This month, three of Artists Collaborative Theatre’s actors and directors — Cody Anderson, Jason Justice and Lauren Stewart — traveled to Venice Theatre, in Venice, Fla., to rehearse, train, and make plans for ACT’s latest production, Greater Tuna.
Jason Justice spoke of the difference that theatre can make in a community. “My time at Venice Theatre helped me understand how valuable theatre and art can be to a community (even a large one). Venice offers a Summerstock program to pre-high school students to learn all aspects of theatre—including acting, set-building and technical work. Many of these children go on to seek a career in theatre because of that program. Perhaps more importantly, Venice, in conjunction with the Loveland Center, sponsors a program for mentally and/or physically handicapped individuals called the Loveland Players. This program culminates in a show called The Loveland Follies, where members of the group rehearse and perform a show. I think this program is magnificent because it demonstrates just how much a theatre can offer all aspects of its community. ACT offers an amazing afterschool program and does wonderful outreach work with the Mountain View Nursing Home and West Care rehabilitation center, but at Venice, I learned just how much a theatre with enough time, volunteers and resources can give back to its community.”
Venice Theatre hosted the trio in actor housing for three weeks, where they enjoyed mornings at the beach and days at the theatre. After a week of rehearsals, the employees of Venice Theatre realized what a unique group of well-rounded thespians they were working with, and soon put the skills acquired through years of work at ACT to good use in Venice. Lauren, Jason, and Cody proved useful in the set shop, the property annex, and especially the costume shop, where they aided Nicholas Hartman in pulling and assembling the amazing costumes showcased in Greater Tuna.
Lauren Stewart is excited about implementing her experiences. “I learned that we at ACT have the resources and the talent to expand our theatre to a larger scale and to take on more complex projects like they handle at Venice. We may not be equipped for a stage 2 yet, but we can handle anything we put our minds to on mainstage. Personally, I reaffirmed that theatre is what I want to do with my life, and that what makes me happiest is creating art on and offstage. I enjoyed every moment of working with the Venice theatre, and I’m grateful to have them as mentors for our theatre. We can learn so much from their work individually and as a company, and I can’t wait to put what we learned there into practice in our own community.”
ACT has long considered Venice Theatre it’s “big brother theatre.” Through the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT), Venice Theatre has been a mentor of ACT since 2004. It was then that Kollar co-directed ACT’s Kentucky Women’s Playwright Festival as well as recruited a lighting designer and actress from Venice, Florida to round out ACT’s local talent.
Kollar then returned in 2005 to teach a directing class with the showcase production, “ACT’s Director Shorts; Come See Our Shorts” a compilation of five local novice directors’ productions tied together for one production. Allan Kollar and Venice Theatre continued their role as big brother to ACT when they hosted Kimper resident Bryan Ratliff to attend a theatre training program in 2007.
Kollar revisited ACT in 2009 to direct the summer comedy, Dearly Departed, a show so widely popular with ACT audiences that it was restaged by Cody Anderson and Jason Justice as this season’s opening production, later winning statewide and regional awards. Just last year, Kollar travelled to ACT to direct The Foreigner, the theatre’s 2011 summer comedy. Under his direction, the performers were magnificent and made audiences roar with laughter, night after night.
Cody Anderson has come to appreciate the closeness and acceptance of his theatre family. “I was solidified in knowing that theatre is a community of openness and acceptance unlike the rest of the world, which can be cold, hurtful, and unaccepting. I learned that I need to be in that kind of environment to thrive, to be my true self instead of the mask that I sometimes wear. I continued my learning that in theatre you can build all these separate identities and live in them for the length that you are on stage. The hurtful moments were redeemed somewhat when we met an amazing group of people on the beach who were accepting. I learned to appreciate the close knit family that we have at ACT. There were so many volunteers at Venice Theatre that I couldn’t remember all the names. All were welcoming, but there were just so many.”
Greater Tuna is a comedy that rounds out ACT’s 2012 season. The production stars Cody Anderson and Jason Justice and is directed by Lauren Stewart. This hilarious send-up of small town morals and mores focuses on the upstanding citizens of Tuna, Texas, which happens to be the state’s third smallest town. The long-running Off Broadway hit features two actors (Anderson and Justice) creating the entire population of Tuna in a tour de farce of quick change artistry, changing costumes and characterizations faster than a jack rabbit runs from a coyote. There’s two actors, twenty characters, and a heaping barrel of laughs, ya’ll!
Reviews for Greater Tuna include, “Howlingly funny,” by Variety, and “The audience … all but exploded the theatre with laughter,” by the New York Post.
Don’t miss your chance to see Greater Tuna! Performances will take place at ACT in Elkhorn City (207 N. Patty Loveless Drive) through July 29. Show times are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $8 each and available at the door, by calling (606) 754-4228, or online at www.act4.org.