Sing? Dance? At the same time! Me? I don’t think so.
That was Marshall Vance’s first reaction when hearing that his stake, the Thousand Oaks California Stake, was planning on putting on a big variety show to be performed at the new Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. But Marshall, 17, agreed to try. He committed to come to the practices. He was assigned to the ’20s dance number doing the Charleston. Every dress rehearsal and performance was a little bit of a surprise for Marshall.
The Thousand Oaks stake’s Showtime was going to be a variety show in the best sense of the word, with big production numbers, lots of colorful costumes, and some fine soloists. Hundreds of stake members would be involved. And they intended for nearly 2,000 people to attend the final show.
Why take on such a big job? Why go to so much work just for a variety show?
The stake presidency had several good answers to those questions. They were looking for a way to pull their stake together, to build unity, and to have members get to know one another. They also wanted the youth from the different wards to meet each other and become friends.
And the stake leaders wanted to provide good examples to the community. They wanted to offer the community some good, clean, family entertainment, the kind they themselves want to see more of from Hollywood, that neighboring city just a few miles down the road.
Grant Brimhall, former stake president and former city manager of Thousand Oaks, was one who pushed to have the community’s civic arts plaza built. “I remember in the early speeches about the need for a community theater, we talked about the first theater west of the Rockies being built by the Mormons in Salt Lake City. We had a great time talking about all the needs we have in the community, the last need being an outlet for creativity.”
Because of the stake’s close proximity to Hollywood, the Thousand Oaks stake has members like Jack and Kit Regas with real entertainment expertise. Before his retirement, Jack was a renowned television producer and choreographer of big-name variety shows. And Kit—his wife, partner, and fellow director—can turn out a great script. Together they have the know-how to put together a high-quality show.
First, Jack and Kit took a six-hour car trip to visit their children in San Francisco so they could have uninterrupted time to plan the show. Once the script was roughed out, the show committee needed to assemble the talent. Anyone and everyone over the age of 10 in the stake was welcome to participate. Most of the potential cast members didn’t really know what they could do or if they would be able to learn the songs and dances. But they were willing to try.
“It’s just amazing how much we can accomplish when we get it together,” said Jeff Klein, 16, Thousand Oaks Second Ward. “Look at this. We’ve got people with tons of talent and then others who are just learning enough to get the job done. Really, simply amazing.”
From the start, cast members had to learn to act like professionals. They had to overcome that old stereotype of always being late.” The most important thing I learned was to be on time,” said Brittny Anderson, 13, of the Thousand Oaks Fourth Ward. “We had to be early so that no one showed up late and stalled the entire show.”
Then, the cast members had to learn what it meant to be committed. Practices were a priority. And there was no excuse for missing a dress rehearsal. “I thought it sounded like a blast,” said Russell Harrington, 16, Thousand Oaks Third Ward. “But it was scary to get the talk about being committed. I knew that it was going to be kind of tough, but I thought I’m just going to have to do this.”
In many ways, participating in the show was training on being reliable. And for most of the cast members, learning how to be prompt and dedicated is a valuable lesson for life.
Before the performance, the idea of trying to fill the civic arts center’s 1,800 seats was a major worry. There had to be a small charge to cover the rental of the building and the technical crew that worked for the civic center. However, the ticket price was much less than the price of a movie ticket, and for many members of the community, particularly those on fixed incomes, it was the first chance they had to attend a great production at the new civic arts plaza. The low ticket price also made it possible for whole families to attend a show together. And that’s who came—by the hundreds.
The night of the first performance was a sellout. There were lots of backstage nerves, but lots of excitement too. “I’ll never forget waiting in line backstage,” said Jenny Orme, Thousand Oaks Fourth Ward, “getting ready to go on stage and having that feeling of delight. All during practices, the performance seemed so far away, but now it was here and everyone was ready to show the audience what we could do and what we had worked so hard for.”
The show was such a success that people clamored for another performance. However, the encore performance did not go so smoothly.
Just hours before the second performance was to go on, the power failed. Nothing is darker than the inside of a theater with no power. The cast gathered for prayer. Together they asked for a miracle.
Still no lights.
The cast, already in costume, gathered on the stage. The mood was glum. Then Tina Johnson walked over to her friend Danielle Smith and asked her if she wanted to sing “How Great Thou Art” with her. The two girls’ voices filled the dark and others joined in. As soon as they finished that hymn, another was started. A great feeling of warmth and comfort and peace came over the cast.
Still no lights. That night the show had to be canceled.
“It was a very spiritual experience,” said Kit Regas. “Even though we didn’t get to do the show, I think everyone gained from that.”
Brother Brimhall explained to the disappointed cast members that many times in the Church’s history people have prepared and worked on something good only to be forced to leave it behind and never enjoy the fruits of their labors. He explained that being engaged in a good cause is always beneficial. It was a hard lesson for some of the young people, but only when the disappointment had faded did they come to appreciate just how wonderful it felt to be praying and singing together on a dark stage.
The second and final performance of Showtime was rescheduled. This time the lights stayed on, stage fright was nearly gone, and the word had spread that this was a very good show. No one worried about empty seats anymore.
The cast had become more than friends; they were more like one big family. The natural barriers between the ages broke down. The teens became good friends with the adults. The adults had a new appreciation for the youth. Tina Johnson said, “I’ll be with my friends at the grocery store, and I’ll see someone from Showtime. We just start talking. My friends always ask, ‘How come you are friends with so many grownups?’”
“Showtime was a really great experience,” said Jessica Seemann, Moorpark First Ward. “I made a lot of new friends, and I became closer to my old friends. My family brought seven nonmembers to the show. They loved it. I am so glad I decided to be in Showtime.”
Why spend all the time and effort to put together such a big show? Emily Benton, 17, of the Moorpark First Ward, knows. “I loved it! I met so many new friends. I love doing things like that and spending time with good LDS people. It was a great missionary experience.”
Now back to Marshall. Did he ever learn to sing and dance? His choreographer, Kathi Orme, says, “His part was not easy. He worked very hard, and he got it.”
But Marshall is harder on himself. “I wish I could say that I’m a better singer and dancer now, but I am still terrible at both.” But there he was, up on stage, trying to smile and concentrate on his feet at the same time. He did great.