After helping to bring community theater into Monroe County and nurturing it to its current level of success, two local thespians are nearing their curtain call.
John and Kathy Campbell moved to Columbia in 1995 and attended an exploratory meeting about starting the Monroe Actors Stage Company in 1999.
In the last 19 years, the two have remained heavily involved in MASC. But having grown up in Owensboro, Ky., and with family still in that area, they are ready to return home.
“It’s always tough to leave something you’ve nurtured for almost 20 years,” John explained. “But, you know, life goes on. And we have good people there that will keep the theater going. I’m not worried about that.”
John recalled the original meeting he and his wife attended regarding MASC at Columbia City Hall, and how their first performance had been at a storefront church in Columbia that no longer exists. At the time, success boiled down to creativity and resourcefulness.
“You have a budget of zero when you start so you get together and make costumes and mock up scenery, and you spend zero,” he said. “And I don’t think we charged much either at the beginning.”
Kathy noted that success for the group was also defined in smaller terms at the start, with 25 people in attendance having been considered a good showing. She also relishes the idea that such a grassroots organization has managed to have a major impact on so many.
“It was exciting to see people who wanted to start and then seeing them become the staunchest members over the years,” she said. “You have lasting friendships. I mean really, it’s just like family. It’s really fun watching them grow up.”
A member of that family who has also been there from the start, Mark Tullis reflected on how the Campbells have been an integral part of MASC’s success.
“Even though there were so many of us who were ‘founding members,’ John and Kathy Campbell were a driving force from the beginning,” Tullis said. “Kathy is an amazing actress and director, always with a clear vision of what needs to take place.
“(And) no one knows as much about the workings of MASC as John. He had his mark on all the facets of the group … I can’t even tell you how much I’ll miss them. It was a sad day last year when I saw that big moving truck drive by.”
Through the years, John has served on and off as president of the MASC board of directors. He also has directed and designed sets for dozens of performances.
In one instance, John’s work was awarded “Best Set in Small Space” by the American Association of Community Theatre for the set on the MASC production of “Mornings at 7.” Kathy received the same recognition for her set design for the play “Diary of Anne Frank.”
She also directed many performances, including a special showing of “The Guys.” The story revolves around a New York fire captain who is stricken with grief and seeks help from a writer in composing eulogies for the friends he lost from 9/11.
“That was just very special. I had seen the movie version of it and fell in love with the play. And I thought, ‘We can do this,’” she said. “And thankfully at the time they let me go ahead with it.”
Kathy has officially stepped down from helping with MASC plays while John will remain on the board of directors until July. He is also finishing with the technical aspects, including lighting and set design, for his last production, “Dark of the Moon.”
The play will be shown from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Feb. 9 and 10, 2:30 to 5 p.m. Feb. 11, 7:30 to 10 p.m. Feb. 16 and 17, and from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 18.
Tickets are $12 general admission. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 939-7469 or visit online at masctheatre.org.