If you know me then you know I’m a huge supporter of our Vive Les Arts Community Theatre. I’ve been on and off the board for years and still volunteer for almost every show. Beyond entertainment, it brings an entirely unique educational experience for both kids and adults and it allows anyone, and I mean anyone, who wants to play a role to come in and audition. We welcome you to escape your reality for a few hours and step onto the stage. No experience necessary but the pay stinks.

 

So naturally, our daughter, Ava Jane, has gravitated to the theatre as well. She attended a kid’s camp a few years back and from there has made appearances in the ensemble for a few productions, then got her first speaking role, then got her first solo as “Olaf” in Frozen, Jr. She’s been paying her dues and learning the whole way, so when auditions for Matilda came up, she felt ready for the challenge. Mind you, every show she’s worked thus far has been Children’s Theatre productions and Matilda is main stage, which is a whole new level of expectation and workload.
Matilda was set as the season closer – the last show before the summer break – so auditions were in late March and the show was to run in May. The season closer is always a musical and always a big, popular show, so anticipation was high. Then COVID-19 came to town and everything got postponed. No worries – we’ll wait it out and do it in the summer. Besides, this virus is supposed to be gone by the time summer rolls around, right? Auditions that were set for March were pushed out to late May, with the show scheduled for early July. The auditions went fine as did the callbacks. The text arrived later that night from Artistic Director Jami Salter: “Ava will be my Matilda.”
And life hasn’t been the same after that.
One hundred pages of script and a dozen or more songs performed live. The role of Matilda requires page after page of soliloquy, stories told by the actor, and played out behind her. Entire paragraphs of script spoken simultaneously by real and imaginary characters on stage so wording has zero room for error. Rehearsals four and five nights a week and a compressed schedule as we’re already running late, with a precious few five weeks to be ready for opening night. All this happening while we’re busier than ever in our history with the business so between work, the show, and the puppies at home we’re literally running in the red every single day and loving every minute of it.
While anxiously awaiting tech week we kept an eye on the news, watching with whitened knuckles as the news of a virus making a comeback kept becoming more prevalent. We knew the risks of this large of a group working together, and we knew bad news could come at any second, but we had taken the utmost precautions and thus far had kept everyone safe. Once we made it to tech week, with just a few short days to the show, we figured we were out of the woods.
But we weren’t. As COVID-19 continued to go from bad to worse in our state, on Wednesday, July 27 th, just two days before opening night, Jami made the painful decision to postpone the show. I’ve never sat in the audience at Vive Les Arts and been so overwhelmed with grief. I’ve never seen the entire cast of a show, in full costume and makeup, looking so completely broken. I arrived late to sit with Priscilla in the back while Ava Jane and the rest of the cast sat closer to the stage. Jami Salter, the Artistic Director for the show and Executive Director for the theatre, sat on stage and made the announcement while attempting to control her emotions. It didn’t work as the heartbreak and anger spilled out in her instructions to the cast, a cast that had thus far done such an incredibly impressive job.

 

If you haven’t been to a show at VLA then this should be your first. If you’ve been to shows before but weren’t impressed or moved for some reason, then this should be your first show back. As someone who’s been in and out of this theatre for years, I can tell you that this production has blown me away. And no, that’s not because my daughter is the lead, but because this cast is stacked with talent. While that’s a solid truth, the real difference maker is in our Directors.

 

I formed the committee that interviewed and hired Jami Salter as our new Executive Director. I remember in her interview she said, verbatim: “I know how to make good theatre”, and she wasn’t lying. Watching her work as the Artistic Director has been a pleasure as her attention to detail and her ability to lead a cast of volunteers shows clearly in the quality of the production being put forth. Cameron Dinkens stepped up as the Musical Director and has made this production shine with harmony. A relative newcomer to VLA, Stephanie Smoot, took the role of Choreographer and the movement on stage has never followed a story so well nor brought out the emotion on stage as I’ve seen in these rehearsals. Together, these three have formed the perfect storm of directorial talent.

When the callbacks concluded, around 10 pm on a weeknight I don’t remember, Jami, addressed the group and said she had never had so much talent on stage at one time. She meant it. The task of sorting and deciding who would play what role could not have been easy. But with that emerged a cast that has brought this story to life on a Broadway-level.

 

Matilda’s parents are played by Bill Selby and Erin Riddle. Bill has graced this stage numerous times in all types of roles and does a great job as Mr. Wormwood, a terrible father, and even more terrible businessman. Erin is a living legend of Central Texas Theatre and ignites the stage as the nightmare of a mother in Mrs. Wormwood. Together, they form the perfect dysfunctional family, along with their son, Michael, played poetically by Patrick Whitehead.

 

Mrs. Trunchbull is the true villain in the story and acted beautifully by Jeremy Stallings. In speaking with Jeremy about the role, he channeled a little Monty Python as he prepared for the part of the evil, Olympic hammer-throwing school Headmaster. While horrible in every way, I can’t help but notice Jeremy seems to have a ball playing this wretched woman. The team cast Matilda’s teacher perfectly when they chose Heather Hipp as Ms. Honey, who’s voice and acting talents bring her character to life before your eyes, and the bubbly and joyful Librarian, Mrs. Phelps, glows on stage with Tyran McCall mastering her performance.

 

Of course, I could rave about my daughter all night long. My opinion of her performance would not be a fair or impartial review, so I won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say she holds her own with this stacked cast, but it’s not easy. Talent in any activity makes you level up, and I’ve watched my daughter level up before my very eyes in a very short period of time.

That was the hardest part about that Wednesday night. I couldn’t see her as she was sitting several rows in front of us. I didn’t know what was going through her mind as the announcement was made. I didn’t know how she would react as she’s always been very reserved in her reactions. Even as a baby she didn’t cry, that was just never her thing.

 

 

Then I saw her get up and walk out, leaving the rows of seats and escaping to the hallway towards the lobby. I stepped out after her to call her name as she made it halfway out the door, turning her face to me. The tears streaming down her cheeks told me everything I needed to know. As she threw herself into me I realized that, in eleven years, that’s the first time she’s ever openly cried and reached out. She hates to show weakness, so for her to do so now in a public place let me know just how much this hurt.

This show will go on. This show has to go on. This show is too damn good to not be seen.

 

While we’ve reset the date for August, the news keeps coming through about new COVID-19 case records being set on a daily basis. If this trend continues then an August showing won’t be possible. That will push this show into the next season, which brings about other complexities. Delays on that level make you lose actors, and actors that stay forget lines. This virus has hit the theatre pretty hard and continues to do so, but at some point, this show will go on.

 

The delays and lack of productions have cost the theatre dearly. While I know people out there are hurting, if you can spare a little then please consider donating to the Vive Les Arts Threatre at www.vlakilleen.org. Otherwise, when this show does take the stage (and it will), please trust that we will take the needed precautions and be there to buy a ticket. Even if the house can only be at half occupancy, we’ll need that half, so your attendance would be so very much appreciated.


And take my word for it – you don’t want to miss this show. One way or another, next month or later in the Fall, this show will go on.

 

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About Me
Michael E Linnemann, the President/Broker of Linnemann Realty.

Michael Linnemann

As President / Broker of Linnemann Realty I truly enjoy my life in real estate. Getting here was tough, and I’ve learned a lot in the 23 years that I’ve been in the business. My career has certainly not followed the path of a typical Realtor. As a result, it has provided a wealth of experience that proves very beneficial to my clients.
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