Acting Out

CORSICANA, TX — With a cast and crew of 20, the Warehouse Living Arts Center began in 1971, housed at Navarro College’s Arena Theatre. The award-winning community playhouse, now a fixture of downtown Corsicana, is celebrating its 40th anniversary, a history rich in local culture and an influence that has extended to Broadway, Vegas, TV and the English stage. “There have been many wonderful plays and musicals the Warehouse has put on over the years,” Sandra “Sandy” McClure Mahood said, who joined the company 15 years ago and has been executive artistic director since 1999. “We’ve been lucky to have had such a long success and are indebted to the community for making us such.”

From intimate productions of The Matchmaker and Always, Patsy Cline to large-scale musicals like South Pacific and Oklahoma, the Warehouse has packed in crowds of all ages and tastes.
Alongside local talent, shows have starred famous actors and singers, toured regionally, won awards in state competitions and been featured in national festivals. Meantime, an offshoot troupe of the Warehouse, the Corsicana Children’s Company, has appeared statewide as well as internationally — including a tour of Great Britain with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The Warehouse, in addition to making its mark on the social and artistic landscape of Corsicana, is a physical ornament to the city, with its bright entrance awnings, recently dedicated Walk of Fame and brand new digital marquee.

Another feather in the theater’s cap is its reputation as a training ground for young performers who have become well known. Among big names who got their start on the Warehouse stage are Terry Fator, winner of TV’s America’s Got Talent in 2007; Glenn Cooley, member of the Tony Award-Winning Manhattan Theatre Club; Baltimore Russell, who has starred in Sex and the City and Saturday Night Live; and Julie Mitchell, a drama coach in Hollywood who also works in independent films, one of which premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. These artists have not forgotten their Navarro County roots and each expresses gratitude to the Warehouse Living Arts Center for giving them their start in the field they love. “The confidence I built through my time at the Warehouse has carried me into career realms I could never have dreamed of,” Terry said. “I’m certain that without the Warehouse I may never have achieved these goals.”

Glenn admitted, “The exposure I received from the Warehouse led to my pursuit of theater as a career.”

For Baltimore, better known to locals as Jay Pallanich, his own “first and enduring love” of the stage began at age 7 when he acted in the Warehouse production of The House at Pooh Corner. “I can’t give enough praise to the teachers and directors who shaped my formative years,” he said. “They helped give me the tools I needed to be the best actor I could be.”

Julie is still involved with the Warehouse, conducting its annual theater camps. “Because my teachers at the Warehouse helped me figure out who I am,” she said, “I’m dedicated to doing the same for the children I teach in L.A. and in Corsicana.”

It was fulfilling for Sandy to work with these and the many other actors she has helped train, and she said, “Their continued support of the Warehouse is touching.” Her time with the company has been an exciting one, filled with rewarding opportunities on many levels. It’s hard to pick favorites, but a few plays stand out as special experiences for Sandy. “One of the absolute best in my opinion was Anne of Green Gables, which we produced in 2000,” she recalled. “It was great all the way around, from the story to the sets to the cast.” A young actress in the vehicle, the director proudly pointed out, was Andrea Williams Coker, who won a scholarship program for her abilities. “Andrea has gone on to great things, although acting hasn’t been her calling,” Sandy laughed. “She now lives in London where she works as an assistant to a member of Parliament!” Another standout production during Sandy’s tenure with the Warehouse was I do, I do. “That one is especially memorable, and it has been a returning favorite with our audiences. I played in it with Gary Douglas in 1998, and in 2009, I directed Janet Martin and Todd Jones in it. It’s a fabulous show that everyone can identify with, from the wedding day to 50 years on.”

The Warehouse has a knack for staging plays with broad appeal. “That’s what the Warehouse does best,” Sandy explained. “We try to figure out what’s going to attract the community. We spend a lot of time going over plays, reading and discussing them. We try every season to make it the best ever.” The public likes comedies, and the Warehouse has produced its fair share. “We have done several Pat Cook plays, for instance,” Sandy specified, “and they have always gone over well, particularly You Can’t Get There From Here.” Patrons also love musicals, and in this genre such classics as The Sound of Music, The Music Man, Annie and Guys and Dolls have been box-office hits for the Warehouse. But the theater doesn’t shy away from soul- stirring dramas, and some of them have been smashes: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank and A Raisin in the  Sun. The Warehouse also partnered with Guardian Industries to stage a timely play about the dangers of drug abuse, produced during “Just Say No” week in 1988 and presented thereafter in other educational and corporate venues around the state.

Sandy stresses that the popularity of Warehouse productions is due as much to the team behind the scenes as to the plays and actors. “Of these there are many benefactors and supporters who are no longer with us or who are no longer active,” she said. “But they did a great deal for the theater over the years. People like Norma Russell, a great local playwright; Nancy Roberts; Otis Kindlel; J.B. Kirkpatrick; and Edwina White, a hilarious actress who all will remember.” The volunteers who build sets, manage the lighting, sew costumes and help pass out programs are also to be congratulated for their part in making the last 40 years both fruitful and meaningful. Many people have made lifelong friendships through working at the Warehouse, on stage and off; some even have met future spouses while volunteering.

Sharon Goodman, president of the Warehouse’s board of directors, agrees the company has endured with such distinction because of the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the world of community theater. “It opens the door to new experiences, new possibilities and, for us, new dreams for another 40 years!”

Written by Randy Bigham.