This weekend, Stage Company actors will once again perform a classic courtroom drama that pits a fundamentalist prosecuting attorney against his long-time rival, a free-thinking defense lawyer.
“Inherit the Wind,” the keynote presentation for the Stage Company’s 30th anniversary celebration, is a reprise of the first play the company produced in 1982.
President of the Stage Company Craig Hinde said 30 years of strong community support coupled with unwavering dedication from hundreds of volunteers committed to providing Jackson County with a high quality live theater has been rewarding.
“In our 30 years, we’ve done 177 plays and we’ve given over 1,100 performances,” Hinde said.
Memorabilia from the theater company’s past performances, including costumes and posters, will be on display in the lobby and adjoining gallery at the Varsity Center for the Arts.
Hinde is one of the founding members of the Stage Company. He said in early 1982 a small group of people from Carbondale and Murphysboro decided to organize a community theater. A few months later, they produced “Inherit the Wind,” a fictionalized account of the famous 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial.
“We chose it primarily because it has a large cast and it would allow for lots of people to get on stage,” Hinde said.
Since the play is a courtroom drama, the company arranged to give their first-ever performance in the north courtroom of the Jackson County Courthouse.
“It was good PR,” Hinde said.
During its first year, the theater company gave performances in a variety of venues, including a local church, a restaurant and a high school.
A year later, the Stage Company moved into the old Bank of Carbondale building on the corner of Washington and Main. The bank leased the building to the Stage Company for $1 a year.
The Stage Company performed there for the next 22 years.
Nick Earll, another founding member of the Stage Company, said Archibald McLeod, retired chair of the SIUC Theater Department, was a strong supporter of the small theater group during its years at the bank building location.
“He was an especially talented scenic designer and he designed and built many, many of our shows while we were over in that old bank building,” Earll said.
In 2005, the bank building was deemed unsafe and was demolished. The Stage Company searched for a new home while it continued to give performances in local churches and schools.
The Stage Company moved into their current venue, the Varsity Center for the Arts, in 2008. It took several thousand hours of volunteer labor to upgrade the building, Hinde said, before the stage company could launch its 2008 season.
The Stage Company produces four plays during its main season, which runs from October through April, Hinde said. The company also presents a children’s play in the summer and holds an appreciation gala in August to thank its donors and volunteers.
Loren Cocking, vice president in charge of productions, said the Stage Company is an all-volunteer organization, except for a few part-time employees who run the box office and several laborers who are contracted for renovation projects.
Hinde said it takes an average of 1,400 volunteer hours to put on a show. In addition to the time people spend acting on stage, many hours are spent building sets, collecting props and wardrobe items, and marketing the shows.
Mary Boyle, another member of the theater company, said volunteers didn’t need any acting ability to participate in the productions. In addition to stage roles, people build sets, sew costumes and design posters, she said.
“If you can act, swell – we’ll cast you. If you can use a hammer, or if you can paint, or whatever, we’ll thank you for showing up,” Boyle said.
Hinde said he is encouraged by the number of new and younger people who have participated in this season’s productions including “Inherit the Wind.”
“We’re cutting a ribbon on opening night and launching ourselves into our fourth decade,” Hinde said.