CYNTHIANA — Retired educator Bill Caywood marched back and forth across the hardwood floor of a dimly lit room at the historic Rohs Opera House, instructing several adults and a few children on how to move across a makeshift stage for rehearsal.
There were no Tony Award-winning divas in the dozen or so assigned to rehearse on this particular day, a Tuesday. And some moved timidly around two square, wood tables.
But many of them had experience and expressed a passion for the project at hand: a new community theater's inaugural production of Thornton Wilder's classic play Our Town.
"I'm going to find out what you all can do," Caywood said.
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After all, it was just the first rehearsal for The harriCYN Community Theatre, which will mount the production in April. Caywood told everyone who had gathered in the theater near downtown Cynthiana he understood the first time through would be rough.
"That's why it's called a rehearsal," he said.
Rachel Lyons, who has studied theater in New York and performed in lead roles at Kincaid Regional Theatre in Falmouth, took on the role of Mrs. Webb in the fictional town of Grover's Corners, N.H. In real life, she's lived in Cynthiana — population about 6,300, according to 2009 Census data — for about 13 years.
She said there have been few opportunities for her to perform in her own town. But the new community theater will give residents an avenue for expressing themselves artistically without being judged. And it unifies the community, she said.
"If there had been something, I would have done it," Lyons said.
The harriCYN Community Theatre is part of the non-profit Cynthiana Arts Council. Organizers said they hope the community theater will become a reliable part of Cynthiana's entertainment offerings, producing at least four shows each year.
Public school expenditures for arts and music programs have dwindled, and "there needs to be some sort of forum for that sort of expression," Lyons said.
Harrison County Public Schools has not targeted performing arts for cuts in recent budgets, Superintendant Andy Dotson said. But Dotson said he loved the idea of having a community theater for kids to express themselves outside of academics and athletics.
Timothy Beckholt, a Harrison County High School graduate who will play George Gibbs in Our Town, said he has participated in variety shows, which were organized by Rohs' theater owners. Beckholt said he has always been interested in becoming an actor.
"My whole life, I've been wanting to do theater," he said.
Caywood taught at Harrison County High School for nearly 30 years, teaching English and directing plays. When he decided that he'd like to direct again, he went to the Cynthiana Arts Council, which had discussed resurrecting community theater in the city but never brought plans to fruition.
Caywood, who lives in Paris, said there was no reason why a town like Cynthiana should not have a community theater.
"There's talent over there," he said. "And I love the theater and I'm willing to give my time if others will."
Caywood had several friends and former students who were willing to help.
"He is a very well-respected educator," said Missy Lutz of Cynthiana, co-director of the community theater and producer of Our Town.
Caywood said an electrician offered to assist on lights. The man learned to work behind the scenes when he was a high school student and stepped in for another student in a production Caywood directed years ago.
"That's what community theater is all about," Caywood said. "It's not just about the actors. It's about the people who work behind the scenes as well."
Caywood said Our Town, which depicts small-town life in 1901 through the eyes of several of its residents, was the perfect choice for the first show for many reasons, including the limited set and props. This will be the third time he has directed Our Town.
"It's a universal play," he said. "It's applicable to people no matter when they lived. It's one of the truly great American plays."
The city and county gave money to the arts council to help start the community theater, Lutz said. The organizers also are seeking donations from businesses.
Although there have been sporadic theatrical productions in Cynthiana, it has been decades since there was an organized group, Lutz said.
She said that many in the community consider the Rohs the "heartbeat of our city" and that the community theater will help support efforts to keep it functioning.
"The community seems very excited about it getting here," she said. "I've had lots of adults, especially ones who were involved in Mr. Caywood's productions in high school, they're really glad that they can get back involved."