I went back to 1965 and here is the story about a production that appeared on the Farris stage 47 years ago. You will see many names of local people that we all know and love.
This was in The Richmond News on Nov. 17, 1965. “ ‘Annie’ Opens Tonight. Curtain Time is echoing in the Farris Theater today as final preparations are being made for ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’ A Kiwanis Theatre Guild production, it was presented Tuesday afternoon to high school students and will be seen tonight at 8 p.m. and again Thursday and Friday.
“The Irving Berlin musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ is a rags to riches saga about a little backwoods girl. It is familiar to theater lovers the world over. The production committees of Richmond are becoming well-known for their ability to reproduce the settings, the costumes, the actions and the overall mood for the play, all of which are really indispensable.
“Jerry Miller, scenery director, has worked on the scaffold for previous productions of the guild and has done an outstanding job as stage manager as well. This year he has enlisted the aid of two newcomers to the committees, Mrs. Ed Calvin and Mrs. Jerry Conkling. These two artist have painted canvas and has become a welcome addition to the production staff.
“Carol Hertzig, organist, is the musical link for the characters, dancers and chorus, and has provided interlude music for the past two years and will again be seated at the organ. This year she has an added thrill, that of seeing her two daughters, Hedy and Engel, in the roles of Annie’s sisters on the stage.
“Dottie Hupp, costume designer, created the costumes for ‘Oklahoma’. The costumes this year are magnificent in design, color and fabric. Ellen Crowley is in charge of the make-up this year and is ably assisted by Jean Hamacher, Mary Thurman, Julie Jackson and Jan Jackson.
“Paul Stewart and Harry Jones Jr. had the difficult job of assembling the properties to be used on the stage. They have made the extra effort to use authentic ‘props’ and this effort certainly adds to the overall success of the show. Jerry Conkling is the man behind the scenes that takes care of the curtain, the sound effects and the behind-the-stage lighting. In addition, he designed the ‘camp fire’ for the Indian scene.
“Jamie McCalley as choreographer has worked tireless with the dancers and her efforts are well rewarded. The dancers are all third-year people in the guild productions – Lynne Thurman, Patty Lile, Vicki Outersky and Sue and Anita McCalley. A special edition to the dancing this year includes nine Indian dancers from Wentworth Military Academy under the direction of Capt. Ramond Miller.
“Ron Stockton is again the hair stylist for the show. He gives freely of his time and talent to help make the production complete. Donna Hughes, as prompter, is a familiar sight seated in the wings with a script book, prompting and probing the actors with their lines. She is in charge of getting the right people on stage at the right time and is assisted by Jimmy Jackson.
“Don Jackson, Richmond Hardware merchant, is the director of the Richard Rodgers- Oscar Hammerstein II production, which was first seen on the New York stage in 1956. Mr. Jackson also directed the two previous Theatre Guild Production ‘Oklahoma’ in 1963 and ‘Brigadoon’ in 1964.
“The lyric and music of this popular musical where written by Irving Berlin especially for Ethel Merman, the original star of ‘Annie Get Your Gun’. Mrs. Levan Thurman is again the dramatic director for this show and Mrs. Harry Jones Jr. is the choral director.
“The title role of Annie will be played by Mrs. Jerry Miller, who will be remembered as Meg in ‘Brigadoon’ in the 1964 Guild Production. Frank Butler, an expert rifle shot, is played by J.R. Harrison, who has had the male leads in the two previous musicals. Jack Pointer, who also starred in the two previous musicals, carries the role of Charlie Davenport, the promotion man. The part of Dolly Tate, Charlie’s sister, is played by Mrs. Thomas Cook, a newcomer to the Guild’s cast. Two newcomers in this year’s production is Candy Williams and Kent Summers of Hardin. Candy, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. L.Z. Williams plays the part of Winnie Tate. Kent, the son of Mr. and Mrs. J.K. Summers, is the cowboy, Tommy Keeler. The cast of this show is composed of Ray Countians from Richmond, Orrick and Hardin.
“Proceeds from this show will be donated entirely to the Kiwanis Boys and Girls work. As of today, of the ‘Brigadoon’ proceeds $619.50 has been spent on eyeglasses for children, dental services, American Field Service scholarships and the ‘Operation Headstart program, which was successfully operated through the school system under the direction of Mrs. Cleo Dear.”
We have a file at the museum that has programs from some of the Kiwanis productions of the past. Come on out and we will be glad to show you what we have: “South Pacific” from 1968, “The Music Man” 1966, “Brigadoon Forever” 1979 and a few other interesting Farris events.
If you have any other production programs, please let us know. We would love to make a copy to add to our collection. I promise we will have more stories about the Farris Theatre, the Kiwanis Theatre Guild and the Ray County Community Arts Association.
After watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” last weekend I kept asking myself where I had seen “Freddy Filmore” before. I looked him up in the program and found Justin Richards played Freddy. I was still blank and then it hit me. Justin has another name and another life. He’s really the “Spudd” that plays the big bass fiddle every month at the Eagleton Music Festival. The next music festival will be Dec. 22, so if we are lucky, we just might get to see a really good bass fiddle player.
Break a leg guys, you all did great!

Have a story, photo or program from a Farris Theatre production? Linda Emley would love to see it. You can contact her at rayc...@aol.com or see her in person at the museum.

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