“Annie” opens at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts on Friday, May 4, for a five-day run. Tracy Repertory’s Laura Hagler said the shows are approaching sell-out status, putting an exclamation point on the community theater’s first year.
“I knew this was going to be a success, but it has surpassed my expectations because of how happy the parents have been with what we’ve done,” Hagler said Wednesday, April 25, as sounds of rehearsal echoed through the Grand Theatre’s lobby.
Hagler — along with Kelly Hendrix, Francie Pankratz, Emily Howard, Bekka Austin, Pam Tillman and Deborah Littleton — founded Tracy Repertory as a place where youngsters could learn and grow in the theater year-round. The group penciled letters to residents and business owners to solicit the funding necessary to open the troupe.
Since the first auditions began in August, more than 200 people have tried out for three plays, with about 75 teenagers and young children landing roles, Hagler said.
“Our focus is really on doing shows for teens and kids,” she said, adding that the focus is reflected in the theater’s choice of “Annie,” “A Little Princess” and “A Totally ’80s Show” for its opening-year lineup.
“Annie” particularly shows the theater’s strengths, Hagler said, bringing together actors ages 5 through 77.
One thespian making his stage debut, Mike Merrill, said he was glad his two daughters talked him into appearing on stage as Mr. Bundles the laundryman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“One of the reasons I decided to do it was it would be a good way for us to bond,” said the 44-year-old Merrill, who added that the experience had helped in the wake of his wife’s unexpected death less than a year ago. “This whole troupe has been like a family.”
He wasn’t the only one at the Grand this week who mentioned the word “family” when talking about the musical that features an orphan searching for her parents.
“I really enjoy the cast working together, especially this one,” said Katie Merrill, a 16-year-old Kimball High School junior who has been in local plays since she was in middle school. “I think we’re a very strong cast.”
“It’s awesome … working with different age groups and different talent levels, and how things come together from auditions to the show,” agreed West High junior Jamie Temple, who’s working as the show’s stage manager. “It’s hard work to put on … but in the end it’s amazing.”
Hagler added that Tracy Repertory had received “incredible” support from the community, too. One example was the mother of 11-year-old cast member Devan Rose, who assembled 31 costumes on a volunteer basis.
“It’s been great,” Devan said of wearing her mother’s handiwork. “She’s pretty talented. She’s the best sewer I know.”
That kind of passion
convinces Hagler that Tracy Repertory Theatre’s second season, which begins in the fall, is going to be a continued success.
“We’ve only scratched the surface with the talent that’s here,” she said.
Not that season two won’t take hard work.
Hagler, an accountant by trade, said the troupe must become self-sustaining. She added that a decision by the city of Tracy — which she described as a supportive partner — to require nonprofits to apply for grants for time at the theater could make putting on shows more difficult for Tracy Repertory.
But she insisted that the first year of operations proved to her and her partners that there’s a need for what the theater group gives to Tracy.
“We’re going to make it happen,” Hagler said.