In the beginning, The Cary Players rehearsed in a warehouse and stored props and costumes in garages and attics.
Cary’s longest running and largest community theater company has come a long way since “Our Town,” its first production in 2003.
Today, it considers the much larger Cary Arts Center stage its home. And this weekend, it will launch its 50th production there, the hit musical, “Oklahoma!”
“I had hoped (the Cary Players) would be enduring and last,” said Dan Martschenko, president and founder of The Cary Players. “And I hope it continues to go and do 100 shows some day. There’s been a lot of people showing some love for theater.”
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“Oklahoma!,” which is set in the early 1900s, tells the story of Curly McLain (played by Seth Packham), a cowboy, and his romance with a farm girl named Laurey Williams (played by Randi Winter).
The show will run Friday, Sept. 30, through Sunday, Oct. 2, and Thursday, Oct. 6, through Sunday, Oct. 9.
The 2016-17 season will continue in December with “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”; the “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged/revised)” in February; and “The Mousetrap”, a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery, in late March through early April.
We sat down with Martschenko about how the “family-oriented” theater company got started and its upcoming season.
Q: How did you start the Cary Players?
Martschenko: It was 2001, and I was looking around for a theater company to join, and there wasn’t one in Cary. I was kind of surprised because Cary already had 100,000 people or more back then, and there was no theater company. So I said, “Well how hard can it be to start one?” A lot of people said I was probably nuts for doing it, because it’s a lot of work.
I was surprised how many people came out and wanted to be a part of it. We did our first show in January of 2003. We did “Our Town.” We did a Shakespeare show after that in the spring, and then things kind of fell apart.
We kind of went dark for about a year and a half, and I thought it was going to be the end of it, but then a group of people who thought theater should be what I thought it should be came and said, “Let’s get it going again.” We reorganized and established a set of core values that we agreed on, and those are the values that we have today.
Q: What do you think theater should be?
Martschenko: Theater should be done to entertain. We don’t really look at theater as a means to get a message across or share an agenda. People get enough of that in the world. They need a break from that. They just want to be entertained, so we try to do shows that people want to see.
Some theater companies will do shows that actors want to do or directors want to direct, but not everybody wants to come see those shows, so we try to do shows that we think audiences will love. That formula has worked out. I also don’t believe in pushing the envelope too much. Let’s not making anybody uncomfortable. Let’s just leave them feeling good.
Q: The Cary Players first show was “Our Town” in January 2003. What do you remember about it?
Martschenko: I remember it was a large cast – one of the largest we’ve ever had actually until “Wizard of Oz” (this year). There were long rehearsals, and we had to rehearse in an old warehouse. It was tough because we did (the show) at Green Hope High School, and we had to move in on a Sunday or Monday and we had to open on like a Friday.
It was a very quick turnaround without a whole lot of time on the stage, so it was scary. But the cast was wonderful, and I was surprised how many people came out to see it. It was our very first show, and we had close to 1,000 people come see it. So I thought, “Maybe this could work.”
Q: What challenges have you faced in maintaining the Cary Players?
Martschenko: The tough part was finding space to perform. The Town of Cary was great about that. They didn’t have a space like the Cary Arts Center yet. (The arts center) was the Cary Elementary School, which we actually did a few shows in. We did some at Town Hall. We did some at Sertoma (Arts Center), at the (Herbert C. Young Community Center), at the Page-Walker. You wouldn’t think of them as traditional theater venues, but we made them work.
That was challenging, and then also finding a place to put our stuff. We had stuff in people’s garages, in their attics. Nowell’s Furniture was great for letting us store some of our set pieces behind their furniture store. Now we have our own warehouse and set show, which is just about a mile away from (the Cary Arts Center). But finding space, being nomadic in nature for so many years, it was a challenge.
Q: How has the Cary Players evolved over the years?
Martschenko: You’d be amazed how many people just are interested in being a part of it. I’m always amazed at that. We’ve probably had over 2,000 unique individuals come out and either volunteer or be in the show or help out behind the scenes at one time or another.
We’ve had excellent members of our board of directors come out and really contribute in huge ways, and so over the years, I’ve almost been able to sort of sit back and watch the machine function and work without me having to grind the crank all the time. I’ve got great people involved.
Q: With “Oklahoma!” coming up, what do you like about the musical?
Martschenko: I like it because it is a traditional theater production, and as our 50th show, we wanted to do something to sort of symbolize what we were about. We do traditional theater here. We try to bring back some of the old classics that people may not have seen in awhile that are still great. Rodgers and Hammerstein – you really can’t go wrong with that.
When it came out, it was a little edgy for its time, but now it’s pretty mild. I like the big dance numbers, the big songs and a big cast full of just lovable people onstage and off.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon
When: 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, Oct. 1, 6, 7 and 8; 3 p.m. on Oct. 2 and 9
Where: Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary
Tickets: $20 for adults; $18 for students and seniors; $17 per person for groups of 10 or more; and $20 at the door.