Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 28, 2014

JC’s theater department slates production at new arts center

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville College theater department will mark its 15th anniversary by being the first to claim the former Joe Wright Elementary school as its venue.

“We're excited,” said Mary S. Lewis, chairman of JC's fine arts department, about the college's new performing arts center.

The center will house dressing rooms, storage facilities and classrooms, but the main feature is a “smaller, more intimate” theater that will lend itself to performances,

she said.

“We've always done our productions in Buckner Chapel, which we shared with the music department, which meant we couldn't put up or leave up sets because the choir also needed the chapel for performances,” Lewis said.

Jacksonville College is leasing the former elementary facility from Hobby Lobby Realty, operated by the Green family of Oklahoma, which also has the national Hobby Lobby arts and crafts stores.

This past summer, JISD accepted a $90,000 offer from HLR for the 9.296-acre Kickapoo Street property; HLR had agreed to lease the site to the college for a specific period of time before exercising an option to gift it to the college, according to JC president Dr. Mike Smith, who echoed Lewis's response.

“We're excited about having the theater program there – it was an area of the elementary that was the most ready for use,” he said, adding that while the soccer team utilized Joe Wright's gym for indoor practice during inclement weather, it wasn't the program's permanent home.

The theater, however, will eventually be fitted with new lighting and sound systems, a cost estimated at $30,000, both said.

“But for now, the theater is ready to be used,” Smith said.

Lewis agreed. “We haven't had to do a lot, just cleaned, then painted the sets” for the April 10-12 production of Pat Cook's murder mystery/comedy, “Murder's Bad but Monday Can Kill You.”

“We've just done general clean up, situating things” for the April performance, she said.

The 230-seat venue is the perfect spot for productions college thespians will stage because of the intimate setting it offers, Lewis said.

“(Buckner) chapel seats 750 to 800, and it's monstrous,” she laughed. “When you have a (theater) audience of 100 to 150 people, that's a good audience, but it looks like no one's there when you're in a bigger place. We're looking forward to offering productions in a smaller setting.”

The college's theater program began offering a single theater appreciation class in January 2000, and students staged “The Diaries of Adam and Eve,” based on the writings of Mark Twain, according to a department press release.

“What started as a single class and show has grown into a department that includes classes in theater appreciation, performance, acting, theater history and theater practicum,” also known as technical theater training, the release states.

The program averages 15 to 20 students per semester, who perform at least two productions during that time frame.

Additionally, members of Cross Act Company and Delta Psi Omega national theater honor society volunteer every summer to mentor the children of the community in the Stars On Stage theater camp.

This year's spring production is a “zany take off of 1950s film noir,” written by local playwright Pat Cook, who began his career in Frankston and whose first play was produced by the theater department at Lon Morris College.

The play begins 7 p.m. nightly April 10-11 at the college's Performing Arts Center on the former Joe Wright Campus. On April 12, a 5:30 p.m. reception for former theater students will precede a 7:30 p.m. production.

To learn more, contact Mary Lewis, Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Jacksonville College, 903-589-7132 or emailing mlewis@jacksonville-college.edu.