By Stan Welch
It seems appropriate that the Mill Town Players, from Pelzer, stole the show at the Anderson County Council meeting Tuesday night.
To start the evening the community theater troupe was honored for their exceptional theatrical performances, as recognized in a resolution approved by the Council. As evidence that the high regard in which the group is held extends far beyond their home field, it was announced that they recently won first place in both the state and the Southeast regional competitions sponsored by the American Association of Community Theaters. The winning production was Romeo and Juliet.
This past November, Mill Town Players represented South Carolina in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Community Theatre Festival in Knoxville, TN, where they competed against 9 other states with their production of Romeo and Juliet. The team won top honors and will advance to the national competition in Gettysburg, PA, this summer, hosted by the American Association of Community Theatre. This is the first time since 1985 that a team from SC has advanced to nationals.
Mill Town Players was also recognized with Outstanding Ensemble Acting as well as Outstanding Achievement in Acting for Cindy Mixon (Nurse), Anne Robards (Lady Capulet), and Ken Thomason (Capulet). Mill Town Players has won the SC state competition a total of 3 times with Dark of the Moon in 2014, Of Mice and Men in 2016, and Romeo and Juliet in 2018. Only in its 5th season, Mill Town Players has now become one of the most awarded community theaters in the state.
Theater director Will Ragland and a dozen cast members were on hand to receive the honor, which included a beautifully framed resolution making the recognition official. Ragland expressed the importance of the community support the group has enjoyed over its relatively brief existence. He also announced that the group will be traveling to Gettysburg, PA for the national competition on June 21.
In other news, the county provided the final $5400 needed to erect a sign at the theater site to make the listing of current and coming attractions more visible to those passing the old Pelzer Elementary School location, where the group stages its productions.
Momentum towards the sign becoming reality began with what Ragland called ‘a very generous contribution’ from an anonymous donor. That kick started the fundraising efforts, which were joined by all three of the area’s towns, as well as a long list of individual and corporate donors.
The sign will be nine feet high and bright red, with a digital screen that will provide information about the theater’s offerings. Ragland said that the group’s goal has always been to make attending live theater affordable and convenient. “We want to keep more people coming to live theater, so we try to make it at least as cheap as the movies, if not cheaper. The support we have received and the remarkable local talent we have uncovered have been key to our success.”
Ragland is hopeful that the production First Baptist of Ivy Gap, directed by Christopher Rose, will be the first production to grace the new sign. During WWII, six women gather at the church to roll bandages and plan the church’s 75th anniversary. Overseeing things is Edith, the pastor’s wise-cracking wife who dispenses Red Cross smocks and witty repartee to Luby, whose son is fighting in the Pacific; Mae Ellen, the church’s rebellious organist who wants to quit but hasn’t the courage; Olene, who dreams of a career in Hollywood; Sammy, a shy newcomer with a secret; and Vera, an influential Baptist with a secret of her own. When Luby learns her son has been wounded, she confounds the others by blaming the vulnerable Sammy. Twenty-five years later, our “First Baptist Six” reunite. With humor and pathos, these six very different women find comfort, forgiveness and redemption in each other.