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Texas Nonprofit Theatres/Linda M. Lee

Local theater advances to regional play festival

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Lucinda Breeding

Denton Community Theatre picked up a handful of awards Saturday night at the state contest of the American Association of Community Theatres play festival. The company's one-act cutting of Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy will advance to the regional level AACTFest 2017, the biennial festival that determines the best avocational theaters in the country, in April.

Director John Rodgers said the cast and crew performed with precision and drive.

"Well, we have an amazing team. I'm talking about the techies backstage," said Rodgers, who directed the show first during the company's 2015-2016 season at the PointBank Black Box Theatre. "Of course, my remainder of the team, my cast, everybody did their job."

The company performed at Medical City of Lewisville Grand Theatre and will represent Texas in the regional festival with the Katy Visual and Performing Arts Center. The Katy company performs Answers,by Tom Topor. The Texas competition was coordinated by Texas Nonprofit Theatres Inc.

The play festival invites community theaters to bring a 40-minute play or musical to each level of the progressive contest. During the competition performances, each company has 10 minutes to assemble their sets on the competition stage and then start their plays. Any company that exceeds the 40-minute performance time limit is automatically disqualified. A panel of judges ranks the plays and decides which companies advance.

Rodgers, who pared the two-act Driving Miss Daisy into a one-act with the help of cast members Dunshay Thomas, who plays the role of Hoke Colburn, and Lee Skinner, who plays Daisy Werthan. Rodgers took over the role of Boolie Werthan from actor Caleb Norris. Norris, Skinner and Thomas filled the roles at the black box performances.

Rodgers said the company got glowing remarks from the judges.

"One, they were appreciative of telling a lovely story, and 'a timeless but timely story' was used in the critique," Rodgers said. "Even though the play is several years old, with what's going on now, the things that are going on between people of different races, this is a play we still need to see and these are things we still need to talk about."

The company earned an award for advancing to the regional contest. Rodgers won the award for Excellence in Direction. The cast earned an award for Excellence in Ensemble Acting, and the company won an award for technical design.

"We also won -- and this is something I'm especially proud of -- the Audience Choice award," Rodgers said. "That was decided by people who saw all nine plays. I'm just really happy about that one."

Mike Barrow, the managing director of Denton Community Theatre, said the company is proud of the quiet, sweet play about the unlikely friendship between a well-heeled Jewish woman, Daisy, and her black driver, Hoke, in the South.

The two butt heads when Boolie Werthan insists his mother relinquish her car keys to a driver in 1948.

By the end of the play 25 years later, Daisy and Hoke are close friends, and the South has seen the rise of the civil rights movement.

"We've been on cloud nine since they announced [the advancement] Saturday night," Barrow said.

Now, the company turns to the issues of funding the trip to Lafayette, Louisiana, where it closes the festival in the final performance slot on April 8.

"We don't budget for these," he said. "You just never know if you're going to advance."

Barrow predicts the company will transport the set, costumes and props in a single van.

"I think it's going to be a real easy trip with these folks," he said. "It's become it's own family unit. God, we were so proud Saturday night."

Barrow said he has joined the road crew for every show Denton Community Theatre has sent to the festival, which is held in odd-numbered years.

"It's a selfish pleasure," he said. "It's nice. The director says 'my pleasure. Why, yes, come be on our crew.'"

Barrow said the play festival is a rare chance for nonprofit companies to visit, watch one another's work and talk shop.

"People hear we're going to contest," he said. "They don't know the importance of these two organizations, Texas Nonprofit Theatres Inc. and the American Association of Community Theatres. It's a wonderful time for us to get together with our peers. And if it's anything you get from these deals, it's that you're not alone in a boat. You're fighting the same problems, and you're working toward the same goals. We love it."

The regional contest will take place at Acadiana Center for the Arts, 101 W. Vermilion St. in Lafayette, Louisiana. For reservations to the festival and performances, visit the contest website at http://bit.ly/2mmvBAd.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter @LBreedingDRC.

Companies that competed in the state festival 

The following companies went up against winner Denton and Katy in the state AACTFest 2017 on Saturday: 

CATS Playhouse from Lubbock — Barrymore's Ghost

Henderson Civic Theatre — Grace & Glorie

Ritz Community Theatre from Snyder — A Midsummer Night's Dream

Boerne Community Theatre — Mrs. Mannerly

Baytown Little Theater — Vanya, Sonia, Masha & Spike

Bastrop Opera House — The World at Absolute Zero

 LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.