It sounds a little like the plot to an old movie: people band together and pool their skills to put on a show, hoping to save their town — or maybe just make things a bit better for everybody.
Southern Coalition for the Arts in Logan is trying that. This weekend they open their production of “Shrek the Musical.” Based on the popular animated film, a Broadway musical version was nominated for eight Tony awards and won the prize for “Best Costume Design.”
A touring production has traveled across the country and around the world. Over the last year or so, a few community theater companies have picked up “Shrek the Musical,” but it’s not cheap. Securing the rights and renting costumes or a set can run thousands of dollars.
“We’ve already spent close to $11,000 and we’re going to have about $15,000 in the show before it’s all over,” said Josh Butcher, who plays the villainous Lord Fuqua.
That’s really not much more than their basic costs, which would be a tough pill to swallow for a larger theater company in say, Charleston.
Over the last few months, Southern Coalition for the Arts has tirelessly fund-raised, as well as sought sponsorship to mount the production. They also got a lot of help from the community itself.
Logan’s City Council stepped in to pay for the rental and maintenance fees for the old Coalfield Jamboree Theater. The town’s mayor, Serafino Nolletti, has declared September in Logan as “Shrektember.”
“I think it’s great what they’re doing,” the mayor said.
“We have this local theater that hasn’t been used as much as it could be and they want to do this — I think it’s great for Logan.”
Nolletti added that he’d visited other communities and had seen that a lot of towns, some of them smaller than Logan, also had local theater.
“I guess we’ve been behind,” he laughed. “Maybe now we’ll catch up a little.”
In town, windows in area businesses have been decorated with a Shrek theme. Two local bakeries are offering show-related goods and the Hot Cup coffee house in Logan has a “mud swamp” drink fans can get.
“We’re calling it the Swamp Mud Smoothie,” said Michael Cline, owner of the Hot Cup. “It’s a blend of white chocolate, hazelnut and salted almond — and it’s green.”
“Whenever there’s been a need, someone has stepped in and said, ‘we’ll sponsor that. We’ll do that,’” said Jamie Butcher, the managing director for Southern Coalition for the Arts.
A show about the not-so-jolly green giant and his musical misadventures in the land of Far, Far Away might sound like a strange thing for a coal mining community like Logan to embrace, but Butcher said people are hungry for it. They want quality entertainment where they live.
“Go big or go home, right?” Butcher laughed.
She also added that while the people involved with the production are technically amateur, almost all of the principle actors have some sort of theater or performance background. Some have degrees in stagecraft or they minored in theater in college. Almost all of them have been involved with local theater for years.
“We wanted to put together a production where these people could use the talents they have the way they want to use them,” she said.
Southern Coalition for the Arts used to be a companion program with Appalachian Children’s Theater.
“Appalachian Children’s Theater was a program here where school kids could audition for shows,” Butcher said.
“They would do more workshop style shows and the schools would bring them to see these productions.”
Southern Coalition for the Arts, made up of adults, participated in shows, but also helped with fundraising.
Butcher explained that all changed after the Logan County Board of Education began pushing for more school theater without relying on outside programs.
“That left a group of theater people with theater degrees looking for something to do,” she said.
So, the group focused on mounting their own production downtown — which, like a lot of small towns, seemed ripe for revitalization.
“If you come to Logan, most of the businesses shut down at 4:30,” Butcher said. “You won’t see a car downtown much later.”
In deciding to expand their role, Southern Coalition for the Arts looked at other theaters in other towns, like Lewisburg, which has the venerable Greenbrier Valley Theater.
Having a viable theater with regular performances, Butcher said, could give people a reason to come into town more often.
“There are a lot of old buildings in Logan that are just being torn down,” she said.
“But we’ve got a great theater. The Coalfield Jamboree Theater isn’t on any historic registries yet, but it could be one day.”
They chose “Shrek the Musical” because it was family friendly and familiar.
“It had a story and name Logan residents would recognize,” she said.
The show also just looked like a lot of fun.
Even with opening night still days away on Friday, Butcher said the show is already a success.
“We’ve already pre-sold 500 tickets.”
“Shrek the Musical” will be performed at the Coalfield Jamboree Theater on Friday and Saturday, then again on September 12 and 13, with a Sunday matinee on September 14.
Tickets for the show are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for students and can be purchased through Southern Coalition for the Arts website www.southerncoalitionarts.com.
Shrek is just the beginning for the arts group. The group is working on a haunted attraction during the Halloween season and is making plans for some kind of Christmas show.
“We know this isn’t going to be The Clay Center,” she said. “We’ve all been there to see a production, but we hope to one day do a full season with season tickets and get people used to the idea of coming to downtown Logan for quality entertainment.”
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.