On Friday the curtain will once again rise up at the historic Denair theater, with organizers hoping it is the start of a new era of community productions for the area.
The Gaslight Community Conservatory Theater is staging the West Coast premiere of “Sleepy Hollow’s Legend,” written by South Carolina playwright Christofer Cook and directed by Merced College Theatre Arts Professor and Denair resident Josh Morriston.
“This is one of my favorite stories, ever,” said Morriston. “It originally featured a cast of 20, but we needed something smaller, so we went back to the playwright and he pared it down for us.”
The show features a cast of nine adult players with a few youth as supporting cast members. It marks the first time the stage will see a show featuring adult cast members since the production of “Once Upon a Mattress” in 2012.
“The Gaslight is a community based theater, and we do productions based on the interest of our community,” said Gaslight Community Conservatory Theater Board Member Patty Chesney. “It has only been as of late, that the appeal to the adult actors has been significant enough to fill an entire cast of characters. It is our hope that this is the beginning of many adult acted shows back at the Gaslight.
“The Board feels this is a wonderful turning point in the future of the theater, not only for the actors but for the patrons that come to the theater to enjoy all different types of entertainment,” Chesney said.
“Sleepy Hollow’s Legend" stars Patrick Walker as Ichabod Crane, Paige Day as Katrina Van Tassel, and former Turlock City Council member Kurt VanderWeide as the Headless Horseman.
For some of the cast, such as Day, taking to the stage at the Gaslight is like returning home.
“I’ve been doing theater in Denair since I was eight, so when I heard they were looking to fill the roles for this production I took the chance,” Day said. “I’ve grown up on this stage.”
Cast member Teri Johns said her memories of the Gaslight have been from the seats and watching her son perform in various shows over the years. Now, it’s her turn to take the stage.
“I feel very fortunate to be a part of this first show,” Johns said. “I feel like we are ushering in a new era.”
The tale of the Headless Horseman has plenty of chills woven into it, but this version is fit for youngsters as well.
“Although the play brings all the mystery and drama of Sleepy Hollow, it maintains a family-friendly script — the type of script the Gaslight is known for,” said Board member Annette Jackson.
Helming the show is Morriston, who himself has had a turn up on the Gaslight’s boards and is thrilled to help with the revival of community theater in Denair.
“My hope is to see the community rally around the theater and that this will be the start of lots of new things for the Gaslight,” Morriston said.
Just because the Gaslight’s Board is taking a turn at community theater doesn’t mean they have abandoned their youth programs. The Gaslight has two youth programs, Starmites, a youth acting program, and Sparks a youth dance program. The Starmite program averages about three shows a year and Sparks dance program has two recitals a year.
“The Board at the Gaslight Theater is fully committed to the success of the youth programs,” Chesney said.
The theater is already planning the next youth show with a production of “A Christmas Carol.” Auditions are from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24, 25, and 26. The Board is looking for actors ages 8-18. Rehearsals begin Nov. 7 and are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, with no rehearsals the week of Nov. 14. This is a community production and there is no cost to participate. Performances are Dec. 9, 10, 11.
“Sleepy Hollow’s Legend” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Oct. 28, and 29 and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors and are available at www.showtix4u. All shows will be at the Gaslight Theater at 3908 N. Gratton Road.
The Board is currently looking to fill the position of Starmite youth acting director. Anyone interested in becoming a part of the team at the Gaslight Theater should send their resume to the GaslightConservatory@gmail.com.