Acting Up

Every story has a beginning. For Ron Cassady, managing director of Main Stage, a division of the Sherman Community Players (SCP) designed specifically for adults, that start was 32 years ago. It was 1974, and SCP was still small. “I kind of came in on the low end of it when it was still a little group,” says Cassady. “It’s grown and I’ve grown with it and grown with the community.”

For Webster Crocker, director of Theatricks, SCP’s children’s division, the beginning was 20 years ago, shortly after he was married. He’d labor at a factory from 7 to 3, teach a workshop from 3 to 6, have rehearsal from 6:30 to 8:30, and afterward would work on building sets. Wife Nikki would be alongside him until the wee hours, often falling asleep in the aisles of the theater. “It was a shorter timeline back then; very hectic,” says Crocker.

And for Sherman Community Players itself, the beginning reaches back as far as 1926, right in the midst of the Little Theatre Movement that was sweeping across the state and country in the 1920s. Many small groups popping up at that time sat around and discussed plays, while others incorporated performances into their repertoire. SCP—originally known as Sherman Little Theatre—was the latter type of group. They started with one-act plays, and early in their history won first prize at the Dallas Little Theatre Festival.

“They had a pretty good beginning, really,” says Cassady. The troupe eventually started producing shows wherever they could, often using high school auditoriums and winning local acclaim along the way. The group was disbanded in the 1940s, but reorganized after World War II, when it took on more of a community focus and became known by its name today: the Sherman Community Players.

Diamonds in the Rough

With Main Stage, variety is the name of the game. “We try to vary our season so there’s something for everybody,” says Cassady. Earlier this season, they produced 1940s comedy Harvey and Smoke on the Mountain’s sequel, Sanders Family Christmas. On the slate for the first part of 2007 are Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in February, Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park in April, and the musical South Pacific rounding out the season in June.

With only a handful of paid staff members, it is dedication from volunteers that makes Main Stage what it is. “I’m only as good as the people that surround me,” says Cassady. He cites costumer Karen Schuth, musical director Scottie Johnson, and Crocker with his set-designing skills as the people in particular who help make his job enjoyable.

To choose the shows, a board of directors works to read plays year-round, and Cassady attends productions, looking for new scripts that will work well for them. Rehearsals last five weeks, five nights a week, three hours a night. Professional actors can put together a production in about three weeks, but at Main Stage, it is less about how quickly they can stage a show, and more about the experience.

“We work with community people that have jobs,” says Cassady. “They come down at night, and it needs to be an enjoyable experience for them.”

By all accounts, it is just that. Amy Dean, who has done choreography for both Main Stage and Theatricks, describes it as “a great place to be.” “It’s a comfortable setting, very natural,” she says. “You get to work with awesome talent.”

For Cassady, this kind of reaction is what it’s all about. “The most fulfilling part is finding people who have not done this before, who maybe have some raw talent or interest, and by the end of five weeks, you can’t tell the ones who’ve never been in a play before from the ones that have been,” he says.

“Just seeing that happen, and knowing that person can be someone I can use in the future — I’m always looking for new people — that’s rewarding,” he continues. “When you find those people and work with them and it turns out good, that’s fulfilling to me.”

Ron Cassady (left) managing director of Main Stage and Webster Crocker, director of Theatricks, both divisions of the Sherman Community Players theater group preparing for the next show.

Youthful Exuberance

“I have Peter Pan syndrome—I never grew up myself,” admits Theatricks director Crocker, as he sits in his office painted in bold shades of yellow, orange, purple and green. The three productions a season the group does are perfect for children—or just those who are children at heart.

Peter Pan was last fall’s show, and next up are The Secret Garden in March and The House at Pooh Corner in July. In addition to its plays, Theatricks holds a number of workshops and brings shows into local schools, often to kids who would never be exposed to theater otherwise. This traveling act, Project Theater, touches the lives of 40,000 students each year — some of whom are now regulars.

Josh Harris is one such student. The 17- year-old credits Crocker with getting him interested in theater after a visit to Harris’s elementary school. That was seven years ago, and since then he’s appeared in more than a dozen shows for Theatricks. He now plans to pursue acting in college and beyond. “I love being on stage, expressing my feelings through acting,” he says. “It’s my venting process, my way to get emotions out.”

Harris also belongs to Supporting Cast, another program run by Theatricks. The teen group is for seventh through 12th graders, and provides opportunities to learn about different aspects of theater, such as costuming, set design and set building. The students earn points for participating in different roles around the theater, and those with enough points earn the title of “Master Thespian,” rewarded with a medal, their name on a wall plaque and a scholarship. Since 1993, only seven have earned this top honor.

One girl with her eye on the prize is Jordan Hancock, 14. She played the lead role in Peter Pan, and has appeared in a number of other productions, including Beauty and the Beast, Seussical and Jack and the Beanstalk. For her, Theatricks is like a home away from home.

“In the last show, there was a group of us that called each other theater sisters,” she says. “People here are so nice, and different in a good way. It’s like a big family. I immediately fell in; a lot of people do that.”

Theatricks is in many ways a family affair. Crocker’s wife played flute in the orchestra of the fall show, and out of their five children, four participated in the play. Theresa Matthews, who has been involved in theater since before high school, acted in Peter Pan alongside her 7-year-old daughter. And Anna Nall, 8, followed her older brother’s lead and began auditioning for plays, first appearing in Main Stage’s Annie and then in Theatricks’ Peter Pan.

It can be especially rewarding to see kids bitten by the acting bug early on. “The younger group believes they can do anything,” says Amy Dean. “They have a real ownership of their roles; they’re pliable and easy to work with.”

Says Crocker: “It’s fun watching children get to use their imaginations and improvise scenes. There’s the sparkle in their eyes as they’re seeing magic before them.”

A Lasting Tradition

What started out as a “little theater” has grown today into a local tour de force, a place where any community member can come and get involved—whether through acting or behind- the-scenes work—or just watch local talent putting on fun shows handpicked for the community.

Every story has a beginning, but the Sherman Community Players’ story does not look to be ending for a long time to come.

This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Texoma Living!.