Theater group to mark anniversary with Thornton Wilder classic

Twenty years ago four Benton residents called a meeting to form a community theater organization.

Those founders — Gayla McCoy, Ray Baxter, the late Bob Carson and the late Fred Wingfield —believed that such an organization was needed in Benton and that with the right leadership, it could succeed.

Previous efforts to form such a group had not been successful, but Carson especially was certain that the timing was right to form the group.

The founding members' determination paid off and in August 1994 the first meeting of the Central Arkansas Community Players took place.

As part of the organizational effort, the group met with Robert Deaton, a friend of Carson, who had directed numerous theatrical productions.

Deaton recommended that the organization choose a play, cast it and present it to get the organization off the ground. The play selected was Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and Deaton was chosen to direct the show. It was presented the following October at Benton High School's Butler Auditorium.

Numerous residents responded to the invitation to attend the first meeting and became charter members of the group, which later became the Royal Players. The debut play was partially cast in that initial meeting.

The name change for the group came about in 2000 when Jerry Van Dyke, then-owner of the Royal Theatre, passed on ownership of the theater to the local theater group. The Royal Players was the group's name from that point forward.

As a tribute to its original start with the 1994 production of "Our Town," that play is being reprised to commemorate the group's 20th anniversary.

The production, to be directed by Lisa Goodrich, is scheduled Oct. 9-12 and Oct. 16-19.

Auditions were recently conducted and the play has been cast, Goodrich said.

"It's going to be a wonderful show," she said. "We've got a great cast and we're really excited."

The cast includes the following:
•Stage Manager-Donna Johnston 
•George Gibbs - Michael Bartholmey
•Emily Webb - Hillary Bell
•Dr. Gibbs - Jeff Miller
•Mrs. Gibbs - Melanie Allen
•Mr. Webb - Jim Troillett
•Mrs. Webb - Daphne Shoppach
•Mrs. Soames - Courtney Fose
•Simon Stimson - Randall Earnest
•Rebecca Gibbs - Sarah Guinee
•Wally Webb - Matthew McCallister
•Howie Newsome - Ryan Lynch
•Joe Crowell Jr. - Dakota Leslie
•Si Crowell - Zack Glover
•Professor Willard - Tom Windham
•Constable Warren - Paul Johnston
•Sam Craig - Brian Roberson
•Joe Stoddard -Tom Windham
•Ensemble -Tye Davis, Jeana Hutson, Ryan Lynch and Cassie Lovell.

Tye Davis is the understudy for Michael Bartholmey in the role of George Gibbs, and Cassie Lovell is the understudy for Hillary Bell in the role of Emily Webb.