During rehearsal for “Lord of the Flies”, the audience at Tyler Civic Theatre Center sat in darkness.
Dark, ambient music begins to play and panicked bits of news report terror in the streets of London.
The state of alarm is no different than first reports of a major disaster but backstage, Jonathan Baggs, keeps his cool. He’s been in this moment plenty of times before. He’s ready, waiting for his cue.
“I’m super excited. Ready to get the real show going … and play in front of people,” said Baggs, a business major at TJC.
A hellish spectacle is cast as red lights blanket the stage from above. Baggs runs out, alongside 16 of his fellow actors. They form black silhouettes against the red background as they take their positions on the makeshift evacuation plane. Their decent to madness begins.
“For Tyler, and especially this venue specifically, it’s definitely something people haven’t seen here before. And I really hope that intrigues people and will make them want to come out,” said “Lord of the Flies” Director Justin Purser.
Despite being in the final stretch of rehearsal, laughter echoes throughout the theatre prior to the show’s last few full run-throughs. Purser’s enthusiasm for the approaching opening day masks his heavy eyes, using Starbucks coffee as fuel to keep his energy up.
Purser has been involved with TCTC for close to nine years, since he was 13. He took acting lessons, like many kids who walk through the doors of the theatre, but soon found his true passion was behind the scenes, not on stage.
“As I got older, I was able to dabble more with more of the technical aspect of it. That’s where I really realized where I wanted to be … backstage designing, you know, tech, light or directing, which is what I really enjoy doing,” said Purser. “Being able to tell a story and make people feel, hopefully what you intend them to feel.”
For two of the actors of “Lord of the Flies,” TCTC has also played an important role in their lives.
“These guys taught me everything I know … They had a hand in cultivating me,” said Ryan Castner, who plays Ralph in the show.
Dressed in an unkempt dress shirt and tie for his upcoming crash landing on the island, he continues to attribute his acting ability to the theatre.
“Everything from on the stage to off the stage … I’ve learned most of what I know right here in this building and it’s been fun. I haven’t been bored one single time in my ten years here.”
James Burns, Piggie in the show, shares similar thoughts.
“I’ve come to think of it as a place where I can come to whenever I’m having a bad day … and it makes it a good day,” said Burns.
Cameron Ames, one of the younger members in the production at the age of eight, has two specific goals for his life.
“I want to be a rock star and a movie star,” said Ames. An answer his parents sitting nearby weren’t surprised to hear.
TCTC offers programs that enable young men and woman an outlet to learn the dramatic arts, stage work and technical work.
The Acting Conservatory provides a variety of workshops for students ages 5-18, including the fundamentals of acting and vocal lessons for musical theatre. Many students grow up involved in these classes, such as Purser, Castner and Burns.
Depending on your age bracket, one can choose from different lessons to focus on for a semester, lasting about four months each.
“We do try to educate, enrich and entertain with what we do,” said Samantha Copas-Greene, TCTC board and education committee member and one of the producers for “Lord of the Flies.”
As well as providing education classes, descriptive theatre is now being offered for all shows being given at TCTC. For those that are hearing or visually impaired, members from The Arc of Smith County, a non-profit, volunteer organization that specializes in aiding those with disabilities, come in and either sign the show for the hearing impaired or act out the show through description for those visually impaired.
According to Copas, this will enable everyone to have the theatre experience.
TCTC, like all non-profit organizations, is heavily dependent on donations from the community and volunteer work.
Dave Dickson, technical director for “Lord of the Flies,” is a full time missionary, along with his wife, who donates his time to TCTC. He mentions that volunteers are always needed and behind the scene work is just as important as stage work.
“People more accustomed to being onstage think because they don’t get cast for a part then there’s no place for them. They don’t realize everything that goes into making a show happen,” said Dickson.
For more information on how to volunteer, sign up for classes, upcoming shows and auditions contact (903) 592-0561 or visit TCTC’s website at http://www.tylercivictheatre.com.