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Collierville’s Harrell Theatre grows up

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On June 25, a group of hopeful actors stood on the stage of Collierville’s Harrell Theatre watching and listening as choreographer Katie Hanford demonstrated the steps she wanted them to perform.

This same group would be split into smaller groups later in order to read parts from the musical comedy play Spamalot. The British musical is the first show in the theatre’s 2016-2017 season, and also the first play in a season which will mark a new direction for The Harrell Theatre.

Three women sat in the theatre’s box office the day before the Spamalot auditions started. Two sat in chairs and the third, Collierville Arts Council Executive Director Terry Dean, sat cross-legged on the floor surrounded by piles of paper.

This was their meeting place; this is where the Collierville Arts Council makes decisions about what plays to produce in their seasons.

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The coming season, will feature plays that offer more roles for adult actors.

“Spamalot is our first play, and it is totally adult,” said Leesa Wilkinson, who is a member of the council and a musical director.

She said the theatre will still do A Christmas Story during the holidays, but they’re choosing more adult plays for the rest of the season because they feel that The New Day Theatre takes care of children’s theatre in the Town.

“We’re not totally excluding children’s roles,” said Wilkinson, “but we want to offer more opportunities where adults can take part in the productions.”

“We’re excited that we actually have the next two seasons picked,” said Dean.

The reason for their extreme proactivity is that the 2017-2018 season will mark the 30 year birthday of the arts council, and they are celebrating by re-producing the shows that ran that first season. But until then, they will be putting on plays you’ve never seen before at Collierville’s Community Theatre.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and A Streetcar Named Desire will round out the list of adult
offerings.

The CAC was formed in 1987 to fund the completion of construction on Harrell Theatre.

Since then, they’ve produced 150 plays. Director Terry Dean took over running the CAC in May of this year. She’d been a volunteer with the theatre for three years, and had a 10-year career with Leadership Collierville.

CAC member Leesa Wilkinson taught music in community college and played or directed music in over 25 community theatre productions in Meridian, Mississippi.

Their third CAC brainstorming partner on this day before auditions is Rachelle Maier, who is in the process of creating a volunteer auxiliary for the Harrell Theatre productions.

“We need volunteers to work backstage, the lobby, will call, refreshments, taking tickets and handing out programs,” said Maier.

All three ladies have personal investment in theatre that fuels their passion for involvement with CAC: Dean was a theatre mom who ventured onstage only once two years ago as a “church lady in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Wilkinson has her many years in musical theatre, but said she only works behind the stage. Maier grew up singing, but hasn’t performed in many years.

“I looked at the Lady of the Lake role in Spamalot and it made me nervous,” she said with a laugh.

Dean says having planned out two seasons’ productions in advance has also allowed her to move more quickly in hiring from the talented pool of directors and choreographers in our area.

“Memphis is very unique in that we (community theatres) all support each other. A lot of our cast members come from other theatres, and we’re getting the reputation of a good community.

Meanwhile, rehearsals for their latest production, the musical Footloose, are going on while the group is auditioning actors for Spamalot. Footloose starts on July 15, and runs through July 22. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7 p.m.; Sunday’s show is at 2:30 p.m.

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