Our actors have the great privilege of being recognized for their work in the curtain call. But for each actor, there are many more people backstage moving sets, collecting props, balancing sound levels, adjusting lights, and just generally making the show happen. They are our Unsung Heroes. This month's "Unsung Hero" is Renee Mahon Davis, our wonderful artistic director!
What does being Artistic Director entail?
There are quite a few responsibilities as Artistic Director. One of the primary jobs include helping to select the shows for each season. I meet with a play reading committee who scour through scripts that have been submitted by CLT directors.
I also hold regular meetings with all of the CLT directors in which we discuss concerns or address issues. I report all of that information back to the Board of Directors.
Another major part of this position is to oversee the CLT Apprentice Program, which allows up and coming directors to learn the ins and outs of all aspects of a production. Soon-to-be directors must successfully serve as a stage manager, a producer, and an assistant director before that are able to direct a main stage production at CLT.
How long have you been involved with CLT?
This year is my 35th year with Community Little Theatre. My whole family joined when my sister and I auditioned for the musical Annie... my sister, Michelle was cast in the lead role. I was not cast at all. It’s a rather depressing story. But, hey, I’m still here!
My whole family stayed involved, both behind the scenes and on stage. My very first “role” was the sacrificial goat in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
What other roles have you performed in the theater?
I am also currently the chair of makeup at CLT. Behind the scenes I have directed, assistant directed, stage managed, produced and ran props. I was also a former Board member.
What are some of the challenges you face as Artistic Director?
Dealing with disagreements and conflict among directors is what I think is the biggest challenge. Another challenge is making sure directors have all the resources available for their production.
What’s your life like outside the theater?
I’m a busy mother to two wonderful boys: Noah will be a senior in high school and Connor will start middle school. Both are wonderful musicians, but have yet to really catch the theater bug (Connor is getting there, though).
I have been a Middle School social studies teacher and drama coach for over twenty years.
You’re seen often singing and/or acting in shows, any favorite roles?
On stage, I’ve had the opportunity to play lots of fun roles. My favorite role of all time was Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. I love to play the comedic roles if I can.
How has CLT affected your life?
This may sound cheesy, but CLT, played an enormous role in shaping who I am today. I mean, I was 10 years old when my family immersed itself into this theater family!
Most people don’t realize that I am an extreme introvert and quite shy in “the real world,” but onstage I can be absolutely anybody, and I always fully dive into whatever character I play.
Some of my oldest and dearest friends, who are really more like family, are from this theater.
If you could have the chance to be a part of any show, why would it be that show and what role would you want to fulfill?
I have two dream roles. One is Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She is such a dark and sinister character...and so incredibly arrogant. A character like Lovett would allow me to play both comedy and drama...not to mention, I would be singing Sondheim.
My second dream role is Anna from The King and I. I am a huge Rodger’s and Hammerstein fan. While it’s not the typical comedic role I would usually try out for, the character encompasses a passion that I would love to be able to explore on stage someday.
Why do you think community theatre is an asset to our communities?
Well, the word “community” is right in our name. I remember years and years ago, there was a committee formed to consider changing our name because some members felt the name “Community Little Theatre” gave off a negative vibe...that we were just a rinky-dink group putting on low-quality shows when compared to the other theater groups in the state.
Well, people who have seen our shows can attest to the fact that we put on some pretty high quality productions. Over the years, our organization has participated in parades, festivals, and trade shows. We have offered workshops, scholarships and celebrations. For nearly 80 years, this theater has embodied all for which the word community stands.
Jake Boyce, Choreographer
How long have you been involved with CLT?
I’ve been involved with CLT since summer 2014 when I was hired as the choreographer for the Youth and Teen Musical Theatre Programs. That summer I also assistant choreographed and performed in Hairspray, so I was at CLT from dusk till dawn right from the start since I had the camps from 9 am to 4 pm and then rehearsal from 6-9 and then ‘post rehearsal rehearsal’ from 9 to whenever! Why do you feel dancing important when it comes to theatre?
I think movement is so important to theatre because movement is a language just as much as speech is language. I love to explore movement in theatre, and not just in musicals! For straight shows, I think just breaking down movement into a basic language can bring up many different things for actors - “What happens if we try the scene squatting, or we pace… let’s try the scene again only this time, what emotions come up for you when you say the monologue covering your eyes?” There are so many different things to try. In musical theatre, dancing and movement is so important to help further the plot, and of course at times, to bring that magic to the stage. People acting, singing, AND dancing?! Magic. What is your life like outside of the theatre?
“I don’t understand the question, and I won’t respond to it.” This quote from Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development is the first thing that came to my head! When I’m not driving up and down the interstate bouncing from rehearsal to rehearsal, I’m working in Special Education at Falmouth Elementary School. When I’m not doing that, I’m working on my drag persona (Chartreuse), planning Haus Chaise Couleé events (please ask me about this!) and enjoying time with my boyfriend Cameron (who I met during a dance audition at CLT!!) and my amazing mother and father. Has there been a production you’ve liked choreographing best?
Oh my goodness, not this question! I really enjoyed choreographing Chicago here at CLT back in 2016! Fosse’s work is such a treat, and getting to take my knowledge and understanding of his movement and not only re-stage some of it, but create my own interpretation was truly an experience I’ll forever be grateful for - and the cast was STELLAR! I also loved choreographing Urinetown here at CLT - I saw the show when I was in college, and it was when I was sitting in the audience watching it that I decided I wanted to be a musical theatre choreographer! You can also be seen acting and singing on stage, any favorite roles?
Last season I played Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakening at Lyric Music Theater in South Portland, and it was an absolute dream role! And of course, playing Jack in Into The Woods here at CLT was a wonderful experience, any chance to work with Sondheim’s material is a gift! What are some challenges you have to deal with when choreographing a show?
I think one of the biggest challenges is finding movement that everyone is going to feel comfortable doing, and also look good doing! I approach any process knowing that I will be working with people who have maybe never danced before, and those people are standing next to dancers who have years of experience under their belts! This is a challenge, but it’s where the real sense of community comes into play. I have to think about the four C’s! How can we as a team work together to find the perfect balance of comfortably, confidence, creativity, and cohesiveness? It’s truly one of my favorite parts about the process - when that light-bulb goes off for an actor or actress, and suddenly they understand their body in the movement. That’s when the real work begins, that’s when they can move forward and say “I’ve got this!” I love that. Do you have any upcoming productions that you’ll be working on?
Well currently, I’m the fight choreographer for 12 Angry Men here at CLT! I’m also choreographing Rocky for Equality in Augusta which I am super excited about! I’ll also be choreographing Music Man and Avenue Q here this season, as well as a bunch of other productions all over! If you had the ability to perform with any Broadway actor or actress, who would it be?
Oh my god, stop it! I would definitely want to sing with Cynthia Erivo. And any chance I could get to work with an ensemble of Broadway children would be life changing - these kids on Broadway are mega stars, they have so much to teach me!! How has being a part of CLT affected your life?
I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people at CLT. I love coming here and seeing the sense of community all over - generations of families have invested their time and money and love into this theatre, and it is so clear. I love feeling that I am a part of history of this theatre!
Sophie Messina, Social Media Coordinator
So Sophie, your first appearance on stage was technically in utero. Your mom choreographed CLT's first Into the Woods in the summer of 1997. What was the first show you appeared in or worked on?
My first actual show on stage was with Seussical Jr in the Summer Youth Program. My first backstage job was working on 9 to 5 running the Spotlight.
You have performed on stage quite a bit, but you have also been working behind the scenes. What are some of the roles you have performed backstage?
Spotlight, of course, and on the past few straight shows I have worked as Assistant Stage Manager and Props. For Boeing Boeing, I have been promoted to stage manager. I have also prompted for a few shows and just recently, I was approached to be CLT's Social Media Coordinator. What about that position appealed to you?
I was asked by Danielle Eaton, CLT's Marketing Chairperson, during Prelude to A Kiss and I was really excited to do it. I think Social Media is key for marketing nowadays. It is becoming the primary way that most people get their information, both patrons and actors alike. I think it is a better way for people to see the "behind the scenes aspects," too. It's easier to show that online - rather than on a poster or in the newspaper or other print media. We can capture more information and potentially reach a larger audience.
You are currently a student at USM. What are you studying?
I am a psych major with a theater minor. I hope that the theater minor will help me with both tech and backstage capacities as well as on stage opportunities. We need the younger generation to get involved here so that we can continue the quality and standards of our productions. What do you hope to do for work once you graduate?
Oh goodness. Well, I would like to be a mental health counselor but also hopefully still doing community theater. I don't know if I will still be here in LA because a lot depends on where I go to grad school. If things work out, I would love to be back here! What kinds of things do you like to do when you are not at the theater?
I am pretty much always at the theater - or it certainly feels like it. I am part of my school's jazz ensemble and I do several performances around L/A, including a 60's concert at the Franco Center. School takes up the majority of my time but I get to stay involved in the theater through social media. What has been your favorite role at CLT and why?
Performing on stage had always been my favorite. In high school, I was a part of at least 3-4 shows a year and it really helped me to learn and to try new things. Now that I've graduated and am getting older, I'll have more opportunities to take on larger roles and step out of my comfort zone. I love being involved in social media and speaking up for my generation. I feel it's a really important thing that the youth of CLT are looked at seriously and have a chance to be a part of a show in different ways. I have tried a little bit of everything over the past few years, which I really like. I hope to continue to challenge myself that way. Do you have any favorite behind the scenes moments to share?
I love taking pictures of shows in general and with every show there are moments that are permanent and special to me. My first actual role with CLT was Hairspray in 2014 and I played Penny Pingleton. That show was a lot of hard work but it also got me to challenge myself and become the performer I am today. Recently, I was the Dragon in Shrek and that felt really important to me because I got a chance to really showcase my voice. It was also the last show I did before going off to college so it was also important performing with people I consider special in my life. Do you have any dream roles or positions that you hope to perform some day?
For dream roles - Sophie in Mamma Mia and Cathy in The Last 5 Years. Backstage, I would like to be on the Board and maybe even be President some day. If I could be part of the directors program someday, I would absolutely take that chance, but I'm still a few years off. Why do you think community theater is an asset to our communities?
I think CLT is important because we have a wide variety of talented people who don't want to do this for their work life, but they do want to perform and produce. Theater is an important part of their lives - and they both want and need to share that. It is multi generational, too - you can do it at any age! It also integrates many artistic skills and combines it with a great variety of people - and the best part is that we become a family. Everyone involved becomes important to us and we enjoy working together again and again. CLT also has the ability to provide affordable entertainment right here in our own communities.