Richard Allen: In praise of live theater

Richard Allen hedshot

Richard Allen

Live theater is, arguably, one of the purest forms of entertainment. I am constantly in awe as I watch individuals far more talented than I bring to life a world using their acting abilities and a few creatively designed set pieces.

As a viewer, I cherish this escape from the mundane.

While a huge fan of the creative arts, I am far more apt to hide behind the scenes, using written words as an escape rather than sharing my talents with a live audience. I was never much at public speaking — to me, bright lights and a theater full of paying customers is the stuff of nightmares. But time and again I watch performers lose themselves in characters, and can’t help but feel a twinge of envy, while at the same time being thankful for those who allow me to live vicariously through their talents.

I’ve spent years writing about theater, watching shows and helping behind the scenes. The biggest take-away from each experience is how amazing the theatrical community is — tight-knit, while still welcoming to newcomers. You’d be hard pressed to find a more compassionate, intelligent, charming and often outright hilarious collection of people.

Theater is a craft, and the actors and actresses in this area treat it with the utmost respect. They help each other when a line is forgotten. They suffer through awkward silences or missed cues with dignity. They even take on roles with no preparation. As the saying goes, “The show must go on!”

Recently, I watched a director take on a rather significant role with no prior preparation after an actor told her — 30 minutes before show time on opening night — that they were stepping down from their role. Armed with a clipboard hiding the script and a group of actors determined that the show must go on, she jumped into the role and never missed a beat. The audience was none the wiser.

In this case the role also involved a gender swap, and the entire cast had to remember to change gender every time the character was addressed — no small feat after three months of rehearsing the lines. It was a testament to how dedicated these individuals are to their craft.

Less serious, but just as fun to witness, are the subtle differences each night of a production. The missed lines, the ad-libbed phrases, seeing actors rolling with the punches and working together, the technical difficulties that the audiences never catch — these are the small tidbits that bring the biggest smiles to my face.

These moments are what I associate most with local theater. I feel lucky to often see productions so many times that I get to see these special moments.

If, like me, you are fascinated by theater but feel as if your place is not on stage, then don’t get discouraged. There are many ways to bring your talents to the stage without ever stepping foot in front of an audience. Local theaters run on volunteers and are always happy to welcome someone new.

You can build sets, paint, clean, run lights, usher, sell tickets, promote via social media and other means, sell concessions, pass out playbills or scan tickets. You can also apply to be a choreographer, director, assistant director, stage manager, prop master, technical director, set designer, musical director, fight choreographer or costume designer.

Of course, it is never too late to be a performer, either. Shows are constantly running in the Charleston area and are always in need of leads and ensemble. It is not unheard of to land a lead role on your very first audition. Even if that is not the case, you can quickly be brought into the fold and make new friends along the way.

For those interested in volunteering, performing or just catching more live theater, please don’t hesitate to contact any of these groups for more information:

Actors Guild of Parkersburg,

Alban Arts Center,

Astral Theatre Collective, astral

Charleston Light Opera Guild, guild

Children’s Theatre of Charleston,

CYAC (Contemporary Youth Arts Company),

First Stage Theatre Company,

HART (Huntington Area Regional Theatre) In the Park,

Kanawha Players,

Richard Allen is a freelance writer who is active in community theater. He resides in Cross Lanes. His short story, “Wasted,” is available in “Deception, a Writing Bloc Anthology,” available on Amazon. He can be contacted at


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