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Staging a Gala

Community Theatre Association of Idaho's Festival 2005

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Anyone who complains about a lack of cultural outlets in Boise has only to visit www.idaholivetheater.org, a new Web site devoted to nine community theatres that provide year-round quality, live entertainment to audiences throughout the state. Participating theaters are Knock 'Em Dead Dinner Theatre, Emmett Community Playhouse, Spontaneous Productions, Stage Coach Theatre, CAN-ACT Theater, Prairie Dog Productions, Encore ETC Theatre Company, Boise Little Theater and East Indian Follies. Each has a unique vision and repertoire, and occupying the same artistic niche has led them to strengthen ties and combine resources rather than indulge in negative competition.

The manifestation of this spirit of teamwork is the recently formed Community Theatre Association of Idaho (CTAI), a coalition of the aforementioned community theatres that is preparing to host its first fundraiser on June 24 and 25. The event will showcase the particular talents of particular companies, and organizers hope loyal theatergoers will consider expanding their horizons and curious newcomers will have a reason to come back.

"We want them to realize what each theatre does and that they don't have to watch TV all summer," said Nancy Shankweiler, a Boise Little Theatre veteran and this year's festival chair. She explained that part of the reason the alliance makes sense is that live performers aren't competing with each other as much as with the big screen, small screen and everything in between. "In a city like Boise, there is such a crossover of talent from directors to stage managers to set designers to actors, and we're in no way competing with each other. We're working together on the same thing, so we have to be there to support and help each other," she said.

Despite Shankweiler's energy, putting the festival together has been no easy feat. After two months of planning and hard work, she is almost ready to coordinate two full days of live performances starting with a Friday night champagne and dessert affair following one-hour samples of Stage Coach Theatre's The Harry and Sam Dialogues and Spontaneous Productions' The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Saturday afternoon offers families a great line-up, starting with Robin Hood by Prairie Dog Productions, then CAN-ACT's Merriment and Mirth and Encore Theatre Company's hilarious version of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. That evening, the festival finale includes East Indian Follies and their presentation of The Game followed by Boise Little Theater (which is hosting the event) with Over the River and Through the Woods. Although it is not a judged competition, there will be two seasoned judges using national criteria to provide constructive criticism and a little bit of drama to the celebration.

"Each show will be an hour with 10 minutes of set-up and take-down between. The audience can wander around or watch what usually happens behind the curtain before a scene," said Shankweiler. "I'm almost ready, but I have that feeling you get just before the first dress rehearsal."

Bob McDiarmid knows that feeling all too well, having been on stage almost constantly with Spontaneous Productions since he moved to Boise six years ago. In addition to having a day job and a hectic schedule of plays, McDiarmid is also the current president of CTAI, cutting his personal time down to "half an hour a week for a guitar lesson." Far from complaining, he enjoys the challenge of doing his best to entertain and further the status of community theatre in the pantheon of performance art.

"If I sat down and counted, I would have hundreds of hours of work in theatre-almost all of my off-time. But that has relevance; it should speak to an audience that if we are volunteering our time [to community theatre], we must really believe in it."

McDiarmid is thrilled about the upcoming festival and the potential for CTAI to ease the financial strain of its member companies. He explained that small theatres don't often have the money to do much advertising, but as a collective, they stand to gain a lot more than sleek marketing. As the Web site develops, McDiarmid hopes it will be used as a search engine for plays throughout the state, as well as a database of theatre people in every aspect of the industry that companies can use to find the right people to build sets, make costumes, work the lights and deliver killer lines.

"Nine theatres are putting on tremendous, high-quality entertainment for only a couple more dollars than it takes to go to the movies-but it's live-and I want people to know about it," he said.

"Live theatre is exciting," Shankweiler added. "There's nothing like the feeling that bounces back and forth between the stage and the audience; it's completely different than watching a screen. I've seen people laugh, cry, give enthusiastic standing ovations ... you can't beat that."

For Festival 2005 ticket information and more about CTAI, visit www.idaholivetheater.org.

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