Home Grown and Locally SourcedJul 26, 2017 ● By Christi Redfearn
Jack Scott and Doug Zambiasi decided to produce “The Music Man” by Meredith Wilson, not realizing the production needed 65 actors, a lot of costumes and elaborate lighting and sound. The first performance was held in the Frisco High School gymnasium on April 12, 1985. The play was a success and the group soon realized they needed a permanent place to perform, so then mayor John Clanton helped the group convert the old youth center on Camellia Lane. It was built in the 1950s, was originally an open-air pavilion and had been empty for some time. Frisco Community Theatre performed countless productions, but in 2007, they had a plumbing incident that required the fire department to come out to turn off the water. When they did, they also said the building was no longer safe to occupy. The community theatre was suddenly without a stage.
Leadership for the group was assumed by Howard Korn around the same time and the group continued to perform in Plano and various temporary spaces in Frisco, trying to raise money and find a place to call home once again. Their efforts to keep moving forward paid off when, in October 2010, the Frisco Discovery Center opened and with it, the Black Box Theater became an option for performances.
The group opened Black Theatre with a production of “Forever Plaid.” “At that time, Frisco was not known as a theater center. We posted an audition notice for a four-person play. Two actors showed up. Happily, they both could sing, so we hired them and then I went around to find two other singers,” Mr. Korn recalls of trying to find the right actors for the show.
Compare that to their most recent show in June, “Evita,” where Theatre Frisco (re-named at the beginning of 2017) needed 20 actors for the production and 70 people showed up to audition. “The word is out that we do a good job. We treat the actors right and we sell out the audiences. Actors like to play to full houses,” Mr. Korn adds.
Neale Whitmore joined the group in its second year of existence for a production of “The Fantasticks.” “Since then, I have directed all the musicals for them and then I joined the board of directors after a few years. Last year, they made me the artistic director,” Mr. Whitmore says of his increasing activity with the group. “I have directed one or two shows every season for the last five years.”
The group currently puts on four shows a year — three plays and one musical. Mr. Korn says, “Musicals are very expensive. Our hope is that we can get to two musicals a year.” Mr. Whitmore says about deciding which plays to perform, “We have a committee I head up and we come in with favorites we would like to do. Then, by a process of elimination, we narrow it down.”
The group tries to get the next year’s lineup to be announced by the third show of the current season, but that is not as easy as it sounds. “We have to secure the rights for shows. We also have to coordinate with other theater groups around so we do not duplicate shows,” Mr. Whitmore says. “The other thing is getting dates. You cannot license a show without specific dates. Once upon a time, getting dates at Black Box was not a problem. Now, the theater has gotten so popular, there is a lot of competition for dates. We are probably the biggest user. For our four shows each year, we do 10 performances of each show, and we have a monthly improv show,” Mr. Korn adds. “Hopefully, we will have another venue one of these days, where we can have a little more flexibility. Now, they [the city] are at least talking about it. That is something they were not doing before. I have worked with government many times over my career and you just have to work it and be persistent.”
If you find yourself interested in performing with Theatre Frisco, be on the lookout on social media and the local theater audition sites. “We post auditions about six weeks before the show announcement and then do auditions about six weeks before the first rehearsal,” Mr. Whitmore says. “We get people from all over the metroplex now.” That means they can be a bit selective and choose actors with significant talent and resumes.
What are some of the perks of going to a show put on by Theatre Frisco? “We use live musicians,” Mr. Korn says. “That is expensive, but it really adds so much more to the quality of the show.” Both Mr. Korn and Mr. Whitmore add that they have free parking, moderate ticket prices and it is local, so no need to drive all the way home from downtown Dallas after the show is over.
“Crimes of the Heart,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning show, written by a local Southern Methodist University graduate, will be the next production for Theatre Frisco. “It is a funny show,” Mr. Korn says. “We do family-friendly shows. Our improv is family-friendly. The dirty stuff is not for our audience,” he adds. “I am wanting to push the envelope a little bit to be more edgy … to challenge the audience a little and attract younger people,” Mr. Whitmore says. The group knows their fan base is generally senior citizens and families, but they want to widen that base … gradually.
Thanks to donors, grants and more, the group continues to do well. “We could not do it on ticket sales alone,” Mr. Korn adds. “We are committed to being a community asset and you cannot do that while raising prices.” If you are interested in donating, you can visit theatrefrisco.com. They also have inserts in their programs to allow people to join as members, if they choose.
Regarding the group’s improv performances, Bob Zak says, “About five years ago, we were trying to broaden the fan base. We came up with the idea of doing clean improv and I had a background in it.” They ran with the idea and the community has taken to it. An audition occurred when the group first started up and they had their players. About two years later, there was a little turnover, so another audition was held, but it has primarily consisted of the same players the whole five years. The Frisco Improv Players do a monthly show and perform at corporate events. In all, they perform about 20-25 times per year. “The corporate shows are a lot of fun because they are almost always situations where everyone knows each other. We do a lot of volunteer games at those shows. They go over well because people love to see their co-workers in slightly awkward situations,” Mr. Zak says. At Black Box Theater, you can expect some comedy games with audience participation. “Everything is made up on the fly,” Mr. Zak adds. Skits are made up, and they work in lines from the audience. It is like a live game of Mad Libs™.
Mr. Zak came to Theatre Frisco as an actor in the group’s traditional plays. He later became a board member. The Frisco Improv Players not only offer hilarious performances, but they offer training classes. Mr. Zak partners with the Frisco Library. “I work with middle and high schoolers, free of charge, during the school year and during the summer.” He would, one day, like to work with the schools to create improv leagues where schools can compete against each other.
The Frisco Improv Players have two shows coming up on July 8 and July 29. It is a fun time! You may even leave with a few cramps in your side from laughing so hard.
Theatre Frisco provides an artistic entertainment option for an evening out. They are locally grown and locally sourced, and they would love to see you laughing along in their audience sometime soon!