The Rotary Club program this week was billed as being about the current production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” by the Lyric Performing Arts Company. On hand to promote the show — which opened Thursday night and continues through Sunday afternoon at the Dorothy McIntosh Fine Arts Center at Brownwood High — were its director Larry Mathis and one of its stars, Caitlyn Tidwell.
Mathis happens to be the longtime theater director at Brownwood High. While it didn’t relate to the Lyric production, I asked him how the magnificent new facilities at Brownwood High have affected high school theater here. My interest is partly personal, because I have a son who’s a product of the Brownwood program and is practicing that craft in Austin after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater. His love of theater was discovered and then nurtured through the teachings of Larry Mathis.
“If you build it, they will come,” Mathis said, quoting the line from the movie “Field of Dreams.” The theater department is “overloaded,” he said. Approximately one-third of the high school enrollment is participating.
That degree of interest prompts the theater department to find shows that require large casts so as many students as possible can be on stage. In addition to the dozens of cast members who will step into the spotlight, dozens of important backstage jobs are available for students with talents that don’t include the performing arts like acting, singing or dancing. Sets must be built, lighting must be planned and executed, and sound must be perfected.
The acoustics in the new auditorium make the sound chores easier, but the high-tech sound system is a techno-geek’s second heaven. One option, Mathis explained, is a setting that allows the director to alter an actor’s voice in a multitude of ways, ranging from a delay of several seconds, to a “bouncing” of a repeated phrase around the audience, to a nightmarish effect. If you don’t like those, there’s a hundred more from which to choose.
The Lyric Theatre’s production company has been offering the Brownwood area quality children’s shows, musicals and dramatic performances for much of this decade, and the shows of this summer and recent months have been audience favorites. Many will remember fondly the December run of “Sound of Music.” That is being followed by this weekend’s “Barefoot in the Park” and next month’s “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The ultimate goal, of course, is for the Lyric players to land in their permanent home in the historic Lyric Theatre downtown. Bids are out for the first phase of a massive restoration of this jewel of a facility that, when completed, will stand as a showplace for the entire community. Fund-raising has enjoyed success, and that effort continues. Any support toward that project would be appreciated. But right now — this weekend — your presence in a seat at the Dorothy McIntosh Fine Arts Center is what is needed most.
By all accounts, this show is a dandy. Almost everyone knows how great Neil Simon is as a playwright. Many of us saw the movie. But what many of us may not know is how deep the talent pool is among the theatrical community in this area. These productions staged by the Lyric are providing them opportunities to showcase those abilities, and members of the community who join the audience will be rewarded with a great evening — or afternoon — of entertainment.
For my part, I have sometimes contemplated the bright future the Lyric Theatre and wondered from where, exactly, those performers and support crews might come. The good news, though, is that interest in theater runs deep in Central Texas, as evidenced by the number of students now attracted to the program. Perhaps, it’s a result of the outstanding, modern facilities at Brownwood High.
If so, the same should hold true when the restoration of the Lyric Theatre is complete sometime soon.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.