West T. Hill celebrating 25 years of community theater

September 20, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

When the lights go down and the curtain goes up at West T. Hill Community Theatre, it's an opportunity for patrons to cleanse their emotions. For 25 years, the actors have filled the theater with laughter and tears. Now it's time to celebrate the theater's silver anniversary season.

A Gala Celebration will be held 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Centenary United Methodist Christian Life Center.

Beth Marlowe, a theater board member who is helping plan the event, says the show should last about three hours.

"We have lots of songs," says Marlowe, who had a role in six of the theater's seven productions since joining the theater last season. She did lights for the one production for which she didn't have a role.

Another major part of the celebration will be the burning of the mortgage note on the Larrimore Lane building that the group has called home for 14 years.


One of the songs Marlowe will sing with Bob Bausum, her co-star in "Fiddler on the Roof," is "Do You Love Me?"

Marlowe says Golda, who was the wife of Tevye, played by Bausum, was her first role with the group and probably will remain her favorite.

"So many people came through the line of actors and said, 'I've seen this done on Broadway and I've never seen a better production.'"

Marlowe's mother agreed about the stellar performance.

"My mother said, 'I hate this because this was your first show in the theater because everything else will be downhill.'"

For Marlowe, getting involved with the theater has been joining a large family. She's even worked with her two daughters in productions. As someone who works with Families First in the Danville school system, Marlowe says she tells the children about every opportunity to act. Next year, she plans to do a summer camp for children called Camp Causewelovetoact.

Because of the soldout status of "Fiddler on the Roof," Karen Logue, the theater's managing director for the past five years, also rates it as a favorite. She was the show's director. As someone who came on board when retired Centre College drama professor West T. Hill held the organizational meeting, Logue finds it difficult to single out her No. 1 pick. She did like the recent production of "The Taffetas." "That was a joy because that was the music I grew up on," she says.

Logue says she finds every play inspiring, and takes pride in watching shows she directs.

"I'm always emotional. As a director, I love to act because you get the instant gratification when they clap or boo, but as a director you have to be satisfied with that self-satisfaction. A part of me is in each one of those performers and that's satisfying, especially if they do well."

Opening night is a real nail-biter for Logue.

"I get very emotional, especially on opening nights, like birthing a baby. Then, you relax, it's finally culminated, it's finally birthed."

When she hasn't been in the director's chair, Logue says playing Mary Todd Lincoln in "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" was a favorite role.

"She was real and that's always intimidating for an actor," she says.

Gigi Biles, another charter member of the theater, says of the many productions she has been in, she rates playing the mother Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie" as her favorite.

"It's about a mother who is left with the two children and I guess I identified with her because I was raising three children by myself, but I hope I was nothing like Amanda."

Biles was teaching at Danville High School when Hill decided to organize a community theater. She already had worked with him as a Centre College student. Biles says Hill knew what he wanted from his actors and he made sure they gave it.

"He was a force not to be reckoned with. He said he mellowed a lot when he got to the community theater because he said he couldn't treat the community like he did the college. He was a terror with the college students."

Biles says everyone stepped up to the plate after Hill's death. "After he died, it was a group effort. Everybody was determined to make it work. In later years, it's really been Karen (Logue) who has been the big force."

Hill taught theater for 34 years

Like most of the charter members of the theater, Dale Kihlman credits Hill, who taught theater for 34 years, with making the theater successful. "The first and most obvious thing is that West and Dorothy Belle put it together. West brought his skills and his knowledge to all this."

Although Kihlman came on board at the beginning, he didn't have any experience.

"I had never done it. I jokingly tell people that I was a closet actor. Somewhere I had seen some theater, I think in high school, and I was fascinated by it."

His first part was John the butler in "The Man Who Came to Dinner," but Kihlman has trouble naming his favorite part.

"I've done 35 to 40 productions, and there isn't one single one that is my favorite. Every part has something significant to it. I think a lot of it has to do with life experiences. Some of the parts you can really get into because of your own life experiences."

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