With well respected music, theater, and dance programs at its universities, as well as being free of the exceedingly high professional standards of New York or Chicago, Columbus is the perfect home to a number of community theaters where the shows go on and on and on.
Curtain Players of Westerville has been around for 52 years, Worthington Community Theater turns 45 this year, Little Theater Off Broadway in Grove City is celebrating a half-century of shows and Gallery Players, now semi-professional, has been producing shows as a community theater for 66 years. While actors get the credit for bringing individual shows to life, those behind the scenes make theaters last for generations. (614) spoke to a cross-section of the volunteers who have made an investment in their theaters and their communities.
Little Theater Off Broadway: Set Design/Tech Director
(By Day: Homeschooling Parent, Artist)
Columbus community theater gives Kat Wexler the opportunity to excel. She and her daughters joined the chorus of a show as a distraction from her divorce. She volunteered to design show t-shirts and was subsequently recruited to paint, and eventually, design sets for Little Theater Off Broadway. Wexler spends a considerable amount of time with research, drawings, and scale models even before the construction begins. Her meticulous work, which once involved spending thirty hours just stenciling a wall, has earned her recognition from the Ohio Community Theater Association.
“The time I put into a show isn’t what matters. It’s about getting it right,” Wexler said. “Stage design is one of the most important parts of theater. The set is a ‘character’ that is always present.”
Wexler doesn’t lament the fact that her work is unpaid. She enjoys participating in one of the oldest art forms in history and taking audience members on a journey.
“It’s important for me to give my best in everything I do. That is how to become the best person I can.”
Ohio Community Theater Association (OCTA): Central Ohio Regional Representative
(By Day: Executive Assistant, OSU Medical Center, James Cancer Hospital)
Kate Charlesworth-Miller has an exhaustive list of Columbus theatrical involvement, including board positions, costuming, set designing, stage-managing, directing, as well as performing onstage roles. She currently serves as volunteer coordinator for Curtain Players in addition to her role as an OCTA representative, which brings her into contact with 17 community theaters in Central Ohio. All of her training has been “on-the-job.”
Charlesworth-Miller attributes the success of Columbus’ community theaters to many factors, from the many theater classes that encourage and train young children to the patrons who keep returning to shows. But mostly, she credits, “serious, ongoing, and selfless dedication” of volunteers who do everything from fixing roofs to cleaning bathrooms to writing newsletters.
“I think this is the greatest thing for me, to see how welcoming and
accepting the theater community has always been to those who want to come and play, no matter who they are.”
“We all have hobbies, and happily, this is one that chose me,” Charlesworth-Miller said. She is especially grateful that this particular hobby is one that brings together people across social, racial, and economic boundaries to become a family and perpetuate the spirit of the living art of theater.
“I think this is the greatest thing for me, to see how welcoming and accepting the theater community has always been to those who want to come and play, no matter who they are.”
Worthington Community Theater: Board Member-at-Large
(By Day: Marketing Manager, Broadway in Columbus)
Nine years ago, while participating in The Sound of Music, Lisa Minken saw a theater that needed to be turned around. Worthington Community Theater was dissolving, and since she was working for an ad agency at the time, Minken volunteered to sit on the board and lend her marketing and social media skills to the situation. She has held several positions since, including board president, but has always makes it her task to better interact with WCT’s audiences.
A self-described high school theater geek, Minken returned to community theater after college, when she felt something missing from her life.
“I missed being involved, making those friendships – the rush of being on stage, but also the joy of being involved in every part of the organization,” she said. WCT has given her the opportunity to direct, crew, and appear onstage aside from her administrative tasks.
Now as Minken is ready to move on from the board, WCT has found a home at the McConnell Center for the Arts, is expanding its season, and has even made money on several shows.
“To go from one almost-ready-to-close-our-doors, to three productions [a year] with strong financial health?” Minken said. “It’s hugely important.”
WCT’s next show will present The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus December 12 – 14.
Curtain Players of Westerville: Graphic Designer
(By Day: Project Coordinator, Educational Publishing)
For Jeff Kemeter, theater was his “road not taken.” He had a lot interest in theater, but little experience. Having attended a high school and college where theater was not offered, Kemeter was intimidated to audition for Emerald City Players’ production of “A Few Good Men.” His sister-in-law, a drama teacher for Columbus City Schools, coached him beforehand. He was cast as Private Downey, one of the two marines on trial.
“I loved the run of the show and never wanted it to end,” he said.
An illustration major in college, Kemeter saw theater as a new way to tell the stories he had been drawing. Now he uses his graphic design skills to design the logos, posters, postcards, and programs for Curtain Players, creating a visual teaser of each show’s content, theme, and mood. He generally spends two to three weeks per show collaborating with the production team and revising his work. His talents earned him Curtain Players’ “Volunteer of the Year Award” and he is proud to be part of the organization’s lifeblood.
“Once I got involved, I could not see my life without being involved,” said Kemeter. “We are very fortunate to be in a city with such a large arts network.”
Curtain Players of Westerville will present The Match Girl’s Gift December 5 – 21.