So­cial Circle Theater: our cul­tural icon

The Covington News - - Local -

Yes­ter­day, my hus­band and I at­tended a per­for­mance at the So­cial Circle Din­ner Theater of “Quil­ters,” a mu­si­cal with lyrics and mu­sic by Molly New­man and Bar­bara Da­mashek. The play is based on the book “The Quil­ters: Woman and Do­mes­tic Art” by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley and had a brief run on Broad­way in 1984. The play por­trays the im­por­tant role of quilt­ing in the lives of pi­o­neer women as they con­fronted and en­dured the harsh re­al­i­ties of the fron­tier. The qual­ity of the tal­ent and pro­fes­sion­al­ism in this pro­duc­tion was ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble, ri­val­ing Broad­way pro­duc­tions my hus­band and I have seen. That brought to mind an­other jour­ney we took about 12 years ago which led to the birth of the So­cial Circle Theater.

At that time, sev­eral of us in So­cial Circle were in­ter­ested in es­tab­lish­ing a din­ner theater and we met sev­eral times at the for­mer Sim­ply the Best res­tau­rant to be­gin plan­ning for our maiden pro­duc­tion. None of us had any ex­pe­ri­ence in act­ing, stage­craft or other im­por­tant as­pects of the theater. Me­lanie Jack­son, a char­ter mem­ber of our group and owner of the res­tau­rant, knew how to cook — and that was about it.

For­tu­nately, about the same time, Mr. Bob Standridge, owner of the Standridge Color Cor­po­ra­tion here in So­cial Circle, had been im­pressed with “Swamp Gravy,” a community-based type of play pro­duced in Colquitt. “Swamp Gravy” is an award win­ning “of­fi­cial folk Life Play of Ge­or­gia” which presents sto­ries of univer­sal ap­peal about life and death, the fam­ily, and the community (swamp­gravy.com). When Mr. Standridge learned about our fledg­ling group, he of­fered to build a theater if we would per­form a folk play here. And, since none of us had seen this type of play, he ar­ranged bus trans­porta­tion for us to visit Colquitt and see a per­for­mance. I was on that bus, and as far as I’m con­cerned, that bus is fig­u­ra­tively still mov­ing along in the lives of those peo­ple who get on and off in their own jour­neys to­ward per­sonal growth and de­vel­op­ment.

The first and only per­for­mance of our char­ter group was pre­sented in June 2000. “A So­cial Cel­e­bra­tion” was a real fly-by-the-seat-of-your­pants af­fair. Un­der the di­rec­tion of vol­un­teer Judy Davis, a re­tired So­cial Circle school teacher who had di­rected school plays, mem­bers of our group fran­ti­cally wrote skits based on his­toric happenings in So­cial Circle at the turn of the cen­tury, bor­rowed cos­tumes and props, prac­ticed our lines, and did our very best. We per­formed in a barely fin­ished theater, with an im­pro­vised sound sys­tem, to a packed au­di­ence on a stormy night. Al­though our play was well re­ceived, we lacked the re­sources needed to stage a re­peat per­for­mance or to launch a new play, and when Mr. Standridge of­fered to take over di­rec­tion of the theater, we read­ily agreed. Ac­cord­ing to his daugh­ter Beth Wells, one of his pri­mary mo­tives was to pre­serve the his­tory of our town.

Beth Wells’ in­volve­ment in the theater is one ex­am­ple of tremen­dous per­sonal growth and achieve­ment. By her own ad­mis­sion, she had very lit­tle knowl­edge of theater be­fore com­ing on board as pro­ducer of the community-based pro­duc­tion, “A Well of Sto­ries,” in 2001. She sub­se­quently pro­duced and acted in nu­mer­ous plays and is now a sea­soned theater di­rec­tor who heads up what I con­sider as one of So­cial Circle’s great­est as­sets.

Ms. Wells gives a lot of praise and credit to the first writer/di­rec­tor/chore­og­ra­pher for the theater, Joey Far­gar. Mr. Far­gar had ex­ten­sive theater ex­pe­ri­ence and served as an on-site learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for our ac­tors and theater staff. He made ini­tial contact with the Miller County Arts Coun­cil, i.e. Swamp Gravy, staff for ad­vice and con­sul­ta­tion. MCAC was not only re­cep­tive; they also sent their stage di­rec­tor to as­sist our theater staff for sev­eral weeks in pre­par­ing to open their first play.

Ac­cord­ing to Ms. Wells, Far­gar was also in­stru­men­tal in nur­tur­ing lo­cal tal­ent in play­writ­ing and chore­og­ra­phy. One lo­cal writer who ben­e­fited greatly from this nur­tur­ing was Sue Lee, a tal­ented writer who climbed on our fig­u­ra­tive bus in about 2002 and has never left. Ms. Lee had re­tired from Standridge Color Corp. to con­cen­trate to­tally on writ­ing. She joined the cast as an ac­tor in 2002 and then be­gan writ­ing skits. Af­ter Mr. Far­gar went on a leave of ab­sence, Ms. Lee took on a dual role of writer/di­rec­tor. She and Ms. Wells have be­come a col­lab­o­ra­tive team in the stag­ing and di­rect­ing many pro­duc­tions. She is now await­ing the pub­lish­ing of her first novel.

Ms. Patsy Eg­gers pro­vides an­other ex­am­ple of per­sonal growth and de­vel­op­ment through in­volve­ment with the theater. A re­tired nurse, Ms. Eg­gers be­gan her jour­ney as a cos­tume de­signer for the 2001 pro­duc­tion. Since then, she has de­signed and cre­ated cos­tumes for al­most all the ma­jor shows, and she also per­forms. In fact, she re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion for her lead­ing role in “Quil­ters” when she sang solo. Af­ter the per­for­mance, I whis­pered, “Patsy, I didn’t know you could sing.” She whis­pered back, “I didn’t ei­ther!” That speaks vol­umes about how her in­volve­ment brought forth a tal­ent Ms. Eg­gers didn’t even know she pos­sessed.

Theater man­ager Tera Du­val il­lus­trates an­other of ex­am­ple of some­one who has grown with the job and whose ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the theater has greatly con­trib­uted to its strong pres­ence in the community.

The So­cial Circle Theater of­fers many op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren, young peo­ple and their par­ents to de­velop act­ing skills and par­tic­i­pate as a fam­ily in a lov­ing and sup­port­ive at­mos­phere. For the an­nual “Sto­ries from the Well” pro­duc­tions, where ev­ery­one is in­vited to par­tic­i­pate, en­tire fam­i­lies have joined the cast. If there aren’t enough parts, new ones are writ­ten to al­low max­i­mum par­tic­i­pa­tion, and the theater main­tains a stash of turn of the cen­tury cloth­ing to ac­com­mo­date all sizes and shapes. Some pro­duc­tions, pre­sented pe­ri­od­i­cally dur­ing the year such as “Quil­ters” and “Cot­ton Patch Gospel,” do re­quire au­di­tions due to a lim­ited cast.

Three groups for chil­dren and young adults have been formed to keep their in­ter­est and par­tic­i­pa­tion alive. The Well Dig­gers, for ages 16–23 years, are led by staffer Maria Tay­lor; the mid­dle school Jr. Well Dig­gers lead­ers are Ash­ley Flores and Sara Wil­liams; and Gina Hay Bryan works with the el­e­men­tary school “Ris­ing Stars.” Each group per­forms one play and a com­bined Christ­mas pro­duc­tion ev­ery year. This year, “Beauty and the Beast” was a Well Dig­gers pro­duc­tion. Through par­tic­i­pat­ing in these groups, mem­bers learn the value of a work ethic and work­ing as a team, an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his­tory, pa­tience and tol­er­ance and all those virtues that will serve them well later in life. The groups also per­form at nurs­ing homes, our An­nual Friend­ship Fes­ti­val, Standridge Color Cor­po­ra­tion, and other venues. (Visit So­cial­Cir­cle­GaBHT.com for a cur­rent brochure.)

Ms. Wells main­tains that ad­her­ence to high stan­dards en­hances the sense of per­sonal achieve­ment for ev­ery­one in­volved in the theater. There is also a strong ad­her­ence to Chris­tian val­ues which re­flects her deep reli­gious con­vic­tions. Ms. Wells be­lieves that fol­low­ing God’s teachings has led to the theater’s suc­cess. And I, for one, have no ar­gu­ment to make about that

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Made­line Burgess is an ac­tive vol­un­teer in So­cial Circle and the wife of for­mer Mayor Jim Burgess.

MADE­LINE BURGESS

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