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Summer theater

Jul 26, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Its return this week is welcome; now, can it be sustained?

It's wonderful that the once-promising tradition of summer theater in Riverton is being rekindled this summer.

Central Wyoming College is staging "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" this week and weekend. It's an engrossing play by the volatile Edward Albee, made more so by the intimate staging in the dance studio at the arts center on campus.

Summer theater can be a delight, and this production is commended enthusiastically to our readers. See it any night this week or on Sunday afternoon.

Beyond that, it raises hope that a summer theater program might take root again. Many in Fremont County will recall the enjoyment of a previous summer theater effort, funded in part by the late Margaret Peck and carrying her name. It lasted for a few seasons before falling victim to the challenge of finding a skilled production staff that was willing to work the summer hours required to stage the shows (there usually were two, with the same cast performing both plays).

The best-qualified people to do it were CWC theater faculty, and eventually they found it difficult to obligate themselves for most of their summer year after year. Finding a cast of young professionals, supplemented by the best students from the CWC theater program, always was possible, but there were matters of money and commitment there as well.

Audiences appreciated it, and entertaining, mostly light-hearted plays such as "The Fantastiks," "Forever Plaid" and "The Rainmaker" drew modest but consistent crowds during the monthlong run of the summer program.

We haven't been entirely without summer theater since the Margaret Peck troupe closed up shop following the departure of the original director to a permanent job out of state. Lander's summer Shakespeare company has been a positive presence, and small productions by local performers through the Fremont County Library and other entities have appeared now and again.

A critical eye soon will be trained on "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" off the stage to evaluate how successful it was and whether future summer productions might follow.

The way to ensure the success this week is to buy a ticket and see the show. In the longer term, it could be asked whether the various and separate summer theater efforts might be combined to form a larger, cohesive summer package, perhaps in conjunction with Riverton Rendezvous, Lander Pioneer Days, South Pass Gold Rush Days, the Fremont County Fair -- or all of them.

Successful summer theater operations in other places do a considerable amount of local fundraising from individuals and business sponsors. Often they use different performance venues, including parks, bars and restaurants, street corners and schools, in addition to their main stage spaces.

At its best, summer theater becomes a local tradition well supported by the host community that also attracts visitors through planned trips and by happy coincidence when they are traveling through town. And we have a proven "traveling through town" location as a main route to the two great national parks in our state.

Organized summer theater was a marvelous thing when we had it, and many got the feeling that personnel changes slowed its momentum just at the point when it might have taken off and become a long-term staple of the community.

This all might be more than the community could support or manage, but an examination of the logistics could be worthwhile. And for now, it's good to have people of talent and drive behind "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" this year. Perhaps it can be a spark for something more substantial in the future.

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