GECA puts on play of Titanic proportions

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, June 15, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
There's an old joke about doing a play or movie about the Titanic that goes, "I don't need to see that, I already know how it ends."
According to Phil Johnson with the Greater Escambia Council of the Arts the important part of the story isn't how it ends, but what leads up to that end.
"The most difficult thing is to find a positive spin on something," Johnson said. "It's hard to do a story that is ultimately about the death of 1,500 people, but it is more than that. It is about the heroics of the people and the love they share and the sacrifices they have made for each other."
Johnson is also the director of the show.
"It is a show where you come in expecting to be depressed and you come out uplifted," he said. "It is a real uplifting show."
Titanic is one of the larger productions in recent Arts Council history.
"It's performed by the Greater Escambia Council of the Arts," Johnson said. "We have a cast of I think 77 people now. It's a musical based on Titanic. It is not the movie. It is totally different from the movie."
Titanic is actually a musical production.
"The music is phenomenal," Johnson said. "We have not done anything with this quality of music before. We have some surprises too, but I better not give those away."
There has been great effort in making the scenery and props as authentic as possible.
"The tickets for the production are reproductions of the only original surviving tickets of the Titanic," Johnson said. "The original sold for $110,000. It belonged to a priest. His wife got sick so he didn't get on board and he kept the ticket framed for years. The biggest challenge has been to locate authentic props and set pieces from that era. We had to call to Connecticut to get an authentic ship's wheel because no one makes those anymore. There is a company in a little shipping town there that makes ship wheels to order. We've got several scenes with what were supposedly the richest people in the world wearing ball gowns and tuxedos, so that is a challenge as well. A show like this will usually set us back $7,000 or $8,000."
And with 77 people in the production most people are responsible for their own costumes. Having such a large cast also makes the production a little more challenging in other ways.
"Our county district attorney is the star," Johnson said. "He plays Andrews; he's the one who designed the ship. We have more than a dozen cast members from Brewton that are driving down for every rehearsal and every production. Having a large cast is a challenge, but we've had casts like that before. We had casts like that in Annie and Oliver both.
The Arts Council has been working on the play, which will be shown at Escambia County High School, since May.
"Show dates are going to be July 29, 30 and 31," Johnson said. "Friday and Saturday night's shows will be at 7 p.m. and Sunday there will be a two o'clock matinee. There will be a special show on July 28 for season ticket holders."
Productions tend to draw large crowds and tickets need to be bought early.
"Annie we had 1,800 people come out, Oklahoma we had 1,700 to 1,800 people. Adult tickets are $6 under 12 is $4 and a season pass is $30. A season pass gets you in to all our productions of Titanic, plus the fall production of little women, and the spring production of Godspell. The only way you are guaranteed to have a seat at the fall and spring shows is if you have season tickets. Those shows sell out very quickly. We do that production in schools and tour the different schools around the county. We only do one public show. In the spring we do a contract show and groups like the Brewton Country Club pay to have us perform, once again we only have one public show."
The summer show plays for four nights and has the largest venue, the Auditorium of ECHS.
"This past spring our show was I do, I do and we did our production at the Community Cup," Johnson said. "We had 55 seats and had 78 people show up so we brought out folding chairs and rearranged the couches. It was a shoulder to shoulder production but people loved it."
The actors aren't paid and most of the Arts Council's productions are paid for by donations.
"By the time our sponsors and other contributors contribute we usually break even," Johnson said. "We don't do this for money though. Everyone involved does it from the heart."
The important part, of course, is not how much money is raised or how the production ends, but rather the love and sacrifices of the people who make the production possible.

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