The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 30, 2014

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: The world comes to Pittsburg stage

PITTSBURG, Kan. — All the world may certainly be a stage, but in my little corner, a stage has brought to me the world.

I’m talking about an area not more than 54 feet by 44 feet, usually painted solid black, in a town of no more than 20,000 people.

It is located in Pittsburg’s Memorial Auditorium at 503 N. Pine St.

The first performance I saw there, nearly 40 years ago, was from the lap of my mom, who with my dad took me to see “That Printer of Udell’s.” It opened my eyes to the wonder of theater and the world of Harold Bell Wright.

And, if memory serves, my first time on that stage as a performer was as part of a Girl Scout production during the annual Dad and Daughter Date Night. I spoke from the podium, then took part in a dance number set to “It’s a Small World.”

I’ve heard international personalities speak on that stage, from Dr. Ruth Westheimer to Gen. William Westmoreland. And I’ve seen, for the first time, the elegance of ballet, the patriotism of U.S. military bands, the passion of an opera.

Groups such as Up With People, an international music-based organization that performed here on at least two occasions, brought to my childhood home two international students traveling with the group. My mom still stays in touch with them each Christmas.

I was introduced to Broadway musicals far from the Big Apple when touring theatrical companies brought to town “42nd Street.” And to the joys of live comedy improv when Second City came to Pittsburg from the Windy City.

My exposure to creative greatness came in colorful spurts throughout the years like paint on an artist’s canvas: Would I like to help play percussion during John Greene’s production of “Conference of the Birds”? Yes, please. Would I like to hear Maynard Ferguson belt out “Birdland” on his trumpet? Without a doubt.

When my children got old enough, their participation in children’s summer theater, school music programs and awards ceremonies meant their turn on stage.

And they began sitting on our laps in the audience, just as I did with my parents, so that we could introduce them to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” Queen’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch” and Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” as interpreted by the uniquely creative Kaye Lewis and her dancers at Midwest Regional Ballet.

During a stint as a theater teacher at Frontenac High School, I gave my students the chance to be on stage in a production of “Snow White.” I’ll never forget the excitement of a group of teens who for the first time had a real, true, bona fide place to perform with lights, mics and a green room.

Last summer, my sons and I traveled to the Emerald City during Pittsburg Community Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Next up: My younger son and I are cast members in “The Grapes of Wrath,” which opens Thursday for area high schools and Friday for general audiences.

One of the most important American novels ever written, it is just as relevant and meaningful 75 years later.

If you attend, you will watch a story come to life where before there was none. You will notice costumes, you will witness special effects, you will tap your feet to music. You hopefully will become inspired to read the novel, to consider the plight of others. You will carry with you mental images of the story for months — perhaps years.

All because of a stage.

FOLLOW ANDRA BRYAN STEFANONI on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.

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