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Local theater veterans share tales of first love

Here is the fourth round of a continuing series of local theater veterans sharing their stories about the shows and experiences that made them fall in love with live theater:

Josh Fleming, Canfield

My love of theater has been something I’ve shared with my family. We lived about an hour from New York City in New Jersey, and I saw many Broadway and touring shows like “Chicago,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Lestat.”

My parents love live theater and have always pushed and encouraged the art form. I went to a local college theater camp in New Jersey called Tomato Patch, and I’ve just always carried that with me.

Now I love sharing my passion with community theaters such as The Millennial Theatre Company and Rust Belt Theater Company and also having attended Youngstown State University for musical theater. I’m going on nine years of shows with Rust Belt come October.

Lynda Gaug, Long Island, N.Y.,

formerly of Champion

I fell in love with theater through my mother’s participation with Goodyear Musical Theatre in Akron. She was Parthy in a production of “Showboat” when I was 9.

I went to every rehearsal and knew everyone’s lines, songs and choreography and could have covered for any role (however ridiculous that might have been).

She went on to be in many shows there, and I loved them all.

While living in Champion, I was active in theater at Willoughby Fine Arts, Cleveland Opera, Trumbull New Theatre, Backdoor, Kent State University Trumbull Campus and Fishline Productions. I worked with some amazingly creative people and think we did some wonderful productions together.

I now live on Long Island, N.Y., and am still active in theater.

Cher Halas, Austintown

Although I was happy to be part of my high school production of “You Can’t Take It with You,” I didn’t want that experience to end there. Time passed. I began attending live productions, mainly at the Youngstown Playhouse. They were amazing. I wanted to be involved, but I was too shy to audition. So instead, I just went to them, observed and learned.

Finally, I summoned up my courage. I auditioned for “Life with Father.” I was cast as Maid No. 2. I had two lines in a two-hour-plus show, but that was two too many.

I was captivated by the talented director, the hustle and bustle of the stage manager and crew, by the awesome performances of my fellow actors and the sheer energy of it all.

To this day, whether it’s as a member of an audience or as a cast member, that connection that happens is unique. Especially as an actor, to be able to have a part in helping others think, feel, laugh, cry, see themselves or perhaps see “outside of themselves” is a blessing.

The draw of live theater, for me, was not a one-time event. To participate in it is an ongoing privilege. I am so looking forward to when we can all be together again.

Frank Martin, Boardman

When I was a kid, my school would occasionally take us on field trips to the Youngstown Playhouse to see a Youth Theater production, which was always nice.

Then in the spring of 1982, when I was 12, my mother took me to see “The Desert Song” at the Carousel Dinner Theater in Ravenna, and my exposure to live theater began to soar. Over the next several years, we saw many shows at the Carousel — “Anything Goes,” “Annie,” “Evita,” “South Pacific,” just to name a few. My favorite was a 1985 production of “The Student Prince,” which my mother and I went to see thrice.

It was during this time that my love for the theater grew and made me want to be a part of it, starting with playing Snoopy in a live version of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Since then, I haven’t looked back, as I continued to be involved in theater throughout high school and college and still do so to this day.

I will always be thankful to my mother and cherish the memories of seeing all those wonderful shows at the Carousel.

Susi Thompson, Columbiana

You could say I’m part of the fourth generation of theater lovers in my family. But my mom is the main reason for my love. In the late ’50s my grandparents started visiting NYC regularly to see the latest musicals. They would buy two Broadway cast albums, one for themselves and one for my mother because they knew she loved theater too.

I grew up listening to all of these wonderful musicals. I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, singing and dancing around our living room to “Two Ladies” from “Cabaret.” We lived in Charleston, S.C., then and I was around 6 or 7 when Mom took me to see “The Student Prince” at the Dock Street Theatre. I was so impressed with all those men in fancy uniforms and women in beautiful dresses dancing around the stage.

Then she took me to see “Porgy and Bess,” also at the Dock Street Theatre. It was the first time it had been performed in Charleston. At that young age, I didn’t know the significance of that. I just remember being mesmerized by the powerful voices and emotions.

After we moved back to the Youngstown area, mom and I continued going to community theaters and touring company shows that came to Youngstown, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and later taking trips to see the shows on Broadway.

So when I got to Youngstown State University and took a theater class for a humanities elective, I wound up volunteering to work on costumes, then backstage crew and eventually on stage and then years later stage managing and directing.

Now I’m a volunteer and member of the board of The Youngstown Playhouse, continuing to love live theater and trying to keep it alive.

To share your story about falling in love with the theater, email Andy Gray at agray@tribtoday.com.

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