View Mobile Site

Georgia Mountain Players reflect on fond memories

POSTED: March 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.

After 21 years in the footlights, the Georgia Mountain Players are winding down their final season with three last plays.

They will be performing "The Diary" in April, "Smoke on the Mountain" in August and draw their final curtain when they close "Leading Ladies" in October.

Mike Martin, one of the founding members and the spokesman for the group, said there were several things that were considered in reaching the difficult decision to call it quits. However, it was the ongoing and serious nature of the health of several members that ultimately became the determining factor.

The recent cast of the popular group includes Cleve and Rhonda Brown, Cindy Casto, Bill Maine, Elaine Martin, Cathy O’Dell, Josh Thompson, and John and Nancy Weeks.

Other longtime cast members who have been with the group since its inception, include Linda Smith, Peggy and Joe Strickland, Mike and Dianne Martin, and Jene Robocker. One other longtime member, Charlie Robocker, died last November.

For more than two decades the volunteer members of this nonprofit repertory theater group have provided wholesome family entertainment to the community. Their mission statement early on identified their intended purpose "to offer quality live family entertainment which provides pleasure, inspiration, education, and fun".

The group’s clearly stated commitment to God also is an integral part of its mission statement, and while that has precluded it from receiving federal grant money, it has not hindered the self-sufficient group in fulfilling its goal to entertain.

That self-reliance has been an invaluable asset. One key to their success has been that all the members share in handling the nonacting production tasks in addition to performing.

There are no divas in this group. Each member does whatever needs to be done. That might include set design or construction, directing, stage management, house management, running the lights or sound, casting, costuming, administrative paperwork or ticket sales promotions.

If it is something unfamiliar, the member learns it. In this cast, the term multitalented has taken on a whole new meaning.

An equally important asset to the Georgia Mountain Players has been their sizeable and supportive base of season ticket subscribers. Martin credits the loyal and generous support of season ticket holders and patrons with their success, and with giving them the means to make charitable monetary donations in the community over the years.

"Without them by our side we would not even be here," he said. "Any monetary gifts from us are actually made from the Players and our supporters. We have always known that the people who loved and supported us made us possible. We are only stewards of their gifts to us and have taken our mission statement seriously."

Some of the charities quietly supported by their gifts include college theater students, Special Olympics, Good News at Noon, Hospice, The Boy Scouts, Disabled American Veterans, A Better Place, CASA, drama departments of all area high schools and The Guest House. In the last few years, the Players have raised a substantial amount for Relay for Life.

When you look back at the group’s modest start, it makes their success all the more remarkable. It began when a few of the early members approached Pam Ware, director of the drama department at Gainesville High School. They asked for her help in starting a little acting group. She chose a two-act musical called, "Smoke on the Mountain," and agreed to direct and stage the play.

The Players credit her with launching the group and inspiring them. One of the biggest surprises has been that the little-known play in the hands of a fledgling group of storytellers would take on a life of its own. "Smoke on the Mountain" has continued to draw audiences for more than 20 years.

Over the last decade, the group has settled into a schedule that has produced four shows a year. Each of three has been performed seven times, and "Smoke on the Mountain" 12 times annually.

To manage this type of schedule, the Georgia Mountain Players have become a well-organized, tightly knit group. They have brought stage-tested experience to each project. Over the years, they have collected a trove of memories about events onstage and off.

Martin relates a few of the Players’ touching, poignant and humorous stories, mostly in his words:

The first time we had money to buy a cordless drill we all just stood around in a circle and gazed lovingly at it. It was a big deal.

After about three years of performing "Smoke on the Mountain" we thought it had just about run its course but we were attacked by many people who fussed us out because some of their relatives had not been able to see it yet. It was the first time that we realized that we might have to extend the run a couple of days. Twenty-one years later, we are still shaking our heads at the mission and ministry this play has become for us.

We were invited to Nova Scotia, Canada, to come and perform "Smoke on the Mountain" in some area churches. One had no electricity and another one had only gas lamps. We wondered if people would like this play so far away from the South. We were mobbed. People who had seen it traveled miles to see it again and bring along a friend. We charged nothing but took up a collection for each church where we performed. The response was overwhelming both to the church and to us. The church without electricity was able to finish their new steeple. That was a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

Those memories also include all the people over the years who have said how much "Smoke on the Mountain" has meant to them for a variety of spiritual reasons. God has used this play to comfort, to entertain, to chide and to enlighten. It is, after all, about redemption and acceptance.

The best memories include all the laughs during rehearsals, all the things that go wrong and all the things that go right during performances. Our ever-patient audiences who likened our mishaps to those on "The Carol Burnett Show." They loved to see what would happen on that stage, and they laughed with us.

During one performance, right before intermission, while doing a play called "Flaming Idiots," one of the actors leaned on the big table we had front and center. It just gave way and hung there. Somehow we managed to hold it up while the actors finished their dialogue and then we pulled the curtain. There was much clunking and banging behind the curtain and the audience was so tickled they wouldn’t leave for refreshments during intermission. When the curtain opened, there front and center, was a teeny tiny round table that we happened to have there. The table got a standing ovation.

Then there was the time a season ticket holder called us and said that her husband had just passed away. She told us how hard he fought to see "Smoke on the Mountain" one last time. He died two weeks before we opened. She called to ask us if we would please not resell his empty seat because she knew he would be there watching with her. We didn’t. When that night came, there, in the center of the fourth row, was one empty seat and next to it, a lady who was laughing, clapping and singing with us. It still brings a lump to our throats.

During another show there was a little down syndrome boy who came on stage for the children’s sermon in "Smoke." He had to touch everything, ring the bell on stage and hug every single cast member. His mother was mortified. When he returned to his seat, a man sitting in front of him stood and gave him a standing ovation along with the rest of the audience and the entire cast and crew. It tore your heart out with joy.

Thanks for the memories, Players.

The final show, by audience request, will be "Leading Ladies" by Ken Ludwig. It will feature cast members Cleve Brown and Martin, in high heels again.

It sounds like their plan is to leave us all laughing.


Contents of this site are © Copyright 2010 The Times, Gainesville, GA. All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...