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Behind the curtain of Theatre of the Republic

Denis McCorry mixed in some Fred Flintstone foot power in rehearsals last week for “Damn Yankees,” which opens Theatre of the Republic’s 44th season on Friday.

Crouching inside a wooden cart transformed with white fabric to resemble a hamper, the 14-year-old from Nichols, near Mullins, moved it around on stage in the Main Street Theatre in Conway, working to hide his feet.

“It’ll be fun,” Denis said, in addition to his roles as a batboy and ensemble member in the show about a fan of the Washington Senators – long before their relocation in 1972 as the Texas Rangers – who goes to bat after selling his soul to see his team obtain a good hitter.

Denis said “Damn Yankees” marks his sixth show, having appeared in such others as “Titanic,” “A Tale of Two Cities” and “The Full Monty.”

As a community troupe, Theatre of the Republic performs six shows a year, thriving on almost all volunteers in front of and behind the curtains. Planning for each production kicks in long before the six weeks of rehearsals that precede each opening night, too.

Elda White of Myrtle Beach, retired from teaching U.S. military children overseas, plays a sibling supporting role in “Damn Yankees.” She said besides acting in shows, she also has worked spotlights numerous times.

Joining Julie Duvall of Myrtle Beach, in her first show with the company, the pair stood outside the theater’s kitchen and went through their song and dance to “(You Gotta Have) Heart” in front of a mirror. “Mister, you can be a hero,” they sang, as they pretended to look to the audience.

Everyone with a stage role wore wireless microphones during the rehearsal, which White said get hidden well when everyone is in full dress mode.

Waiting for his cue to the stage through the loudspeakers mounted throughout the building, Kyle Ward, of Myrtle Beach, said as the commissioner in the play, he neither sings nor dances, but the Coastal Carolina University graduate is eager to put his theater minor to work, after acting on a notice of auditions.

“It’s a home run, out of the park, a grand slam,” he said of the fun and camaraderie he’s found among the cast of 32 and the other stagehands.

He also knew one of the real-life Rangers who wears his socks up in everyday play at second base: Ian Kinsler.

‘Set change’

“Stand by for a set change,” the speakers blurted.

Paula Zink, the stage manager, and about five people orchestrate the 22 set changes in the show, with help from some actors on break from their roles.

“This is choreographed almost as much as the dances are,” she said, flipping through the script as each scene unfolds and crediting everyone for such teamwork.

Ross Foultz of Conway, a member of Theatre of the Republic’s board of directors who also helps with its marketing and information technology, plays a ball player in this show, his third.

Foultz showed the TV monitors stationed in other rooms, so everyone can keep track of the show. Stopping by a labeled props table, covered with such items as a bottle, deck of cards, a Thermos, and a notebook and pencils, he said rounding up all the tools and parts to make a whole show “takes a lot of work” from a “great little family.”

Laura Malnar of Myrtle Beach begins her third season with the troupe, this time playing a reporter, with pad and pencil in hand. A registered dietician by day, Malnar said without kin nearby, “Theatre of the Republic is my family” and that she loves pursuing another passion at night through plays.

Another ballplayer in the cast, Jeff Edmiston of Conway, said he hasn’t performed in a formal play since high school, but the longtime horse trainer enjoyed three years experience as a squire for Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament near Myrtle Beach. Dressed for the ball field, he opened up the script to show how many pages it comprised: 123.

Dressing the cast

Upstairs in the front of the historic building, Brock Santa, the resident costume designer who’s among the handful of theater employees, worked on a sewing machine, tightening some pink ruffles for a dress the character Lola dons. He said each production requires at least 60 costumes, often by pulling articles from a mini-warehouse of attire – pretty much the case with “Damn Yankees” – and sometimes making things from scratch, all with help from several other designers.

About 40 pairs of shoes hit the floor for this show, and Santa said depending on the production, footwear might undergo dyeing to match the outfits. The cast’s garments go through the wash about two times per show run, half in a standard washer and half relayed on two, 8-foot-long racks for dry cleaning given by Royal Cleaners & Laundry, Santa said.

With about 225 spools of thread covering a wall behind him and another wall of accessories that include drawers of zippers sorted by inch length – 7-10, 12-16, 18 and 20-24 – Santa said the theater welcomes all kinds of clothing donations, which hold value for a future show.

Having performed ballet for eight years in Indiana and New Jersey, Santa likes dressing up casts in Conway. He said the week before the first curtain call prompts late nights and little sleep in final preparations, but “I love it; it’s fun.”

“When you see it all come together,” Santa said, “it’s worth it.”

Char Bel plays Lola, who in one scene unrolls some fringe from the dress Santa had amplified. A newcomer to the Grand Strand from Wilmington, N.C., and a homemaker with three children, Bel said she has spent 20 years loving various roles in theater.

Every show gives her an outlet “to do something positive and uplifting,” she said, during the intermission of a rehearsal. “It makes me happy when other people are happy with the talent God has given me.”

Bel also appreciates the live element of performance, because “if anything goes wrong, you have to be ready for it,” such as through improvising. That’s also what rehearsing and repetition help smoothen.

“This is just a rough draft,” Bel said.

Sitting near the front of the seats in the theater, Sandra Adams of Myrtle Beach, the troupe’s resident choreographer for a fourth year, observed a trio of women dance a routine. The mother of Broadway actress Cameron Adams called “Damn Yankees” a “big show like the old musicals,” yet she embraces the challenge of modifying the production for a community theater scale and putting her 25 years of teaching dance in a studio to work on this stage.

Gretchen Smith of Conway said her whole family, including both grown children in college, have taken part in Theatre of the Republic events for more than a decade. Loving to sing and perform, she said, “It’s a good escape to be in another world for a while.”

Dressed as Coach Van Buren in pinstripes, her husband of 28 years, Doug Smith, said performing in this form also “helps me stay sharp for what I do during the day,” teaching education students at Coastal Carolina University.

“It helps me perform there,” he said.

Doug Smith also finds each show brings “an entirely different cast,” keeping the process refreshed at all times.

He credits Theatre of the Republic for its professional element that exceeds “any other place” where he has acted.

Dave White of Myrtle Beach, in a suit with a cigar, looked the part for a team owner. The retired teacher who continues tutoring students said he marvels at the sets that Chancel Builders of Conway helps build and how every play overall reflects the vision of, and interpretation by, Tim McGhee, the theater’s executive director, who has coordinated its shows or about the last nine years.

This year, next year

McGhee said he’s already scouting for shows to fill the 2013-14 slate, but the final choices made depend on what theatric rights are available and on each show’s cast size. Studying to see what will bring in the crowds also entails making money for the nonprofit entity to meet expenses.

“In the theater world, you have to look at making money,” he said, “and providing good entertainment for the audiences and pushing the craft. ... It’s a little bit of everything.”

McGhee said Adams, though still working on “Damn Yankees,” was already looking at the next show, “Sunset Boulevard,” which opens Oct. 19. Zink, the stage manager, also takes charge for the current show from Friday on.

“Basically, come Thursday night, I’m done,” he said, ready to watch it among audiences. “I move on to the next show.”

He called the theater field an art that operates on “a very well detailed system,” especially for an almost all-volunteer corps, including the ushers and lighting director and other personnel who might never want to act, but “love being involved backstage.”

“We’re very honored to have all of them,” McGhee said.

Without an orchestra pit, recorded music, for which royalties are paid, drives the melodies for each show, “another part of the whole play,” McGhee said. Sometimes, Andrew Fowler, the composer in residence of the Carolina Master Chorale, makes the soundtrack for shows, other times, they’re produced elsewhere.

So many months of work take place before each three-week run. Ads are sold for the annual printing of 18,000 to 20,000 copies of the theater’s playbill – “the hardcover, as we call it,” McGhee said – which includes an insert about the bios of the cast and backstage members. Season ticket sales reach full gear, generally from April to September, as well.

McGhee realizes “the expensive production of promotion” to entice patrons for live theater, which still remains “a very, very tough business” in which to succeed with longevity.

“It’s a form of the arts that will never go away,” he said, “but it changes on a daily basis and changes with the times.”

Yet, with community theater, with so much time, materials and services donated, and a cast of local sponsors, McGhee said, “the community makes it work.”