About two hours are left until a dress rehearsal for Henderson County Performing Arts Center’s youth production of “Once Upon a Mattress,” a musical based on “The Princess and the Pea.”
“It gets pretty crazy around here this close to opening night,” Director Marcia Colbert said. “There’s always last-minute stuff to do, like props purchasing, stuff like that.”
The center in Athens is celebrating its 50th anniversary by performing plays staged earlier in its history.
HCPAC began in 1964 in a different building.
“It was just a small theater with mobile homes around it for the actors’ dressing room and for props and stuff,” Ms. Colbert said. “We now use that building as our black box theater. A black box theater has plays with minimal scenery, maybe just a chair or a table or something, but here actors are the focus, not the scenery.”
She gestures to a set with an imitation cobblestone floor, castle’s ramparts and a tower of mattresses used in the play’s climactic scene.
“The main stage and this building were built in 2006,” she said. “It was mostly done with the help of the (Ginger) Murchison Foundation. They have very strong ties here in Athens. We also did it with the help of community donations.”
The playhouse performs drama, comedy and musicals.
“We do our last show in December, and hold auditions in February,” she said. “They (shows) usually take about six weeks each, but we like to take seven for the musicals, just because it takes longer to get the songs and the choreography worked out and all that.”
Some have been with HcPAC for several years.
Technical Director Gary McDonald has constructed sets for seven years.
“I was a handyman, sort of doing my own thing, until the last director Dennis Gilmore invited me to work here full time,” he said. “I love it. It absolutely beats working outside in the heat, and it doesn’t matter if it rains. I can just keep on working. You have to be imaginative, and don’t worry about perfection.”
Technical Director David Young arranges and manages the musicals.
“I teach theater and choir at Brownsboro and Tatum,” Young said. “I do the soundtracks. I teach them the music. I rehearse them. I do the vocal coaching. It’s something different every day. I get to work with kids, my own children and they all kind of end up getting adopted in a way.”
The family spirit brings actors back.
“I’ve been doing this since my senior year, when some of my younger high school friends invited me out to audition for “All Shook Up,” in 2010,” said Ash Gilmer, 22, one of the play’s lead actors.
“I usually do musicals, but I like plays, too, when I have the time. I just love the musicals, the plays, and the gigs I do singing. I just love making people laugh. That’s what gets me. In musicals, you hang onto a high note, you hear the applause. It’s great.”
Volunteers handle props, costumes, flyers and other duties.
“I’ve been volunteering since the first show in this building,” Sue Oates said. “I especially love to make and decorate hats, but I also do things like decorating the wizard’s table for this play. I had two sisters involved before I moved to Athens. I wanted something to do when I moved up here to retire, and they showed me this.”
Ms. Oats will direct HcPAC’s production of “Cradle and All” later this year.
The resident artist is Dana Lynch.
“I’ve always been into the technical parts and the mechanics of stage props,” Ms. Lynch said. “I used to work like that for the government, but then I found this part so much more fun and creative. I’ve been doing this about 15 years now. It’s a huge challenge, but I wouldn’t trade it.”
Everyone works together, Ms. Colbert said.
“We’re really good team players here, and we like to get each other’s goats sometimes with pranks,” Ms. Lynch chuckles. “But we do have a good time here.”