More stories to tell, curtain to go up on Theatre Guild: Act II

Working for a comeback of amateur theater in Huntington are (front row, from left) Alan Short, Michele Short, Janet Ashley and Christian Albertson; and (back row, from left) David Dean, Deanna Albertson, Rhonda Landrum and Becky Arnett.
Working for a comeback of amateur theater in Huntington are (front row, from left) Alan Short, Michele Short, Janet Ashley and Christian Albertson; and (back row, from left) David Dean, Deanna Albertson, Rhonda Landrum and Becky Arnett. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published June 12, 2014.

Once upon a time, the people of Huntington got up on stage to tell stories.

Then the people got tired, and the stories faded away.

"We just got burned out," says David Dean, one of the storytellers.

But there are still stories to tell, and there's a new energy among the people who want to tell them.

Cue the lights, and open the curtain on the Huntington Theatre Guild: Act II.

Well, actually, the curtain probably won't open until next summer. There's all kinds of things that have to be rounded up before that - most importantly the people and the funding.

"We are starting from ground zero," says Deanna Albertson, newly-elected president of the revitalized guild's board of directors.

But it will happen, she says.

Theatre Guild: Act II will add to a community already rich in small-scale productions offered by the Pulse Opera House, in Warren, and Huntington University and Huntington North High School, both in Huntington - as well as the promised bigger shows planned at The New Huntington Theater, a professional group.

Albertson says Act II doesn't want to compete with the established groups.

"That's not our goal by any means," she says. The new group, she says, just wants to offer theater fans in Huntington the chance to get involved without committing to the travel.

"I don't think it's competing," Dean says. "This is for people from the community who still want to do it but don't want to drive out of town."

Many of the hardcore enthusiasts are now making that drive. Albertson's family has been involved in Pulse productions for five years; Dean has a small role in "South Pacific," currently on stage in Bluffton.

"People tell me all the time, ‘We would love to do theater; we just can't commit to driving to Warren,'" Albertson says.

She and Dean had talked about how nice it would be to have an amateur theater company in Huntington again. Eventually Albertson found out that Ruth Reed, another member of the original guild, had been having the same discussion with Adam Drummond.

"I thought, ‘There's more than just me talking about this,'" Albertson says.

The informal discussions led to organizational meetings, and more recently the election of a board of directors - with Albertson as president, Alan Short as vice president, Michele Short as secretary and Drummond as treasurer. Rounding out the board are Matt Roth, Reed and Rhonda Landrum. Reed and Landrum, like Dean, were part of the original theater guild.

Dean joined the Huntington Theater Guild in 1977, the year after it was organized as part of the adult education program at Huntington North High School.

He didn't get involved on purpose.

"They did ‘Plaza Suite' in February of 1977," Dean explains "Diana (Dean's wife) was in a love scene. The first guy dropped out because he couldn't get the lines. The second guy felt funny kissing her."

Dean had been practicing lines with his wife at home and the play's director, Ruth Michael, asked him to fill in during rehearsals until a new male actor could be cast opposite his wife.

Dean ended up filling the role.

He stayed involved in one capacity or another until the guild's dissolution more than 25 years later. Putting on a production had become a grueling task, with a core group of people responsible for everything from advertising to set construction.

"The young people didn't take over," he says. At the end, guild members put the word out that unless more people got involved, the theater guild was going to become history. They hoped to recruit 25 people; only about 12 showed up.

"And half of those were old veterans," Dean says.

The guild's last show was "Li'l Abner."

"It was a fun one," says Dean, who directed the show. Everybody wanted to be in it, and he kept taking them - until finally, when the cast hit 113 choreographer Landrum called a halt. She couldn't fit anyone else on stage.

"Everyone wanted to be center stage, but nobody wanted to do the back work," Dean notes.

This time around, Dean says he's going to be more of an advisor; maybe taking a few small roles.

Albertson says Act II wants to present a play and a musical each year, as the original theater guild did, and add a youth production in which youth would be responsible for all aspects of the production.

"Our goal for our youth is that they learn the whole process, and learn that it takes a lot of work," Albertson says.

First, though, Act II needs to raise the money that will make the curtain go up.

"This year, we have to build up some funds so we can have our performances next year," she says.
Act II members plan to be involved in the Heritage Days vaudeville shows June 21 at the Historic Forks of the Wabash, and they're planning a dinner and talent show Oct. 11 at the Evangelical United Methodist Church. Auditions for the talent show - open to family-friendly singers, instrumentalists, actors, dancers and more - will be held on Sept. 21.

The evening will feature a dinner prepared by Albertson's husband, Chef Jeff Albertson.

"It will be fabulous," Albertson says of the meal.

Tickets will be sold for the dinner and show together, as well as for the show by itself, she says.

For anyone who wants to get in on the ground floor of Act II, Albertson invites them to come to the group's next meeting on July 23 at 8 p.m. at Café of Hope.

"We are all very excited about it and I think it's going to be a great thing for the community," Albertson says.