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Lindale Community Theater: A Passion for the Craft and What it Provides to the Community

By Lynn Dark

A great movie or song might pull on our heartstrings, but nothing makes us feel more connected to our fellow man than when an actor on a stage is able to affect us. They might make us laugh, cry, or turn to a place of personal reflection. In any case, it is something that stays with us. The Lindale Community Theater (LCT) provides a special venue for just such an experience.

Tim Mitchiner is the LCT’s Executive Director. When I showed up to interview him for this article, I was immediately impressed. Though the LCT has been around since 2009, it moved to its new location at 109 W. Hubbard St. about a year ago. The configuration is something most theater goers are not familiar with.

In remodeling its new location, the LCT has brought an older form of live theater to East Texas. The stage is located in the center of the auditorium with seating for the audience on three sides. The fourth side serves as the play’s backdrop. This playhouse set up is known as a thrust configuration, which is the way the ancient Greeks did it.

Thrust Theatre is a very different experience than the “normal” set up in which the entire audience faces the stage from the same general direction. The actors have to be aware of where they are on the stage and which side of the audience they are playing to. The result is that each section of spectators leaves with the feeling that they got a little something extra that the other sections missed out on.

Mitchiner was kind enough to give me a tour of the building during our meeting. I was struck by his passion for the craft and what it provides to the community. He keeps the doors open when he’s around during the day and welcomes people to stop by and visit.

Parts of the building remain works in progress, but the auditorium itself is very much in operational order. It is equipped with state of the art lighting and sound equipment. The seats closest to the stage are about five feet away, but no seat is more than 30 feet away. In other words, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The building also has dressing rooms, a green room, a music/rehearsal room, a tech room, a concession, and a loading area. The lobby is a warm and welcoming area where you will find the work of local artists on display. The entire place has a vibe that can only come from the love and energy being poured into it.

The theater’s catch phrase is, “We love to act, and it shows.” Mitchiner says that they don’t hope for the best, they plan for the best. The goal is for each production to be better than the last one. The LCT as a whole strives for the best quality in every aspect of everything they do, and it definitely shows.

Mitchiner quips that theater is the only thing that has been dying for the last 2000 years, and yet it isn’t dead. He understands the challenge of getting people to commit to live performances. In order to lure people to step away from TV, Netflix, and other modern distractions, the LCT is constantly working to attract a younger audience, while continuing to appeal to its traditional patrons. Mitchiner gives high praise to the teachers and other theater folks around East Texas for their part in bringing a new generation to live theater.

A big part of Mitchiner’s love for what he does comes from giving people their introduction to the stage. He understands the importance of live theater in our culture, and what a difference it makes in the lives of the individuals who dare to overcome their fears by getting up on the stage. His raw emotion on this subject is both deep and sincere.

Over the years, Mitchiner has watched many people’s lives be transformed through the acting experience. He spoke of people who had always been told that they ‘couldn’t.’ Maybe someone made fun of their weight, or their looks, or had simply told them that they would never amount to anything. Once the performer finally takes the stage and gets the first laugh, or the first applause, their lives are changed forever. What greater gift can you give to another person?

The LCT typically puts on four major productions a year, though smaller productions are put on occasionally. The 2014 season is over, but there are exciting plays to look forward to in 2015. “Kitchen Witches” starts on January 30th and runs through February 8th. “The Glass Menagerie” begins in April, “Pump Boys and Dinettes” is coming in July, and “These Shining Lives” wraps up the 2015 season in late September and early October.

Plays are performed on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons for two weekends. Prices are generally $15 for adults, $12 for students and $8 for children 12 and under. Tickets for some performances might be slightly higher, depending on production costs. Season tickets are $45 for all four shows. The theater can accommodate an audience of up to 170 people per performance.

Most shows have open auditions for acting roles, though this is left to the discretion of the director. Many of the actors come from Tyler and Lindale, but people have been known to come from Whitehouse, Winnsboro, Mineola, and Van. Anyone interested in a behind the scenes role is also welcome. As Mitchiner puts it, he is always looking for people who are interested in walking the path, and enjoying the journey.

In addition to its own productions, the LCT rents its space out for live music performances in order to raise additional money. It also relies heavily on advertising, sponsors, and the generosity of those lovingly referred to as ‘Friends of the Theater.’ Small community theaters can’t survive on ticket sales alone. When you add up the mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc., it turns out to be an expensive enterprise.

The Lindale Community Theater is a 501(c)(3) corporation, and relies completely on volunteers. Mitchiner is the LCT founder, and he can’t say enough about the wonderful people who help make it all happen. He wants people to know that they are a group of amateurs who have no intention of being amateurish. Even though everyone on his team is working without financial compensation, they put forth a tremendous amount of energy and effort to entertain and expand the horizons of their audience, as well as provide the experience to the production participants.

Lindale, Texas is located just a few miles north of I-20, and everyone knows how we measure things in minutes around here. If you live in Tyler, it’s about 20 minutes away on Highway 69 north. When you reach downtown Lindale, take a left on Highway 16, and you will see the theater on your right. In addition to the LCT, Lindale is home to Miranda Lambert’s Pink Pistol store, and the Lindale Candy Company.

For more information, please contact the Lindale Community Theater by e-mail at tim@lindalecommunitytheater.org, by phone at (903)638-0402, or visit their website at lindalecommunitytheater.org. E-mail is the preferred method of contact.

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Review: Ring Of Fire

By John Baggett

It’s summer! (Well…close enough, that is) So, what better way to spend these (incredibly) warm summer evenings than a show at Tyler Civic Theatre. Summer musical season has begun, with the first of three huge shows, “Ring Of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.”

“Ring Of Fire” is a jukebox musical that uses the music of Johnny Cash (Ray Carter) to tell his life story. The show portrays some of the highlights of Cash’s story from his childhood, to his first meeting with Sun Records founder Sam Phillips (Zach Woods), playing the Grand Ole Opry, meeting and falling in love with June Carter (Libby Davis), his addiction problems, his legendary San Quentin performance, and his faith. The performance also features Brad Echols as Ray Cash, Johnny’s father, Regina Money as Carrie, his mom, and Tres Taylor as Young Johnny.

“Ring of Fire” was created by Richard Maltby Jr., best known as a lyricist for “Miss Saigon” and director of “Fosse.” The Civic Theatre production was directed by Helen Strotman, hot off her previous directorial effort, “Screwtape,” with musical direction by Rafael Espinoza, leader of the band Rafael Espinoza and the Rockabilly Railroad. This duo has assembled a fantastic ensemble of actors and musicians to bring this show to life.

As Johnny, Ray Carter is unbelievably good. He has the voice that is true to Cash without ever being an imitation. He treats the songs with the respect they deserve and if he wasn’t already a musician in his own right, I’d be suggesting he become one. Equally impressive is Davis, who has an incredible voice, and every time she is able to add a little of June’s spunk to her performance, she nails it.

Echols, who was last seen in “The Lucky O’Leary’s” does a phenomenal job. He is always a delight to watch, especially in musicals. As Carrie, Mooney is wonderful. She has Southern charm coming out of her every moment she is on stage. Making a return to TCT, Woods does a great job. I hope he returns for more shows. As Young Johnny, Tres Taylor is adorable and I hope he too continues to perform.

As good as this cast is, the backing musicians are equally fantastic. Espinoza shreds the guitar, along with his wife Emmylou Espinoza on bass, Daniel Armstrong on keyboard, and Grace Ensley on drums. They play their hearts out and bring the energy to this show that keeps the audience and the cast on their toes.

While the show, by design, focuses more on the music and only hits the highlights of Cash’s overall story, it’s not so much a biography of Cash, but a show about his music with biography thrown in. That’s not a negative. Honestly the cast and musicians are so talented, they could drop the story and just take the music on the road.

“Ring of Fire” is a fantastic show filled with great music that will have even the biggest cynic tapping his toes and clapping along. I highly recommend this show. Get your tickets NOW!

“Ring of Fire” opens at Tyler Civic Theatre on Thursday, June 7th and runs through Sunday, June 17th.  Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive. For more information and to purchase tickets call (903)592-0561 or go to http://tylercivictheatre.com/

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Theatre Guide: Opening June 7th, “Ring of Fire” at Tyler Civic

 

Upcoming Events, Concerts & Plays

June 7th-17th  (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30) – “Ring of Fire” – From the iconic songbook of Johnny Cash comes this unique musical about love and faith, struggle and success, rowdiness and redemption, and home and family. More than two dozen classic hits—including “I Walk The Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and the title tune—performed by a multi-talented cast – paint a musical portrait of The Man in Black that promises to be a foot-stompin’, crowd-pleasin’ salute to a unique musical legend! Though he is never impersonated, Johnny Cash’s remarkable life story is told through his music, climaxing in a concert that will both move and exhilarate! Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com.

June 29th-30th, July 1st (Friday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm) – Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Jr. – Lewis Carroll’s famous heroine comes to life in a delightful adaptation of the classic Disney film. Travel down the rabbit hole and join Alice, one of literature’s most beloved heroines, in her madcap adventures.  Featuring updated songs from Disney’s thrilling animated motion picture, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland JR. is a fast-paced take on the classic tale. The ever-curious Alice’s journey begins innocently enough as she chases the White Rabbit.  Her adventures become increasingly more strange as she races the Dodo Bird, gets tied up with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, raps with a bubble-blowing Caterpillar and beats the Queen of Hearts at her own game! Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com.

July 4th (4pm) – “Annual Independence Day Concert” will be presented by Tyler Civic Chorale at First Presbyterian Church, 230 W. Rusk St., Tyler. For more info go to tylercivicchorale.org or facebook.com/tylercivicchorale. Tickets are available through TCC members and at the door.

July 13th-15th, 20th-22nd (Nightly at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30) – “Charlotte’s Web” will be on stage at Henderson Civic Theater. All the enchanting characters from the book are here: Wilbur, the irresistible young pig who desperately wants to avoid the butcher; Fern, a girl who understands what animals say to each other; Templeton, the gluttonous rat who can occasionally be talked into a good deed; the Zuckerman family; the Arables; and, most of all, the extraordinary spider, Charlotte, who proves to be “a true friend and a good writer.” Henderson Civic Theater is located at 122 E. Main, Henderson. For more info call (903)657-2968 or go to hendersoncivictheatre.org.

July 26th-August 12th  (Friday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm) – “Singing in the Rain – The “Greatest Movie Musical of All Time” is faithfully and lovingly adapted by Broadway legends, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from their original award-winning screenplay in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Each unforgettable scene, song and dance is accounted for, including the show-stopping title number, complete with an onstage rainstorm! Hilarious situations, snappy dialogue and a hit-parade score of Hollywood standards make “Singin’ in the Rain” the perfect entertainment for any fan of the golden age of movie musicals. “Singin’ in the Rain” has all the makings of a Tinseltown tabloid headline – the starlet, the leading man and a love affair that could change lives and make or break careers! In silent movies, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are a hot item but, behind the scenes, things aren’t always as they appear on the big screen! Meanwhile, Lina’s squeaky voice might be the end of her career in “talking pictures” without the help of a talented young actress to do the talking and singing for her. Filled with every memorable moment from the film and a downpour of unforgettable songs, Singin’ in the Rain is a guaranteed hit. Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com.

September 20th-September 29th (Friday-Saturday at 7:30pm) – “The Odd Couple” will be on the stage at Henderson County Performance Center.  This Tony Award winning play never grows old.  Oscar and Felix become the ultimate roommates when their wives leave them.  Felix’s fastidious, depressed, tense, clean freakiness drives Oscar nuts as he is the exact opposite.  Don’t miss this hilarious show! Henderson County Performance Center is located at 400 Gibson Rd, Athens, TX.  For more info call (903)675-3908 or go to hcpac.org.

November 29th-December 8th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:00pm) – “A Christmas Carol” will be on stage at Henderson County Performance Center – Charles Dickins’ timeless story never fails to enthrall audiences.  When old Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man, receives a Christmas Eve visit from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, he becomes a changed man, joins the festivities, and treats everyone better.  Henderson County Performance Center is located at 400 Gibson Rd, Athens, TX. For more info call (903)675-3908 or go to hcpac.org.

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Review: “The Odd Couple (female version)”

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By John Baggett

The men had their turn. Now, it’s time for the ladies to shine, as Tyler Civic Theatre brings a close to their “The Odd Couple Times Two” extravaganza with the highly anticipated female version of “The Odd Couple.” In 1985, playwright Neil Simon took his original play and revised it by reversing the genders of all the characters. (Fun fact: Tony Shaloub of “Monk” and “Wings” fame made his Broadway debut in the original run of the play.)

In this version, slobby Oscar is now Olive (Jennifer Lane) and neurotic neat freak Felix is now Florence (Jes Byboth). The story opens with Olive, a recently divorced woman still hung up on and sending money to her ex-husband. Despite this, she is holding her weekly Trivial Pursuit game (a change from poker in the other version). Her regular fellow players are Mickey (Sandy Junek), Sylvie (Nadine Booth), Vera (Traci Smith), and Renee (Melanie Brumit). Missing from the game is Florence, which makes the rest of the players wonder where she might be. They become even more concerned when her husband calls to say they are getting a divorce.

Florence finally arrives, only to have a breakdown over her collapsing marriage. Olive asks Florence to move in with her, hoping that she can assist her friend with moving on with her life. Instead, she slowly becomes a cooking, cleaning, crying nightmare who slowly begins to drive Olive crazy. Florence is still wound up tight and pining for her ex. Finally, Olive breaks down and tells her that they need to break their routine and go on a date. Olive’s idea is to set her and her roommate up with their Spanish neighbors, Manolo (Nyc Moy) and Jesus (Jack Ragland). However, date night does not go as planned, leading Olive to her ultimate breaking point.

The female production for TCT is directed by Judy Griffin-Deal, a veteran of shows on and off stage. Her previous directorial effort was “Red, White, & Tuna,” part of the beloved “Tuna” series. Deal has assembled a cast of six daring women who were fearless in their approach to the material given to them, along with two male cast members just as equally unafraid to go big in their performances.

As our leads, Lane and Bysboth, both making their debuts on the TCT stage, are wonderful. The changes to the Oscar and Felix types serve bo th well, and they are both clearly talented. Lane has the tendency to go big at times, with the comic timing and swagger of a stand up comic who knows the joke she just dropped killed. Bysboth’s Florence is more on the quiet and timid side, but the contrast serves the character well, and she is the perfect counterpart to Lane.

As the Odd Couple’s friends, TCT veterans Junek, Smith, Booth, and, in her acting debut, Brumit, are great. The chemistry they share is quite simply natural, and at times feels more like we are watching a real life group of friends instead of actresses performing roles. This leads me to Moy and Ragland as the lovely Spanish gentlemen who Olive is desperately trying to woo. To be honest, these two very nearly steal the show every time they are on stage. I almost want a spin off show just about them.

Like the male version last week, “The Odd Couple (Female Version)” is at times a very different experience than its male counterpart, but also very familiar. It’s even edgier than the previous version in terms of its humor. If you missed last week’s performance, or if you didn’t, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to miss this version. I know I referred to it as a “Battle of the Sexes” in my last review, but there’s no battle here. No one version was better than the other. Over the course of two plays, I have seen 13 actors (Ragland was in both versions) deliver two unique, incredibly funny shows that are well worth your time. Go see this version. You only have a handful of performances left. Don’t miss out.

“The Odd Couple (Female Version)” opened on Thursday, May 10th and runs through Sunday, May 13th at Tyler Civic Theatre located at 400 Rose Park Drive.  For more information and to purchase tickets call 903-592-0651 or go to http://tylercivictheatre.com/production/2017-2018/the-odd-couple

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