By By Janet Little Cooper
One of the most famous Broadway shows ever written, "Hello, Dolly!" took center stage this weekend at the Escambia County High School auditorium.
The Greater Escambia Council for the Arts, Inc. (GECA) reenacted the popular show tune first performed in 1964, for Atmore residents.
GECA, comprised of more than 100 volunteer performers, both trained and untrained, work to put together three to four major productions a year.
"'Hello, Dolly!' was the lowest turnout in our history," director Phillip B. Johnson said. "This production came on the heels of our second lowest attendance from the performance of 'Godspell'. It just seems as if Atmore is not supportive of a live theatrical program."
Record lows were a disappointment to the cast of 75 who worked diligently for more than 10 weeks preparing for the weekend performances.
"I start working six months in advance of the actual production," Johnson said. "Then we spend at least 10 weeks in rehearsal averaging 120 hours and then another 100 or more hours constructing the set. I can dream up these elaborate designs and Ellis Beachey is the master of taking my dreams and making them real."
Johnson feels confident that GECA is putting on the highest quality program for this area.
"We are the largest amateur theater company in the Southeastern United States," Johnson said. "There are other organizations, but they are semi-professional with a paid staff. GECA is strictly volunteer. No one gets paid. The members of GECA actually pay $50 each just to be a part of the group."
The "Hello, Dolly!" production cost the group $7,000, leaving them almost bankrupt after the slim turnout.
"We have to pay royalties for the plays we do," Johnson said. "We do that by getting sponsorship and selling tickets. We knew by the time Sunday came around that we were pretty much broke on the whole deal."
Prior to "Hello, Dolly!" GECA's smallest turnout was 1,200 people. Johnson estimated that 500 to 550 people watched one of the four performances of "Hello, Dolly!" making it the lowest turnout in the organizations history.
"We do this because we love the arts and realize how important they are," Johnson said. "Apparently, our city does not share the same love. The arts are so important. It is a proven fact school age children who participate in theater have a 10 to 15 percent higher-grade average than those students who don't. We are really doing a disservice to our children by not providing them with the opportunities to participate in the arts."
GECA is committed to supporting and developing a love of and talent for the arts in the South Alabama and Northwest Florida region.
The organization, run by a board of directors, meets in August of each year to plan out the year's events. Productions are chosen on a ballot vote basis.
A fall production, "Can't take it with you," featuring the GECA children and youth is up next for the group, followed by a radio drama of "Miracle on 34th Street" for Christmas.
"We have been invited to perform this spring at the National Rotarian Club Convention held in Alabama this year," Johnson said. "If we do that we will not do a summer production in town."
If you are interested in becoming a member of the GECA or would like to become a sponsor, you can contact them at email@example.com. Or by mail: GECA108 Thorndale Place, Atmore AL, 36502. Or you can give them a call at (251) 368-3899.