I have two issues on my mind for this entry. Nothing more than a couple of brief musings; present and future. And, I’m not planning on answering anything huge — I mean to bring some issues up for general discussion.
A few years ago, a fellow stage artist brought to my attention the idea that summer theater in Sheridan is not exactly an attractive prospect. I could understand this person’s perspective, as the Sheridan area has a plethora of outdoor activities to distract not only the average audience member, but the average theater artist as well. I can see how this sentiment has rippled through locally-produced shows, as they all but slow to a standstill during the summer. This, to me, seems a shame. The annual Children’s Theater productions by Tandem Productions always have marvelous attendance, outside the family members and friends of the cast. Another perennial production that seems to tout great attendance is coming up this week, as Montana Shakespeare in the Parks will be performing “The Recruiting Officer” (not a Shakespeare work, but a classic nonetheless,and there’s no point in turning down a free show).
I would hope that the sentiment regarding local companies not producing summer shows is starting to dwindle. I do see some glimmers of hope. The New Vaudevillians at the WYO is always looking for all sorts of acts and arts beyond music have graced that stage from time to time. The Living Room Coffee House (brand new this summer) is working toward being a testing ground for all sorts of live acts. I understand they’ve even taken to staging stand-up comedy and poetry readings. Finally, near the end of this month, Habitat for Humanity will be staging their “On the Foundation” production for the third summer in a row. Times, prices and locations are on their posters, which I’ve seen up and down Main Street.
Despite inherited expectations that actors and audiences have neither the time nor the energy to participate in theater, it would seem that the previously mentioned productions would disprove this theory. Hopefully, companies like these can keep people enjoying summer productions, and proving to more local companies and audiences that summer theater can thrive in a community that is as appreciative of the outdoors as it is of the theater.
Next: the future. As you may recall from my last column, I plan to direct an adaptation of “12 Angry Men” at Sheridan High School this fall. In recent weeks, I’ve begun the process of preparation for this production, mainly trying to find my message to you, my hopeful audience. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the plot, it deals with 12 strangers assigned to selecting the fate of a murder suspect and their decision must be unanimous. If found guilty, the suspect will be put to death. If acquitted, the suspect will go free.
I feel I would be somewhat remiss if I did not bring up recent judicial rulings, particularly that of the Zimmerman trial in Florida. While the verdict has ignited further furor on both sides of an already heated debate, I realize that a production of “12 Angry Men” would imply that I am trying to exhibit my loyalty to one side of the debate.
I want to assure the Sheridan audience that I mean to do no such thing. While I do have my opinions on the matter, I would rather use this opportunity to initiate the discussion in an appropriate format.
It could be argued that theater is the most visceral of the performing arts, and this is one of my favorite elements about it. Theater can — and should — cause the audience to look at an issue in a new light. If nothing more, it should at least ignite a point of discussion.
It is with this in mind that I prepare for the fall play. I mean to answer nothing about the judicial system, much less offer any opinions on how recent highly-publicized trials should have played out. My plan is to light the fires of healthy debate, to let the ideas spread, so we don’t have to rely upon a trial to tell us how to feel about an issue, much less allow us to lose any more faith in well-established and well-intended American Institutions.
More to come about this fall in my next column. I’ll see you at intermission.
This column was written by Aaron Odom, who is active in local theater.