The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 20, 2013

Outdoor Dramas presented by diverse group

For The Register Herald

BECKLEY — A Theatre West Virginia production at Cliffside Amphitheatre involves a large cast — performers acting, singing and dancing. On that stage at that moment, there is no question as to who they are or where they are from. They inhabit the characters they play so well — Devil Anse, Dave Morgan, Roseanne McCoy — that for two hours, they have no other identity. They are from Virginia, West Virginia or Kentucky.  

A good look at the program booklet will give you an idea of just how diverse the backgrounds of the cast and crew are. For the 2013 season TWV’s company hails from 19 states, from North Dakota to Texas to Maine. There are 47 actors, 15 technicians, and eight dancers.

Twenty-two are returnees, while 38 have never before been to West Virginia. They range in age from 5 to 55, and include three couples, as well as three families working together. Two trios of young siblings perform together. The four directors themselves come from Connecticut, Alabama, Ohio and New York.

What a difference 50 years makes, as a glance through the 1963 centennial edition of a TWV program proves. The company for “Honey in the Rock” consisted of approximately 50 actors, dancers, singers and musicians. Only about five of them were from anywhere other than West Virginia, and the bulk were from the Beckley area, or at least within driving distance.

Even then their backgrounds were diverse. 1963’s Dave Morgan was a Yale drama graduate, while that year’s John Morgan, the originator of the role, was a Princeton pastor. Whitey Hawkins was played by a man who had worked with Spencer Tracy, while Melindy was a speech and drama teacher from Princeton. The Dance Captain that year — Beckley’s own Jerry Rose.

The quality of work produced by these TWV pioneers in 1963 helped the company grow, expand and attract the wide range of performers we have today. Most are young people, either pursing degrees in theater-related studies or recent graduates. Some are veterans of summers with TWV who choose to return and share their talent with us repeatedly. They join TWV through auditions held mainly in the spring along the East Coast. Some submit video auditions, a process never even imagined in 1963. And there are always talented gems found right here at local auditions.

When TWV first brought a production to the stage in 1961, the goal was to keep that show, “Honey in the Rock,” going through the centennial celebrations of 1963. Through perseverance and determination, that goal was surpassed long ago, with “Hatfields and McCoys” added to the repertoire in 1970, and Broadway musicals a part of today’s schedule.

Both ‘The Wizard of Oz” and “Rocket Boys - The Musical” are being produced this summer. And “Honey in the Rock” is still telling the story of our state’s birth during this, the year of the sesquicentennial celebration.

These young performers from all over the country will be working long days, losing sleep and losing themselves for a few hours — all so you will forget who they are and see Whitey, Devil Anse, Dorothy and Sonny Hickam when they take the stage. That’s their job and their joy, and we hope you give them a round of applause!

— Cindy Worley is secretary of the Board of Directors and marketing representative for Theatre West Virginia.