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Players to close curtain on last shows of popular play
"Smoke on the Mountain" sold out for its last weekend
The cast of “Smoke on the Mountain” performs its final dress rehearsal for the show that concludes Sunday at the Brenau Downtown Center after a 21-year run. - photo by NAT GURLEY

If it’s a weekend night in August, Mike Martin will check mics, make sure all lights are working at the Brenau Downtown Center and get ice for the cast and crew of “Smoke on the Mountain” before checking in at the box office and getting into costume for show time.

When the entire cast meets him backstage, a group prayer is said and the show begins.

The only difference this August for Martin, managing artistic and technical director for the Georgia Mountain Players, is that after 21 years, he is doing this for the last time.

Martin not only acts as director of this long-running play but also plays “Stanley Sanders,” member of a singing group that visits a small Baptist church for their first Saturday night singing. The singing, which at first looks like a young preacher’s first big mistake at the church, turns into an experience that brings new life to a few stubborn members.

This weekend, the player will perform the final two showings at 7:30 tonight and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Though faithful patrons have secured tickets in advance, others finding out about the show’s end have rushed to get their tickets for the final time. The result is a sold-out weekend.

Martin says he will offer a waiting list for tickets this weekend depending on ticket holders not in attendance. The list is filling up quickly, he said.

“The phone rings constantly,” Martin said. “We get everybody in we can.”

After the phone calls are done and all business is settled, the performances begin and become more difficult each time, he said.

“It’s getting a little more emotional every performance we do, knowing the end is coming,” he said.

“But it’s been a fun run for 21 years.”

The players agreed to disband after this season due to health issues among them. This decision was made not long after Charlie Robocker, former box office manager for the group, died in November from cancer.

Martin said six of the players have fought cancer, including Robocker.

Realizing that the show must eventually come to an end, the last show of the season, “Leading Ladies,” will begin its run in October. Martin said he wants to encourage the community to join the last show as the Georgia Mountain Players.

“I hope we have as many people come (as we had in “Smoke on the Mountain),” he said. “We’re repeating that one because it was so funny and we had so many requests.”

Spending 21 years in the play has earned Martin lifelong friends from the cast and audiences. He said patrons are as much a part of “the family” as his fellow actors.

Since the group has lost relatives and friends due to cancer over the years, they have dedicated resources and time to cancer research. Their patrons have been aware of their cause; one recently gave $100 in the group’s honor to the American Cancer Society, Martin said.

“They knew that was our heart, something we had done, and they wanted to do something for us,” he said.

“Our patrons, they are just so wonderful. We can’t begin to describe all the wonderful things that they’ve done for us and what they mean to us.”

The play is a tale about faith and family with music and comedy. He said there is always love in the room among the group, who became close 21 years ago thanks to a grueling rehearsal schedule.

At the show’s beginning, Martin said the original cast had much learning to do in little time.

“We only had nine rehearsals to do it in, but we pulled it together and just did it,” he said. “That’s how we originally became so close.”

The cast of 17 includes three married couples and three ministers. As part of a group he calls “one big family,” Martin said the end of the players is not breaking up the friends any time soon.