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Arts: Casting calls go unanswered so community theater will disband

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

There is no curtain at the Murrells Inlet Community Theater. There never was. So when the cast of “The Geriatric Monologues” takes its final bow this month the lights will fade to black on both the play and the theater group.

“It’s a real shame and we’re all heartbroken,” Marlowe Tully, president of the group, said in announcing its decision to disband.

The audience was there, but the troupe couldn’t find enough volunteers to stage a show. It brought in Scott Maxwell as its artistic director. A veteran of theater in the Southeast, he was unable to fill out the cast of any of his planned shows. Backstage help was also lacking.

“The volunteer base has dwindled. You need a lot of people to put on a show,” said Chip Smith, a board member who performed in the first production and will have a role in its last. “He really worked hard.”

The group hasn’t lost its sense of the theatrical. Its last play will be the premiere of Jim Rogers’ adaptation of his book of poetry “Starts and Stops Along the Way.” “Since those of us on the board of the theater are either geriatric ourselves or close to it, doing ‘The Geriatric Monologues’ as our swan song seems a pretty appropriate ending,” Tully said.

It will be a staged reading with the seven-member cast seated on rocking chairs. “They’re all just chatting, really,” Smith said. “All we needed were some black screens and rocking chairs. We didn’t have any difficulty getting the actors.”

The play opens June 17 for six performances over two weekends. It closes June 26 with a matinee. After the lights fade, the theater troupe will donate its lighting system to another group or sell it and donate the proceeds, Tully said.

The group got its start in 1998 when Holley Aufdemorte put notices in the paper and on bulletin boards asking if anyone wanted to start a community theater. There were 30 people at the first meeting. They came from as far as Georgetown and Myrtle Beach. Some brought years of experience, others brought their dreams.

“We certainly did start out with that ‘Let’s put on a show’ attitude,” she said. Aufdemorte is now an emerita board member. She heard about problems with casting, but always stayed optimistic that actors would show up. “It was sad to see that happen,” she said.

The group made its home in the former schoolhouse that became the Murrells Inlet Community Center. It shared space with county recreation programs and a magistrate’s office. The old school stage required actors to go out the back door to reach the dressing room unseen by the audience. The original stage lights were household floodlights wired into No. 10 cans by a volunteer who had retired from a career in television.

“We did a lot with that stage,” Aufdemorte said. “We did a lot of fine things through the years.”

The productions were regularly sold out and had a following from visitors and residents alike.

The theater group took a two-year break while Georgetown County tore down the old building and built a new community center. “The time out of the spotlight with the community center may have had an effect,” Smith said. But he also noted there seems to be a decline in volunteer numbers for other projects, such as the Spring Tide cleanup he founded. There were about 200 volunteers at this year’s event. He said there used to be 400.

There is also more to do in the area, including more theater groups, Smith said. “It’s a big commitment of time,” he said. “In the past, people participated for a few seasons and moved on.” Those numbers haven’t been replenished.

Smith played an amorous movie producer hoping to reignite an old flame in the 1998 production of Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite.” This time around, he’ll be rocking and reminiscing.

He doesn’t think the finale will turn out to have a surprise ending for the theater. “There would have to be a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to say ‘I’ll help,’ ” Smith said. “The board did everything it could to keep things going.”

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