SHERIDAN — If the theater teaches society about itself, and shows us what it means to be human, Sheridan has a rich educational trajectory.
Among the community’s teachers are the 2018 WYO Performing Arts and Education Center’s Lotus Award recipients Richard and Tami Davis and Pat Tomsovic. All three were honored for demonstrating outstanding support and selfless dedication to the goals of the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center, and for inspiring passion for the creative arts in Sheridan County, in a reception Sept. 22.
Since the “Save the WYO” days in the late 1980s to the ongoing WYO Theater Capital Campaign today, the Davises have always been active in Sheridan’s theater scene.
The two met at a summer theater production at the WYO in the early 1990s, so you could say that the WYO has been with them from the beginning. Richard Davis recently completed his term on the WYO Board or Directors, and together, they started Tandem Productions and the Sheridan County Children’s Chorale more than 20 years ago, Tami Davis said.
“When we think back to when we were doing our children’s theater, and it was an old vaudevillian stage that was about 6 feet of wing space on either side, and we would do these production with 50-60 kids,” Tami Daivs said. “It’s just this amazing space now.”
As an educator herself, Davis said she was always involved with children at the theater. Her husband’s expertise was best utilized in the growth and planning stages — imagining what the theater could become, and then making that dream a reality.
“He was a part of the visioning process from the start, and in making it happen from there,” Davis said. “I’m the hands-on teacher who loves to do things with kids, and education is my passion, and he’s the attorney and planner and has the ability to make this happen. We made a good team.”
Their idea was to give children in the community a place to connect with theater, and to make the WYO that place.
“The kids now, they connect with the theater and they perform on stage. They make memories here,” Davis said.
The Davises often performed in the WYO Theater galas and shows themselves, from the days of “Chicago” and “Little Shop of Horrors” to Craig Johnson’s seasonal “A Christmas Carol” productions.
“Our whole family was active in that. The WYO has kind of been our life commitment — it’s been a very important thing for us,” Davis said. “To see the evolution and the dream of what it could become to seeing it happen has been really amazing.
“There are times when I walk in there and just go, ‘Oh my gosh.’ … It is becoming a wonderful hub for the community and the arts. It is really amazing,” she added said.
Like the Davises, Pat Tomsovic’s theater roots run deep.
“I’m a longtime resident of Sheridan, born and bred in this town except for my years at college at the University of Oregon in Eugene,” she said. “I’ve loved to watch live theatrical performances since I was a kid when my mom took me to musicals at the local high school.”
Inspired by Sheridan music teacher Joe McClellan and Spanish/drama teacher Olive Joyce Lee, Tomsovic gained a sense of confidence in the performing arts as a teenager in Sheridan, and took on leadership roles directing small vocal groups.
“After college, I returned to Sheridan and went to work as a teacher, but kept active in Civic Theatre Guild, acting and directing in over 50 shows,” Tomsovic said.
Tomsovic calls herself an old hippie, which is true — she’s played guitar for close to 50 years, mainly playing folk, rock and country — but she’s also a volunteer extraordinaire, fellow Lotus recipient Tami Davis said.
“This small community seems to have always had an appreciation and love of all forms of art, both visual and performing,” Tomsovic said. “The wonderful thing about Sheridan is that it’s small enough to allow even amateurs such as myself to be very involved with making it all happen.”
Tomsovic was an original member of the Femme Finales, directed by local theater legend Sophie Pelissier, who were instrumental in saving the WYO from demolition in the late 1980s.
“We put together song and dance comedy shows to raise funds and awareness about local attempts to restore and reopen the WYO theater as a performing arts center,” Tomsovic said. “(And now) the WYO has been opened for over 25 years now and has undergone two massive renovations — and continues to operate.”
Tomsovic said the reason that the arts have remained central in her life was best put by Ann P. Kahn, a former president of the National PTA.
“The creative arts are the measure and reflection of our civilization. …They offer many children an opportunity to see life with larger perspective … the moral values we treasure are reflected in the beauty and truth that is emotionally transmitted through the arts. The arts say something about us to future generations.”
And at the WYO, not only do Sheridan audiences of all ages get to attend great performances and productions and view incredible art, they can be involved in keeping the theater alive and well.
“I’ve found that the arts community consists of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, economic, cultural, and political. I’ve made friends from so many different backgrounds, but we all love the arts and we love to help make them a big part of our community,” Tomsovic said. “As I get older, I find that I perform much less and just work as a volunteer at the local theaters to help do whatever is necessary to foster their success.”
The winners of the Lotus Award were selected from eight nominees submitted by WYO board and staff members and voted on by the board of directors. The three recipients were chosen based on their long and generous history with the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center.
“This is our third year presenting the Lotus Award,” said Susan Miller, Lotus Committee chair. “Each year there is a terrific list of nominees and it’s exciting to be able to recognize, in a small way, those who have given so much to the success of the WYO.”