It has been 21 years since Footlights was originally conceptualized. Mom and I directed a show with our homeschool group in a local church called “Sendin Out Love” for a holiday performance. (I still remember the songs!) We would often talk about her ideas and projects she wanted to do. They all seemed to have something in common; artistic merit. As a young person with less literary and worldly knowledge, she would often suggest shows I have never heard of. We even put on a play her father, Larry Shepherd, wrote based on the life of Lottie Moon (who I had also never heard of) She always managed to pique my curiosity while also growing my knowledge base and educating me at the same time as including me. I loved that about her. She would never make you feel stupid but instead she would sell the unfamiliar to me as a new and exciting journey. I was mostly homeschooled and enjoyed hours upon hours of violin practice, reading books, writing essays, songwriting, and going places with her. Those enriching experiences shaped the person that I am.
Because of her curious nature and her adventurous spirit, I continue to find projects that challenge people while still continuing to produce familiar and popular stories as well. It is that balance of something old and something new that offers variety, growth, and familiarity in a season. There is absolutely nothing wrong with theatre companies that consistently create one genre of theatre. Some companies make a name for themselves by doing that. Always creating Shakespeare or straight plays or musicals is a great way to find your niche and stick with what you are good at. But for me as a co founder, I feel strongly that community theatre needs to strive to serve everyone in the community. I have some performers who are excellent comedians but don’t love to sing. I have some songbird performers who prefer not to participate in straight plays. I have senior citizens who enjoys the golden age of stage by participating in Rogers and Hammerstein or Cohen works and young who prefer more modern or contemporary plays.
Meanwhile, I sit here at the helm listening to all of those suggestions, looking into the licensing costs, production costs, marketability, timeline, and team needed to make it happen. Sometimes it’s hard because I won’t always make decisions that everyone agrees with. In some cases, they may not see the vision in my work. Sometimes people make suggestions without considering the practicality of it or the cost of it. Sometimes people make suggestions without realizing the production or the execution side of it. Peter Pan requires rigging to allow people to fly and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang requires a full size model of an antique car with wings!
I understand that some seasons just need good old pageants like Oz that are a celebration of the familiar but it’s important to remember that sometimes we need to grow ourselves as audience members and explore something new. So essentially I’m asking you to take a chance on me and trust that this Captain will not sail you into the Bermuda Triangle! As ABBA sang, “take a chance on me”. As The Rolling Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”
Kristi Kargic is executive director for Footlights Community Theater based in Athens, AL. She is an elementary teacher with a lifelong love of performing arts. She strives to provide art in her home community at little to no cost to participants. Kristi is a published poet, playwright, and performing musician. Her motto is "if you build it, they will come."