Leila S. Case: Performing arts prevail in our community

Published 10:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2016

I fell in love with the performing arts when my second-grade teacher, Lucy Darden, who ironically became my stepmother years later, cast me as Mrs. Santa Claus in Kirkwood Elementary School’s Christmas play. I’ve always suspected she selected me because of my body type — a roly-poly butterball. I was a perfect mini Mrs. Santa, wearing a red and white check dress, white apron and ruffled cap.
The school building stands today but no long functions as an educational facility. DeKalb County’s board of education sold the property years ago and it is now an upscale condominium. I’ve often thought how much fun it would be to live in my old third- or fourth-grade room. Happy memories of by-gone days.
I digress. Like the school, my Mrs. Claus performance only exists in my memory.
My next attempt to break into acting was in high school plays and cast in minor roles — nothing glamourous — still a roly-poly.
I put acting aside for years; being on stage was no longer a priority. Until the late Mary Anne Thomas asked me to be in the Friends of the Library’s first production, “Tower of Ecstasy,” written by Nancy Peabody, an intriguing mystery set at the Windsor Hotel where I had a small speaking part. It was exciting and for the next 10 years, I was “on stage” in this annual series that have become a popular and successful fundraisers for Lake Blackshear Regional Library.
Since then, the only acting I perform is at home.
How fortunate this community is to have a performance venue like the stately and beautiful, historic Rylander Theatre, where we have the opportunity to see live professional performances and concerts presented by the Friends of the Rylander, as well as local talent in Sumter Players’ productions.
Sumter Players recently concluded a brilliant year of performances, “The Andersonville Trial,” “The Game’s Afoot,” and “Man of La Mancha,” at its annual John and Sharon Parks Awards — a dinner event that recognizes achievement in live local theater much like the Tony Awards. Except this awards dinner was not in a glitzy New York setting but at Calvary Episcopal Church’s stately Lawrence Parish Hall last weekend.
Ray Manella served as master of ceremonies and Donna Minich planned and prepared the three-course gourmet dinner.
And the winners are: Best Show: “Andersonville Trial” directed by Patrick Peacock; Best Actor: Patrick Peacock in “Man of La Mancha” as Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote, and Ouijana; Best Actress: Rachel Wallace in “Man of La Mancha” as Aldonza; Best Supporting Actor: Jonathan Minich in “The Andersonville Trial” as Capt. Henry Wirz; Best Supporting Actress: Dania Rosario in “The Game’s Afoot: as Daria Chase; Best Newcomer (to the Sumter Players’ stage) Wendy Castilla in “The Game’s Afoot” as Inspector Goring; and Best Mini-Role: Richard Thornton in “Man of La Mancha” playing the roles of Barber, a Muleteer and Moorish King.
Congratulations! We have much to look forward to in the upcoming season with three great shows: “The Miracle on 34th Street,” in November; “Shrek, the Musical” in March directed by Joey Watson; and “Heaven Can Wait” in May. A director is needed for 34th Street and “Heaven Can Wait.” Anyone qualified and interested can apply on the Players website:  http://www.sumterplayers.org/#!direct-a-show/ccet.
Meanwhile, the Rylander Theatre was also the venue for Phoebe Sumter Hospital Foundation’s fundraiser, “The Beach Ball” concert benefiting oncology patients and featuring the showband, The Missin’ Links. The event attracted many supporters, and was a big success.
Meanwhile, Nancy and Ralph Harvey, Chuck and Jennifer Wells, Phil Vinson and Robin Humphries recently attended the Glass Art Society Conference in Corning, N.Y., especially to promote the mobile glass blowing furnace manufactured in Americus. After the conference Phil and Robin delivered the unit to a customer in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Ralph returned home but Nancy and Jennifer took the train to the big city to see the sights and reconnect with friends. They toured the city on the Big Red Bus, visited the 9/11 Memorial, attended two Broadway shows, “Chicago” and “Kinky Boots.” Nancy had breakfast one morning with former resident and her former student, Christopher Gurr, who is currently on Broadway. Incidentally, Christopher got his start in Sumter Players’ children’s plays. She also had dinner with another former student Alia Sabbs, who has a very interesting job with the NYC board of education. Christopher is the son of Steve Gurr and Ann Gurr, and Alia is the daughter of Lorena and Daryl Sabbs. Nancy and Ralph don’t let the grass grow under their feet. Earlier this week they joined family and friends for fun in the sun at Panama City.
And wishing a happy 21st birthday to my grandson John Richard Larendon Barrett.

Leila S. Case lives in Americus.